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Trip Report Italy Trip Report Single Mom wTeen

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Introduction - Background facts

I?m a 47 year old widow who planned to take my kids to Europe with life insurance $ after my husband died five years ago. I decided to concentrate on one country and Italy seemed to have the best weather, most interesting things to see and the best food. I have a 16 year old son and a 14 year old daughter. Im in so so physical shape, my son is a couch potato and my daughter a competitive figure skater. She was usually in front, me in the middle and my son bringing up the rear.

We used a travel consultant Sally Watkins She arranged our hotels in Sorrento and Florence and apt in Rome, as well as drivers once we got there. She was very helpful with other advice. Well worth it. I made my own arrangements for an apt in Venice. Probably should have let her do it, but more about that later.

I also got a lot of help from Slow Travelers web site (http://www. and the Fodors Message board. I brought along Rick Steves book on Italy and would rip out the pages about the town and carry those in my purse. In Rome I carried around DK Eyewitness on Rome. It was heavy but VERY handy to have around. Pretty good maps and info on public transportation. We took and used recommendations from Sandra Gustafsons Great Eats in Italy and Chow Venice" We also had Rick Steve's Italian phrase book that was helpful. We learned enough Italian to be polite, find the bathroom, point out questo for pasty and order food.

I rented a Piccel cell phone ( before we left. The prices seemed better than anything else I didn't want to bother with trying to buy and phone and then unload it later. I was relatively pleased except that every once in awhile the phone just would not work, then it would work an hour later. This was a real pain when my daughter got locked in the bathroom and we couldn't use the phone. So I'm not sure I'd recommend it for that reason. If it didn?t work in a real emergency what would be the point of having it?

I wore a neck pouch in which I carried all three passports, an extra ATM card, credit card and sometime a large amount of cash euros (I needed to pay both apartments in cash) and never had any trouble. I carried about 50 euro at a time, credit card and ATM card in my front pocket. Maybe I could have been proved wrong, but I just felt I would notice if someone tried to get in my front pocket, paid careful attention to it all the time. I never had a problem. Isaac had a little incident with a crowd of kids in Florence trying to get into his pockets, more details in the trip report.

We live in a small town in Iowa near Sioux City. A friend drove us to Omaha the day before where we spent the night, and then caught the shuttle to the airport for a flight from Omaha to Detroit, then Detroit to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Rome.

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    Tuesday 5/11 ? Rome to Naples to Sorrento

    Hotel Villa Maria
    Via Capo 8, Sorrento

    We left Monday 5/10 at 10 am and arrived in Rome (exhausted) at 9:30 am on Tuesday 5/11. But our journey wasn?t finished. Sally had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport and drive us to the train station, where I easily bought first class tickets for Naples from the machine. Already it is clear I have not packed light enough. Sarah and Isaac each have a 21 inch suitcase, I have a 28 inch packed to the hilt, plus we each have a carry on and mine is way too heavy.

    The train trip to Naples is very nice. We sleep. About two hours later we arrive in Naples where our journey is still not over. Sally made arrangements for another driver to meet us and take us to Sorrento. All these drivers walk very fast. We have a difficult time keeping up, because our luggage is so heavy and we are SO TIRED. He?s very talkative and tells us all about the area. We can barely keep our eyes open. As we drive through a few tunnels to get to Sorrento Isaac has already decided this is the coolest vacation we have ever taken.

    Our hotel is the Villa Maria, on the corner of Via Capo. $150 a night for a triple. The first room they give us has one big double bed in it. By the time I went downstairs they?ve already realized the mistake and wisked the kids into a cute little room with 3 tiny beds. The bed is almost not big enough for my son. The kids have never seen a bidet and are grossed out when I tell them what it is for. Later when Sarah realizes the shower is too small to shave her legs she decides that is what the bidet is good for.

    We have a little balcony that over looks the street below and you can see the bay and ocean. The kids are very happy except that Sarah?s coach has given her some off ice exercises to stay in shape and she doesn?t know where she can do her off ice axels.

    Isaac has not slept since we left the hotel Monday am, Sarah slept well on the plane ? I gave her a headache pm pill but figured someone needed to be alert so I only slept fitfully on the plane. In minutes Isaac is out. Sarah is ready to go out and do something and I?m beat. This will often happen on this trip ? Isaac and Sarah on opposite ends and me somewhere in between. It?s about 5 pm so Sarah and I decide to shower and walk around Sorrento.

    We stake out a reasonable place for dinner across the street. We check out the little shops, we find a place for gelato and an internet café. And most importantly ? the bancomat ? ATM.

    After our walk we came back and woke Isaac, otherwise he?d wake up too early. By the time he?s up and showered, it?s only 6:30. Way too early for dinner in Italy. But we are starving and ready for bed. If we don?t eat now, we?ll go to sleep. The place across the street, Café Rivage has people sitting out and enjoying drinks, but they are willing to serve us dinner. Isaac wants a pizza with pepperoni and doesn?t believe Sarah and I when we tell him pepperoni is peppers. Finally the waiter tells him they are green, red and yellow vegetables and he decides on a prosciutto pizza. This will be the beginning of Isaac?s love affair with prosciutto. Sarah gets the pepperoni pizza and I have the pasta special with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and yes, pepperoni.. We?re so hungry that we agree to salads but we forgot that salads do not come before your meal here. The pasta was wonderful and I woofed it down, then dutifully ate my salad afterwards, but it wasn?t that good. The kids loved their pizzas but were not interested in salad after that..

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    Wed. May 13 2004 ? Daytrip to Napoli

    This hotel is the only place where we'll have a big breakfast spread. Eggs, assorted breads and cornetti, pound cake, yogurt, oranges, and this wonderfully sweet blood orange juice.

    We walked to the Circumvesuviana station and took the train to Napoli. This is a very crowded train with lots of stops. I got to use my line I'd been practicing "Vorei trei biglietti per Napoli"

    On the trip I watch two Italian men standing having a very animated conversation. The one guy cannot talk with one hand and constantly lets go of the handle, and risks jostling so he can converse with both hands.

    When we got to the Napoli Centrale it wasn't clear that is where we were and had to have the conductor come by and kick us off "Finito!" he says shooing us out. Okay we are dumb Americans, I admit it.

    My plan was to take the metro to the Archeological Museum but I couldn?t figure out where it was and it was easy to find the Taxi stand. 6.50 metered ride there.

    It was getting warm and the museum was a cool place to walk around. We should have bought audio guides because we were a little lost trying to figure some of the stuff out. I can?t decide if I'm more impressed by an artist who can carve something beautiful out of a block of marble, or an artist who can create a beautiful work of art out of thousands of pieces of broken glass and rock. I think people had much more patience in those days.

    After the museum we had lunch at a café across the street. Our first taste of Margherita Pizza?it's really wonderful.

    So I want to find the Capella Sansevero to see the Veiled Christ and Sarah wanted to see the shops along Via Toledo. Finding the shopping was easy, but the Capella proved to be more illusive. All I had was a Rick Steves map and we cannot see any street signs so we aren't even sure where we are. We wandered and meandered, saw lots of interesting little side streets and alleys. There were many times when I was sure we were sooo close. We would find a map on a building wall with the church listed and an arrow. We'd follow the arrow and see another sign with the name of the church with the arrow pointing back where we came from. We did enjoy all the little shops and the little Nativity figures.

    I would have bought some but I wanted to start with the Holy Family and I couldn?t find a Joseph, Mary and baby as small as the other figures I would have liked. The shopkeepers spoke no English and didn?t seem to understand "Picola Mama?" Sarah was game to keep looking but Isaac was getting hot tired and surly. It didn?t seem like we were ever going to find it so I gave up. I failed at my first mission.

    So now we are thoroughly and hopelessly lost in Naples. Good thing warnings about how dangerous this city is supposed to be are exaggerated. We never felt the least bit threatened. But I had NO idea where we were. There was a moment of hope when we saw an M for metro, but couldn't figure out where the steps down to the Metro were. Finally Isaac spied a taxi. Taxi is good. He agrees to take us back to the Train station. He doesn't set the meter, but I'm lost in Naples and figure the driver has the upper hand. What am I gonna do? Get out and figure out how to get to the train station on my own? 10 E for a shorter ride than the 6.50 to the museum. Oh well. It could have been worse. We might NOT have found a taxi.

    Then after all that walking, the train is full and we get to stand for the nearly hour ride back to Sorrento. Oh well. At least we got back to Sorrento!

    As we walk back from the Sorrento station to our hotel, it is a good time to stop for gelato. Sarah has white chocolate, Isaac sticks with strawberry and I try rum. So far the orange chocolate is still my favorite.

    What nobody talks about are the dogs in Sorrento. The main drag is full of well fed healthy looking but free roaming dogs that don't appear to belong to anyone. Some have tags, most don?t and they just roam at will. Even a large, intact Doberman! He didn't seem the least bit dangerous. They are all well behaved and affectionate. They don't bark. They don't jump on you, they just go where they please, shops and restaurants included. Isaac pet one and he began to follow us on our way home. When we stopped at a bench to eat our gelato, he laid down beside Isaac. Finally the dog was distracted chasing a pigeon and we made our escape.

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    After our Napoli adventure, we rested up at the hotel. We are determined this time to "eat at a more sophisticated hour", as my daughter puts it. But it's boring sitting around in the hotel. Let's go to the internet café!

    The café is empty except for a few men at the bar. Internet is 3 E for a half hour. Pretty cheap, but of course, we all want a computer! She has 3 computers all in a row. I have wine, the kids have apple juice and we go surfing.

    The apple juice, "succo de mela," is a dark green color. It tastes like someone ground up a complete green apple, peeling and all. It's wonderful. My kids may never drink plain old American apple juice again.

    Internet for 3, 3 drinks 19 E. But now it's only 6:30! Still too early for dinner. Isaac sits on a bench. Sarah and I shop.

    We find a cute little clothing store, Piazza Italia, where Sarah finds a cute white top and a chartreuse green jacket. There is a shade of green in these stores I've never seen in the US. It is less than 30E for both tops. Things are much less expensive here than I expected. We also checked out a supermarket. "Looks like Walmart," Sarah comments, then we see the groceries "Okay,Super Walmart" she corrects herself. Except I don't think you can get frozen baby octopus at Walmart.

    So now it's 7. We have to eat. I promise Sarah tomorrow night we'll eat later.

    We decide we want to eat where the action is and eat outside on the plaza at Fauno Bar. We start with brochetta, apple juice for the kids, Prosecco for me and a liter of acqua con gas. Sarah had spaghetti, Isaac Hawaiian pizza and I had tortellini that looked like it came out of a can. Tasted a little better than Chef Boyardee but I did have higher expectations. However, we are outside, watching the people, it was very enjoyable.

    The kids are having a hard time adjusting to Italian service. They are used to leaving as soon as they finish eating. Burt its nice outside and they are learning to relax. We asked for dolce and they seemed to forget about us and we had to ask again about 15 minutes later. I had the famous Sorrento lemon cake, Sarah a vanilla cream cake and Isaac had fragola and pane-- strawberries and ice cream. It was all very good. Total bill ? 65 E.

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    Thursday, May 13, 2004 ? Pompeii Daytrip.

    I woke up to the sound of rain. Oh dear. I did not have a plan B. Our two days planned are outdoor activities -Pompeii today, Capri tomorrow.

    Oh well, no sense waking the kids up early! I went downstairs and had a cappuccino and wrote in my journal.

    By the time the kids wake up it has stopped raining. We go down to breakfast and I don't want another Cappuccino (they are awfully filling) so I ask for Café Americano. I had an espresso at the train station and it is just too strong for me. The café came whipped. It's still pretty strong. I like strong coffee-just not espresso strong.

    Off to the train station again. This time I memorize "Andata e returno" -Round trip, which I forgot yesterday.

    The Circumvesuvia is a very crowded train. People get on with luggage and put their suitcases on a seat while others stand. That just doesn't seem right to me. I wonder if the people who must commute to work on this train are annoyed at all these tourists crowding their train.

    Rick Steves says to leave the train station at Pompei and turn right and you are at the site. Yea but Rick didn't do such a hot job of helping me find Capella Sansevero. This time he was right. We saw our driver from Naples at the parking lot, he recognizes us and is happy to see us "Ah you are going to Pompeii? Very good!"

    It was VERY crowded at Pompei. It reminded me of Disneyland at the entrance. Even though there are lots of people walking the streets in Sorrento, this is the first time I've realized "Oh, yea I'm doing a touristy thing"

    We got the audio guides which was a very good idea although we had a little trouble identifying some sites. They are numbered, but it's not always easy finding the number on the site itself.

    The kids made a big deal of how we had to listen to it at the exact same time so we would push our number then 1...2..3 PLAY!

    There were three times we thought we were looking at the Temple of Appollo and were wrong each time. And we never did find it. Nor did we ever find the famous house of the Fawn. Oh well, we've seen pictures. We did get (thanks to advice on Fodors) one of those books with the overlays that show what they looked like originally. The kids thought that was cool. We were able to find a lot of lesser known, more ornate houses, and the bakery.

    We were there more than four hours and made our way as far as the grand theatre. We saw on the map there was a stadium at the very end and it seemed like quite a hike, plus then we would have to come back.

    Sarah, the trained athlete who does 200 pushups and 50 off ice axels every night, was all up for finishing the tour. Mom could not bear either the walk or Isaac's complaining so it was time to turn back and call it a day.

    We stopped at the cafeteria -- the kids were not hungry but I was. For a decent serving of lasagna, small bottle of wine, a lemon soda and 3 bottles of water ? 14.50 E and we sat there for quite awhile resting, and watching all the dogs saunter wherever they pleased. They were all over the site and would come in a rest in the book shop. Two dogs were laying in the bookstore and I was going to take a picture when an employee shooed them away. They were back in a few minutes. The bathroom is upstairs. Bring coins.

    We looked through the gift shop. "Oh look, refrigerator magnets of frescoes" Upon a closer look, they are all of erotic scenes. Okay, my kids are teenagers and not ignorant of such things but it is embarrassing to look at them with your mother.

    On the way back from the train station in Sorrento we stopped again for gelato, this time deciding to sit down and have it brought to us. Sarah had white chocolate and regular chocolate and banana con panne, Isaac sticks with fragolla (strawberry) and whipped cream, and I have my favorite orange chocolate with café and cream. I've dropped a lot of cash at Pompeii between the entrance and audio guide, lunch, some books and a do it yourself mosaic of a dog for Isaac, while eating the ice cream I realized I didn?t see a menu and we just chose the ice cream. I?m not sure I have enough cash on me. I have only 20E on me, will that me enough for 3 big dishes of ice cream while sitting?? In some US ice cream parlors it wouldn?t be enough. And il conto is?15 Euro! Whew. We will end up spending more for walk away cones one night in Florence?

    We got back to our room around 5 and napped. I had kind of wanted to eat at a seaside place on a cliff, but none of them was close enough to walk and I didn?t feel like hassling with a taxi.

    So 8 pm, we had back to downtown and Tasso square. We choose a place and decide to eat inside because it?s pretty cool outside and Sarah is wearing her new sleeveless top.

    The place was very cute with red and white checked table clothes. I have wine. This place doesn?t have succo de mela (apple juice) so the kids get Sprite. And water. We order antipasti of assorted sausages. I thought I made it clear that the 3 of us were to share one. "Three plates?" He asks. I thought he wanted to know if we wanted plates. Sure we want plates. So they bring out 3 plates of assorted sausages. This is an 8 E antipasto. I hadn?t really planned on paying 24 E just for antipasto! And to make it worse, the kids didn?t really like it enough to eat all of it. One for the three of us would have been fine.

    I learned an expensive lesson ? "uno per tre" I had gnocci which was better than the tortellini. Sarah had lasagna and even in English Isaac isn't sure about the menu so he gets stead. We know what that is. Fries? Oh sure, why not. Food was okay. I wouldn't recommend it. Bill is 67 E. Would have been pretty reasonable if we didn?t pay 24 E just for antipasti!

    Isaac took the key and went back to the hotel. Sarah and I wait for il conto. We're getting better at this waiting business. It was a little after 9 when we left and we decided to walk around and see more than the main drag. We take a turn down a busy ally, so many shops and people and a very festive atmosphere. We buy little souvenirs here and there.

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    No matter how many times I proof read this, there's a mistake. Isaac got steak for dinner, not stead.

    Friday, May 14 Capri Day Trip

    Sarah and I let Isaac sleep and went down to breakfast ourselves. The waiter points to the empty chair and asks "He sleeps, the boy??" Yup, the boy sleeps.

    Today we plan to see Capri. I have a general idea where il porto (the port) is to get the ferry but I?m not quite right. We walk a while and then have to turn back. Finally we find some signs directing us. It's a bit of a walk plus some steep stairs but we find way to the marina and the biglieterria. The guy in front of me has his tickets all printed out and then asks "Do you take American?" Yea right. Did you, like, research anything before you came? A guide nicely points him to an exchange window. 57 E round trip for the 3 of us. I slept on the ferry.

    We decide to take a boat ride right away around the island. It's an hour and a very nice ride, 27E for the 3 of us. The water was very choppy and there were no boats going into the blue grotto, but we saw the green grotto and the white grotto with a stalagmite that looks like a statue of Mary. Sarah took a picture of George Armani's house to show her friends.

    After the boat ride we stopped for an orange juice over lemon ice drink. The orange juice is soooo good here. Then we took the funicular to Capri town, had some more drinks, and looked at some shops. Not much to see, really. Then we took a very crowded bus to Anacapri. We had to stand and there were some very sharp turns.

    When I bought RT tickets for the funicular, the guy told me to bring the cards back and he would give me 2 E back. I forgot to do it. We were able to add to the funicular card to use the bus to anacapri.

    It was about 2 when we got to Anacapri, time to eat. We ate on the balcony at Barbaroso Pizzeria. Sarah and I each had a Margharita pizza; Isaac just had two orange juices and water. The pizzas were big enough that we could have shared them. Pizzas were only 5.50 but the bill still ended up being 27 E. The sucking sound you hear is that of tourists' money being zapped down the tube in Capri.

    I'm determined to do some sightseeing. Let's find San Michelle. I have no map. All I know is that it is nearby. Kids are sure this is going to be a repeat of the San Severa disaster. Nope-there's a sign and arrow, we follow the arrow and there is the church. It has a floor with a large painting of the Garden of Eden. For a fee of 1E you can go in, walk on planks around the floor, then go up a little winding stair case and get a better view of the floor from the balcony.

    Okay I'm happy. Kids have had enough. Back on a crowded bus to the Capri funicular to the Grand Marina. It?s an hour and a half before our return ferry comes. More drinks at another café. We are ready to sit. Orange juice for the kids. Beer for me. Yes, it's costly to sit, but it's nice to know we are welcome to sit here and enjoy the view until our boat comes. A nice white dog comes by and sits by us. A marching band made up of all ages from teenagers to old men and in between in militaristic costume go by.

    There was a large group of adolescents traveling on our ferry. There were rambunctious and loud, running all over the boat. They were on the island as long as we were-- why are they not as tired? When we got off, there were more teenagers on the dock, hundreds of them in groups with tee shirts, chanting at each other. Perhaps some sort of tournament going on.

    We enjoyed the boat ride around the island, but other than that, I can think of no good reason to go to Capri.

    No way are we going up the stairs from the Marina and walking home. This is a good time for a taxi. 7.50 E from the marina to the hotel. Well worth it.

    I forgot to bring sunscreen and Sarah and I are very sunburned. The kids decide to swim and I stay in. Back at home at noon on Fridays my colleagues and I meet at a bar in downtown Sioux City so I call them there. They get a kick out of hearing from me in Italy.

    8 pm we left and ate at the Fauno Bar again. We all had pizza, prosciutto for Isaac, peppers, onion and mushrooms for me, same thing for Sarah, only without the mushrooms. It's very good pizza. The kids think it?s the best they had so far. One of the Sorrento dogs comes by and puts his nose on the table. We have cats constantly begging at the table, so this is not a problem for us, but I think some people might be disturbed by a stray dog at their table in a restaurant. It's taken for granted here. They bring me complimentary lemoncello after dinner. Mmmm --very good.

    After dinner, Sarah's in the mood to shop. Then the night's not over until we have gelato. Coconut for me, cream caramel for Sarah. She declares this the best ever.

    We were asleep by 11 and then at midnight awaked by loud noises. I thought it was thunder and went out to bring the bathing suites inside from the balcony. Surprise- it's fireworks. The entire sky was lit up. It was so loud it echoed from the bay. What a nice ending for our Sorrento visit.

    Tomorrow --on to Rome.

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    Saturday, May 15, 2004 Napoli to Rome

    After breakfast we decide to take one more trip to the internet café. Cappuccino and succo de mela. My kids will never drink regular apple juice again. I check my bank account. Oh good. There?s still some money left. We can eat in Rome.

    Our driver comes to get us at 11:30. I don?t think we are going to make the 12:30 train to Rome. ?Do you have your tickets?? He asks. No. Why didn?t I get them, there are plenty of agencies around. Well probably because I would have gotten 12:30 tickets and there is no way we are going to make the 12:30 train. The Naples station does not have any machines, the driver tells me. I thought I saw some, but I stood in line anyways. People in the line are very aggressive. After two men budge in front of me, I get aggressive about holding my place. One young woman in front isn?t quite ready so she motions someone behind her to go ahead. When the next window opens, one of the men who budged in front of me wants to pass her and go to the window but she takes the window. He complains. ?I was here first? she tells him. He begins to complain animatedly in Italian to me. I simply smile and shrug. Yea, right, buddy, like you are going to get any sympathy from me after you budged in front of me!

    I thought they took credit cards at the train station but the man at the window says ?cash only? Okay fine. First he wants 104 E for 3 first class tickets to Roma. How can that be when it was 97.62 from Roma to Napoli a few days ago? Oh wait, he?s mistaken. It?s only 97.62. Go figure.

    We have tickets for the 1:30 train and people are boarding at 1. As we hustle to our car ? toward the back, of course, some guy takes my ticket and tells me what car to get on. He doesn?t work for the train company and I know what car to get on, thank you very much and I grab my ticket back from him. He?s not going away. He follows us to the car, grabs our luggage and puts them on the rack and then waits expectantly for his tip. I hand over a 5 E bill. I guess it was nice having him lift the luggage for us, but I kind of resent the fact that I had no choice in the matter. And what if I hadn?t had anything small euros? Oh well, it all turned out okay.

    Then a lady comes by and starts scolding Isaac in Italian. There?s an empty water bottle by his seat and she wants him to throw it away. He?s lost in his gameboy with his earphones and pays her no attention so she starts yelling at me. I look at her and shrug. I find this to be a good response. There is a couple next to me, and the man in an accent assures me the bottle was there and it was not my fault. The lady comes back and yells some more. He yells back at her in Italian and English ?Go take it yourself if it bothers you? It would not have been that big a deal to pick up the bottle and throw it away but by now it would have been an admission of guilt. My boy?s honor is at stake! The bottle stays on the floor.

    When we took the train from Roma to Napoli I slept most of the way. This time I enjoy the scenery. Endless groves of olive trees, rolling hills, red tiled house nestled in terraces, fields of bright red poppies and yellow wild flowers. We arrive in Roma at 3 pm.

    We find a corner to huddle and gather enough coins for the WC. We haven?t eaten since breakfast. We need comfort food-not a culinary adventure. This sounds like a job for Mac Donalds. Sarah wants a chicken sandwich without mayo but before I can say anything it?s on the tray. She won?t eat it. Where are the Sorrento dogs when you need them? I go back and get her a cheeseburger. 1.60E. That?s about 2 bucks. I think they are about 70 cents in the US.

    We call the landlady for our apartment. She says she?ll meet us at 4:30, its 4 now. We get a taxi; I have the address written down. The cab driver speaks no English and seems a bit dubious about our address. It?s a 20 minute drive, 15 E fare, probably reasonable with all our luggage. He was very reluctant to leave us there. ?Not hotel? he warns us. It?s just a big wooden door between two clothing shops. It?s a very busy street. ?Apartamento? we tell him. Finally I say ?It?s okay? ?Okay? he says. That and the fact that another lady is asking if he was ?libero? assures him he can leave us on a busy sidewalk with 3 suitcases and 3 carryon bags. Fortunately it was not long before Maria, a cheerful young woman from the rental agency comes by to show us our apartment. (

    It?s a beautiful large one bedroom apt; the living room has a couch and a futon and stairs up to a loft. Hardwood floors. She shows us the bedroom. One double bed ?Are those two beds pushed together? ?no, no, one bed and the sofa bed.? Not 3 beds? ?You want 3 beds?? Uh, yea, I was always very specific about 3 beds. My 14 year old daughter does not want to sleep with her mother. ?Nobody told us 3 beds? The apartment is wonderful but I?m a little miffed because I particularly asked for 3 beds. Maria says something about how strange we Americans are about that.

    So I count out the 1050 E in cash I?ve been carrying around with me in my neck pouch. She gives us a lot of suggestions for eating places and what to order. Don?t eat too close to the Vatican, too touristy.

    After she leaves, what do I find in the closet? A rollaway bed. Well now everything is just perfect.

    Later Sarah was brushing her teeth, dropped her tooth brush and as she bent down to pick it up bumped her head on the marble corner of the sink, leaving her with a quarter inch cut and copious amounts of blood, which scared her more than anything else. Once I got the bleeding to stop she calmed down. Okay so maybe I overpacked but I was sure glad I brought the Neosporin!

    A little after 8 we were ready for something more than Mac Donalds. The first trattoria/pizzeria down the street we wanted to try was too crowded ? but thought it must be good so made a note to come another time. Kitty corner to that was Trattoria La Calvalori ? which turned out to be recommended in Gustafson?s ?Great Eats? book but we didn?t know that- only that it was close.

    We tried Misti antipasto again this time I said ?uno per tre? ?Yes, I understand,? the waiter answers, we want one plate for all of us share. It was assorted meats and a couple of ice cream scoops of mozzarella, but much better than what we had in Sorrento, marinated artichoke hearts and olives. Sarah liked the olives, but they were not pitted and she didn?t like that. I had cannelloni with sausage, the same sausage that was on Sarah?s pizza and Isaac got the pizza he knows he likes ? mozzarella and prosciutto. Wine for me, Sprite for Isaac, water for everyone, 34 E total. Very reasonable.

    Of course we had to have gelato after that and did not have to look far. Lemon for the kids, chocolate for me. It was like eating a frozen fudge brownie it was so chocolaty. Why can?t we have ice cream like this in the United States?

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    Sunday, May 16, 2004 Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona

    The street we are on and overlook is right by a metro stop for St. Peter and people walk up this street to go to St. Peter. At about 8:15 am I hear the sounds of a crowd and look out the window. Everyone is headed in the same direction - they are all going to Mass at St Peter! There are all kinds of people. It is a happy pilgrimage. Priests in various national garb, nuns in all colors of habits. There is a large group of Japanese school children in blue baseball caps. Many families from all over like the Indian family with the mother in sarong. They are all smiling, but walking fast so they are not late. I'm tempted to run downstairs and join this joyful pilgrimage. I had briefly considered on mass at St. Peters but Sarah complained we wouldn?t understand and Isaac is going through an "I hate anything to do with the church" phase and "besides, Mom, we?re Lutheran!" Like I forgot or something. You almost could forget and want to be Roman Catholic this close to the Vatican!

    I had planned to go out and bring home some pasty but I felt like an infidel going the opposite direction of the throng! I content myself with taking a picture of the crowds all headed the same direction. I'm surprised at how much I enjoy watching this international pilgrimage. Friars in brown gowns and sandals. African nuns in bright blue habits - it reminds me of Revelation with the promise of all nations and all languages and colors gathering together to worship.

    I'm anxious to get out and get moving, but it's better to let the kids sleep. Travel days are stressful. I go out and take a look around, lots of places to eat, plenty of bancomats close by and a few internet points.

    Sarah got up and took a shower but there is no hot water for her. I had hot water a couple of hours earlier but it wasn?t hot for long. Sarah wants to go home. About 10:30 we are ready to roll. We walk to the Metro and take it to Spagna- The Spanish Steps.

    Sure enough-there they are, swarming with people. After a photo opportunity we easily find our way from there to the Trevi Fountain, just follow the signs. I'm sure I must have seen this on a whirlwind European tour with my mom when I was 13 but I am taken aback by the size of the fountain. It's enormous. It overwhelms the square.

    Even more amazing is that we find an empty spot by it so we can take the usual photos and throw in a coin. I only have two coins! The kids throw them; I hope that the one I think I threw years ago still counts for another return trip.

    Near the fountain is the church of San Vincenzo and Anastasio. Supposedly there are parts of some pope hearts enshrined in the wall. We take a look inside. There will be more impressive churches to see in Rome.

    Next we head for the Pantheon. This involves many stops to look at the map, consultations between Isaac and I, Sarah just follows us and comments once in awhile "I?m pretty sure we are walking around in circles" "Yea," I tell her, "but at least we are going down different streets so you can see different stuff." Finally we come out of a dark street and there it is.

    Again I am just awed by the size of these things. I?ve seen pictures but nothing prepares you for encountering it face to face. We go inside where it is nice and cool. They must have had a service today because there are plastic chairs all set up.

    The way you can tell that you have found a major tourist spot (besides the crowds) are all these guys selling bubble machines. More consultations, map stops and wrong turns, backtracking and we find the Piazza Navone. It's 1 pm, we haven?t had breakfast, we are tired and hungry. I fall for one of the touristy umbrella cafes surrounding the oval. I know I'm going to pay more for the location than the food, but I want to sit here anyway. Except for Isaac?s fresh Anania (pineapple) the food is mediocre. Next time we'll go off the beaten path.

    After lunch we stop and visit the Palazzo Altremps museum, just north of the oval. I love classical sculptures and this branch of the National Museum of Rome houses some of the most famous ones. This time I get audio guides so we knew what we were looking at. Two of the most famous sculptures are the Gaul's Suicide and the 5th century BC relief of Aphrodite rising from the sea with her maids helping her. The audio guide tour takes about an hour.

    By now we've had about enough, but how to get home? The closest metro is back to the Spanish Steps, we are too tired and not even sure we could find our way back there. I know a bus will get us there but I haven?t yet figured out the secret of getting tickets at the Tabacci shop. I figured that out later.

    We walk some more, not sure where we are going and I finally decide to wait for a taxi. I don't see the meter on this taxi. What is it about being cheated by taxi drivers when I?m lost? This guy won?t even take us all the way to our apt. He says it's impossible. He drops us off 4 blocks away and charges me 12 E for a 5 minute ride.

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    Sunday Continued

    We get home and there is still no hot water so I call Maria. She doesn't believe we don't have hot water and asks if I've turned it on (there's a button to push to get hot water) Yes I turned it on. She agrees to come. Okay I'm stupid. I'm supposed to keep the hot water button on all the time, not just when we use the water. I thought I was conserving electricity by turning it off, but then it takes two hours after you switch the button on. She?s not happy about being dragged down again. Oh well. Now I know how to keep the water hot.

    Time for laundry. Just around the corner 1 block is a lavenderia. I'm a little concerned about the fact I have no change. Nobody wants big bills and it's all I have. As I walk in I note that it's very light and clean, unlike most laundry mats in the US. I stare stupidly at the machine that wants money. The attendant says, "Yes--you need help?" "I have no change" I say. "Eez no problem" he assures me. "I have change. You have soap?" "I forgot it" I feel like a 4 year old. "Eez no problem, I have soap" He opens 4 machines for me. I have a lot of laundry and it needs to be sorted. That's all I do, he does the rest. He wants to wash my bright colors in warm but I'm pretty insistent on coldwater. Eez no problem. Very easy when he takes care of it. He puts the soap in for me. Half way through he puts in what looks like softener. "To smell good- you understand?" Yes I understand that I've lucked out and this is much easier because you are doing it for me. An Australian couple comes in and he wants to help them, but no, they just want change. They can do it themselves. This is a mistake. They don't know what they are doing and put too much money in the machine. He?s annoyed with them, "I told you I have change?why you do this?" Because they are stupid like me, but at least I?m smart enough to let him do it for me. By the time I'm done it's 24 E to wash and dry 4 loads, including soap. Not bad. When I left the Australian girl was still trying to get her 14E back from the machine.

    So I get back after washing clothes for an hour and Isaac says "Did you bring back anything to eat, mom?" Yea, I went to the supermarket with my suitcase full of laundry. I decide he'd better come with me and pick out what he wants for dinner. We are going to dine in tonight.

    The Super Mercato is only a block form the lavanderia. I don't have any monete (coins) so we can't get a cart. The three of us will have to carry want what want. We wander around, figuring out what stuff is. Sarah and I agree on a refrigerated bag of spinach and ricotta tortellini and a jar of sauce to go with it. Isaac picks out 2 breaded chicken patties and bread for a sandwich. Then he wants mayonnaise. Oh that's easy. It?s called mayonnaise. A bag of chocolate chip cookies. Oh look ? some succo de mela. And ananas-pineapple juice and some blood orange juice for Mom. And a bottle of Merlot for Mom. That should do it. The bill is 22 E and I only have a 50 and no monete. The cashier is not pleased. Where am I supposed to get small bills and monete?

    The apartment comes with dishes and pans and olive oil. I fry the chicken patties in a little oleo di oliva. I heat the sauce up, add a little Merlot to it and dump in the tortellini. Dinner is ready in about 10 minutes. The tortellini with the jarred sauce is probably the best pasta I've had so far (though I did like the pasta with peppers in Sorrento) Isaac's chicken is better than the pre made patties you get in the US. My 4 E Merlot is better than some $10 bottles in the US. What a good idea to eat in.

    But then of course, we must go out for gelato. Sarah has the chocolate I had last night. Isaac sticks with lemon. I try tiramisu. I like it better than the cake.

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    Monday 5-17-04 Coliseum & Forum

    Another trip to the bancomat this morning. And I?m tired of never having small bills or monete. So I memorize and practice this line from the Rick Steves' phrasebook ? ?Me puo cambriare questo, per farvore?? And take a 50 to the bank. And he understands and kindly hands over some 10s and fives and coins. Okay, now I?m ready to go.

    While I?m at the bank, Isaac has discovered a Balinese store and finds a 3 foot painted wood cat for 18 E he wants. How are we going to travel with this thing? His heart is set on it so I told him he has to carry it on all the trains and planes we have yet to take. No problem, he promises. We stop at the corner bar to pick up so pasties to take to the apartment. I make coffee to go with my chocolate filled pasty. What a life.

    We take off at about 10. We take the metro, change at termini to get Line B to the Colosseo stop. While getting on the train at termini I feel someone grabbing my purse and turn around to see the girl behind me turn around and get off the train. Isaac says he saw her fingering the zipper on my purse and then leaves when I grabbed my purse. She would have been rewarded with a tour book had her efforts been successful.

    There it is- the Coliseum. We are immediately approached and asked if we?d like a tour in English. I initially agree despite the kids? protest. We?ve been running into tour groups all over Italy and they want no part of one. When she takes us over to the group we discover it?s a very large group; the guide has a very thick accent and is reading out of a book. I back out before handing over the money. Then we see the long line to the entrance and suddenly a tour seems like a good idea to the kids. No problem. We are approached by someone else. This is a smaller group and the guide is easier to understand. Cost is 15 E per person, including entrance fee. As we pass by the line of weary tourists and go right in, Isaac says ?I take back every bad thing I?ve said about tour groups? Supposedly we bought a combo ticket including Palatine hill but that?s kind of a con because when you ask for the ticket for Palatine he says he only has 1 ticket for 16 people. But for 5 Euro more, you can take another guided tour of the Palatine and I thought the forum.

    The tour of the coliseum was only 45 min and was very interesting and informative. After the tour we were left to spend as much time as we wanted to there. As we came out of the coliseum, I said wanted a photo with a gladiator. Isaac groaned ?Mom I was just watching all the stupid tourists pay for a picture with these clowns and now you want to do it? Don?t ask me to take it!? Well we run into 3 of these guys and before any of the kids could protest, one has my camera and two are posing with all three of us. They tried to give Isaac the sword and get him to point it at his sister, but he wouldn?t cooperate. ?You a good brother ? you no kill your sister!? I got out a 5 Euro and the guy wants 5 E a piece. ?No, I think you?ll just have to share? and walked away. ?Mom you?re mean!? the kids told me.

    Anyway it turns out this is the only picture from the whole trip I have of the 3 of us in one photo.

    Since the coliseum was a decent tour I decided to pay the extra 5 E and do the other tour as well. That was a mistake. I thought it would be of the forum but it was only the Palatine hill, which didn?t interest any of us as much as the forum. This tour was an hour and a half, it was hot and the kids were bored, though they were very polite and did not complain.

    By 2:15 the tour was over and we hadn?t really seen much of the forum. How about lunch. I?ve learned my lesson ? the further away from the main tourist area, the better and cheaper the food gets. We went back to the metro station to go up and walk away from the Coliseum.

    In a cool shady green spot we found a sidewalk café ? Café Della Studenta. We are close to a University. It?s very busy and we are ignored at first. But I see empty tables and I?m too tired and thirsty to walk away so I get aggressive and stop the waitress ?Un tavola per tre, per favore?? Ci, but we have to wait. She hands us some menus. I don?t care; we will have lunch at this cool and pretty café! Finally she beckons to us. There is a table for us. We all just sink into our chairs. Suddenly a waiter appears with the 3 glasses of juice for us ? mine is a different color ? I assume mine is a cocktail of some sort. ?For you?is free? I don?t know if they do this for everyone or we just looked so tired and pathetic. The drinks were very good. The kids want another one.

    I order a pepperoni pizza ?In Italia pepperoni is vegetable,? she warns me. Yes, I know, I like it. Sarah has spaghetti and Isaac decides to try a cheeseburger. Oh this ought to be interesting. I ask for more juice for the kids. ?For you too?? Oh why not. ?It?s free? she says. I expected to pay for the second one. ?Che cozy questa?? ?Professional secret? she jokes.

    The food was wonderful. The pizza had grilled peppers of all colors. Sarah had some and declared it the best in Italy so far. Isaac?s cheeseburger was made with mozzarella cheese and the bun was grilled. It was different but he liked it.

    We sat there and enjoyed the cool breeze for a long while. The frustrating part of the trip has been that in planning you think you can see all there is to see while you are in a particular area. But you just cannot predict how tire and sore you get. I haven?t seen much of the forum; I?d like to see the Mamertine prison where Peter and Paul were supposed to have been imprisoned together. I know its close, but sometimes I have trouble finding even things that are close. And I can see a sign with an arrow pointing to S. Pietro en Vincello ? St Peter in Chains church.

    Finally we are ready to keep going. Bill for this wonderful lunch was only 25 E. We easily find the St Peter in Chains church, which hold the chains that supposedly held Peter.

    I?m not Roman Catholic, I don?t get excited by relics and I don?t care if these are the actual chains that held Peter. Whether or not *these* are the chains, Peter was held in chains, as many other faithful were. They are a symbol of the story of the beginnings o the church and the courage of those early followers who risked their lives for their faith.

    Michelangelo?s statue of Moses is also here. Isaac is fascinated by a relief with skeletons in a side chapel. I think it looks like something out of pirates of the Caribbean.

    We walk down Cavour Street back to the forum and I think I know where the prison is. I see it ? there it is over on the other side of the ruins. So we walk down to the end and around and visit the prison. Then I?m able to convince the kids that since we have to walk back to the metro by the Coliseum we might as well walk through the forum rather than on the sidewalk above. They spend the entire walk arguing about something incredibly trivial, totally oblivious to the historic treasure that surrounds them. Oh well. At least I got to see it.

    The metro is very crowded and we stand packed together. Poor Isaac is so hot I?m afraid he?s going to pass out on the train from heat exhaustion. I?ve forgotten the sunblock AGAIN and Sarah looks like a beet. What a bad mother I am.

    Home at last. I?m so grateful for the cold red orange juice in the refrigerator. We rest awhile in the apartment but it?s not long before the kids are asking to eat. I don?t feel like cooking. Around the corner is a pizzeria L?Isola Della Pizzeria that is always so busy. We think it must be good. They have outside tables, but it?s cool and our sunburn makes us even colder so we take a table inside.

    The waiter tells us they have a special. Okay let?s try it. Special Antipasti. Okay but here?s the fun part. The first dish is calamari and the kids begin to squeal ? ?Eww gross? when they see a baby octopus. I like calamari but I don?t really want to eat octopus. But I feel I must set an example so I plop it in my mouth ?Ewe?? they squeal again. It?s not bad, kind of like salty rubber. I prefer not to have another one. Then come marinated tomatoes and cold pasta with oil, prosciutto and mozzarella cheese, and these deep fried rice balls that were wonderful. Mixed greens. I haven?t really liked the salads in Italy; they all have some greens that seem to have a bitter taste to me. We also get a lentil paste, more mozzarella but it?s not as good as the other place. All served with bread like a crisp pizza crust. The kids are still hungry so Isaac got his usual prosciutto pizza and Sarah had spaghetti. Since I?d eaten most of the antipasti, it was enough for me. Isaac had to cans of sprite. I had a half a bottle of vino rosso. 66 E all together.

    Then a gelato stop of course, Sarah had the tiramisu I had the night before. Isaac has something we think was chocolate chip and I had something white and boring.

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    OKay I spend a good amount of time, editing out those questions marks, and sometimes they go out and other times they don't, so I apologize, I am trying!

    Tuesday May 18 Early Roman Church Tour, Torre Argentina and Trastevere

    Tuesday we get up early because I have a scheduled private tour with Elizabeth Lev from Scala Reale of early Christian churches in Rome. We are to meet by the coliseum at 9 am. Isaac is barely awake so I give him the option of staying home. He?s got an attitude about Christianity these days and he?d rather stay home and hang out. I leave him an extra set of keys and some euro.

    We are supposed to meet at Ludas Magnus, the ruins of the gladiator school, but I can?t find that in my guidebook and according to my map, the two streets it is supposed to be on the corner of do not connect. I had to call Scala Reale for directions, I was almost right there when I called. If you haven?t guessed by now, I?m not so good at navigating.

    Liz teaches art history at an American University. This tour was fascinating. She was very good and even managed to engage Sarah, who?s not all that interested in churches, but didn?t want to be left behind at the apt.

    We hop a bus down to the forum. We begin with the church of Cosmos and Damien. The building of this church along the sacred way of Triumph in the heart of the forum in the 5th century signals the arrival of Christianity in Rome. It?s dedicated to twin saints, and the church is situated opposite at temple to other twins ? Castor and Pollex. Romans like twins so these are good saints to be here.

    We will see the inside later but now we have an appointment for Santa Maria Antiqua, also in the forum at the foot of Palatine hill. This church, which used to be a guardhouse for the emperor, is important for it?s many layers of painted walls dating from the 6th-9th century. Seeing the various layers of paintings allows art historians to see the changing styles of the various periods. Many artists from the east fled the iconoclast period of the 7th century to pain this church in Rome, where they had problem with images in churches. The Romans were a visual people and art was always an important didactic tool.

    This is all very interesting, but the only way we can get inside this church to see the paintings is with an Italian tour group, they won?t let Liz take us in alone. She is glad the tour is not in English which means she can tell us what she thinks is important. But we ended up spending a lot of time there waiting for the Italian guide to give the entire 2000 year history of the building.

    Then we went back to see the inside of Cosmos and Damien. If you go to the forum, you really should look inside the church. It has the most beautiful mosaic in the apse. And because the church has been raised higher than its original floor, you are much closer to the mosaic than normal and can really enjoy it. Liz points out that the faces of Cosmos and Damien are dark and Semitic, preparing the Romans for a religion that is from that part of the world.

    Off we go again, catching a bus back up to San Clemente, with its many layers. First we go down to an early 1st century Roman home that became a worship site for the cult of Mythros, a rival to Christianity. Then we climb up to the 4th century church built to honor the 3rd pope Clemente. Finally a little history about the present 12th century church. You know a city is old when a 12th century building is considered new.

    Unfortunately it is 11;30 and there is not time to see Quattro Coronati. My only complaint about this tour is that it is too short. I?m thinking I wish I?d booked her for a Vatican tour. I will end up wishing that even more. But we will come to that.

    It?s noon and even if I could have convinced Sarah to see more churches on our own, they are all closing. We go back to the apartment. Surprise. Isaac is still asleep. We walk down to the bar where we get our pasty and get panini the Italian version of fast food. I like prosciutto but I?m thinking I?ve had about enough for awhile.

    I nap for an hour. I think the kids fought just about that whole time. Before we came to Rome, we?d heard about the Roman cat Sanctuary in Torre Argentina. Since we take in stray cats (we only have 6 now but have had up to ten at a time) this is of great interest to us. We walk down and find a bus line that stops at Torre Argentina. I buy ticket at the Tabacci store.

    By the time we get to our stop it?s pretty crowded and I did not understand that you are supposed to get off at the middle door. Sarah gets out first from the back door but a woman gets on and blocks my way and she will not get out of my way. Suddenly the doors slam shut and the bus leaves.

    Okay I?ve been a good sport on this trip I think. I?ve had sense of humor about getting lost, being overcharged by taxi drivers, eating baby octopus?but seeing my 14 year old daughter?s terrified face through a bus window as it drives away from her in a FOREIGN COUNTRY??

    All bets are off. I scream and pound on the glass window. The rest of the passengers understand the language of a terrified mother and convince the driver to stop. Sarah has been chasing the bus and she is right there when I get off. I don?t care if they all think I?m a stupid American who doesn?t know which door to get out of; my kids are with me now.

    I do tell the kids that if that happens again they are to stay put (no bus chasing) and I will figure out how to get back to them.

    Okay. On to the cats. We cross to the ruins in the middle of the street. The ruins are down below. Sure enough there are cats lounging about the ruins. We walk around until we find the stairs on the corner down to the Sanctuary.

    One of the ladies that runs it ? Lia Dequel is happy to give us a tour. They care for more than 200 cats. All the cats are vaccinated and sterilized. After they are fixed, the healthy cats are allowed to roam free through the ruins. ?We don?t keep them prisoners? Europeans have a different attitude about indoor cats. In the US you are considered a bad owner if you let your cats go outside. They think it?s cruel to keep them inside.

    But they also have a large room with big open windows and linoleum floor for blind, crippled, incontinent and other cats who cannot fend for themselves outdoors. She introduces us to some their sick and crippled cats. There are baskets all over with kitties sleeping in them. They are dependent on donations and volunteers. They are not even supposed to have a building in the ruins, but the city government looks the other way. They have a few items for sale; we buy a mouse pad, calendar, two books and a little wooden sleeping cat., plus leave a donation. She tells us that on Saturday at 5 they are sponsoring a tour of the ruins with the cats, but alas we will be on our way to Florence on Saturday.

    We go back up and spend about half an hour watching the cats. That?s right. I take my kids to Rome and the highlight of the trip for them is watching stray cats lounge around some ruins.

    Kids are ready to go back. I want to see Trastevere. There is a tram right there that goes to Trastevere so we get on it. When we get off I see a church down the street. I want to check it out. Its San Francesco a Ripa that houses Bernini?s Ecstasy of Bat Luovica Albertoni. I wonder how it is decided that these little churches get the works of art they have.

    Okay we?re getting tired and thirsty so it?s time for a stop at an outdoor café. I really miss Diet Pepsi. What I wouldn?t do for one. I order aqua con gass ? at least it?s carbonated. Then I see they have Coke Light. Maybe that will be close enough. I think the waiter thought we were nuts. Water and Coke for me, Water and Sprite for Isaac, water and orange juice for Sarah. We drank it all. We were very thirsty. Bill is 11.50 E but it is worth it. We rest, read the guidebook; I can always talk the kids into just a little more sightseeing after one of these stops.

    I want to see Santa Maria in Trastevere. ?Not another church!? they grown. It?s a quarter to 6 and the book says it closes at 6. I talk the kids into at least going to see the Piazza. It?s a beautiful square with of course a fountain the middle. Oh and look?the church is still open. Isaac goes and sits on the steps of the fountain. There are a lot of young people hanging out by the fountain. Sarah, always a good sport, agrees to come with me into the church. The mosaic in apse is just spectacular. It?s all spectacular. I tell Sarah that even if the sermon was boring you could entertain yourself by just looking around.

    The kids have had enough. I?d like to stick around and eat dinner here, I have a recommendation, but there is only so far you can push teenagers before they decide if they are miserable, everyone around them should be too. We do stop for gelato. It have mint chocolate chip but it tastes like ice cream in the US.

    Our bus tickets have expired but I can?t find another place to buy tickets. None of the tabacci stores around have tickets. I decide to take our chances and we just get on the tram back to Torre Argentina. It?s so crowded so I doubt anyone would be able to check our tickets. We get off and there are about 10 taxis lined up. There must be an honest cab diver in Rome. Let?s try it again. Oh no, I lost my piece of paper with the address and he doesn?t understand my pronunciation of Ottiavano. I have my DK Eyewitness Rome book with a street index so I show that to him. Okay no problem. He takes us right to the door. 8.25. E I give him 10 I?m so grateful.

    The kids are tired, hyper and whiney all at once. I?m not taking these kids to a restaurant. So we go back to the supermarket. By now we know our way around. Isaac gets prosciutto and more ananas juice. I buy some sausage, pasta and more of that good sauce in a jar. That?s what we have for dinner. I still think its as good as any pasta we?ve had in a restaurant.

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    Joelle -- great report. We'll be visiting all those places at the end of the month with our 14 y.o. so it was really helpful. Question: what's the name and location of the place your daughter bought the green jacket? I bought a silk blouse that's probably the same color in Copenhagen two years ago, and a jacket would be nice. It is an unusual color, but seems to work well with most complexions. And I'm saying this as one who has spent entirely too much time wearing black!

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    Surfergirl: The name of the store is Piazza Italia, it's right on the main drag, just a little farther up from the Tasseo Square.

    I'm not going to try to edit these anymore-I'm tired of spending 15 minutes taking out all the ? and then they show up again when I post it.


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    I enjoyed your reports , even with all the ??? in them.
    I have taken my teens to rome twice on my own.(same age +gender)
    this last ime we had another 16 yr.old with us.

    The only place my kids wanted to see a second time? Yes, the cat sactuary. :-)

    I am glad you did this with your kids, a wonderful memory the three of you will always have.
    I hope you take more trips with your children.

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    Here are instructions courtesy of Indytravel from another thread on typing in Word and avoiding the question marks when copying into Fodors:

    If you go to "Tools" then "AutoCorrect Options" then click on the "AutoFormat as You Type Tab" the first set of options "replace as you type" cause problems with Fodors. The replace straight quotes with smart quotes comes out as question marks. "Ordinals with superscript" and "replacing fractions with a character" all throw Fodors for a loop. You can un-check these items and type care free in Word.

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    Thanks for the advice about typing in Word- unfortunately it's already typed and it took me a week, I simply can't do it again. I'll try to keep editing them out.

    Wed 5-19-04 Vatican & St. Peter

    We get to sleep in today because we won't meet our guide for the Vatican until 11 am. He's going to meet us in front of our apartment.

    Rome is not a dirty city. It is an old city. It suffers the graffiti curse of all large cities. But I think it's pretty clean, considering. Every morning you see the shop keepers out, sweeping the sidewalk and washing down their doors.

    This morning there is another pilgrimage outside our window. This time everyone is going to see the Pope. More groups and interesting costumes, and bands, I assume they are going to do a presentation for their audience.

    There?s a 1 hour photo shop around the corner, at 9 I think it might be fun to see some of our pictures. I take a couple of rolls in. 11 he tells me. Okay so 1 hour means 2 hours here.

    11:15, no sign of our guide. I don?t have a telephone number; I have no way of contacting him. That?s was not smart on my part, I should have asked for a telephone number. 11:30 we decide to get our photos. They still are not ready.

    Okay well I guess we'll just go see the Vatican on our own. We only live a few blocks from the museum. The line looks long but it moves quickly and we are in after about 10 minutes. I don?t want to get the audio guide because I?ve heard it's a pain to get them back where you got them. But we have no idea of the layout of the museum or where anything is.

    In one courtyard Isaac listened in on one group with an American guide who was very interesting. Isaac wanted to follow them around but I was afraid it would be too obvious after while. After some frustrating wandering we decided to just join the herd in the inevitable march to the Sistine Chapel. At least we'll see that.

    Oh my, what an ordeal. It was hot, crowded and terrible bottle necks as we?d all try to squeeze through one door, pushing and jostling. We did see some interesting things along with way. The kids especially liked a room with tapestries telling scenes from the life of Christ.

    But on we marched like cattle herded to the slaughter house. It took more than an hour. Finally we shove through a small door and here we are.

    At first we aren't even sure this is it, after all, many of the rooms have painted ceilings. But wait -way up there - that's God reaching out to Adam. And the irritated shushing of the guards. This must be it.

    As I feared, the kids are totally underwhelmed. "This is it?" And from Sarah who rarely complains "Oh. What a disappointment" I had a feeling that this could not possibly be worth the misery it took to get here. Nothing would be. The room is dark, crowded and noisy until the guards shush us and remind us we are in church. Oh yea, I've always believed that being herded and crushed on your way to church is a wonderful prelude to a spiritual encounter.

    Maybe we are just too familiar with the paintings (which are much easier to see in a book than craning your neck as you bump into someone else) Sarah didn't think it was different than all the other rooms with painting everywhere. After 5 minutes we've had enough. Let's get out of here.

    We ate at the cafeteria because we were tired and hungry. It wasn't particularly expensive or particularly good.

    I have to say so far, this is the lowest point in our vacation. The Sistine Chapel. Who'd have thunk? Reader, beware. Shell out some bucks for a guide or skip the Vatican.

    We stopped an an internet point on the way home. When I checked my email there was a note from the guide. He?d been waiting for us at Ottiaviano 9. We were at Ottiavano 91. When I made the arrangements I copied and pasted the address so I'd be sure to get it right. Guess I left out a number. If I'd only had a cell phone # it could have been cleared up much easier and this could have been a much better day.

    We came home to rest awhile. But I still wanted to see St. Peter. Isaac had no desire to go. I asked him how he could be this close in Rome and not see St Peter? "Easy" he says. Good ol Sarah is persuaded to come along.

    I want to buy a tacky pope souvenir for a friend of mine who gets a kick out of that sort of thing. My kids get the idea that they should have Pope Bobbleheads. No bobble heads but the next best thing -A snow globe of the Pope standing like a giant over St. Peter. Perfect. We buy two. As I'm buying them I wonder what the lady ringing it up thinks. Does she think I think this is a wonderful addition for my living room? Would she be offended if she knew this was a joke gift? Who knows?

    I don't know about Sarah but I am impressed and bedazzled by St. Peter. Yes it's as crowded as Disney but it seems to be expansive enough to welcome and assimilate all of us without making us feel like animals. This is a place where humanity is uplifted.

    There is the Pieta. It is sooo lovely. It is also lovely to just stand there and hear the gasps of surprise and admiration as people enter and casually look to their right "Oh there it is!"

    We passed by the old statue of St Peter and I tell Sarah to look at his foot, worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims rubbing and kissing it. Even now there is a long line of the devoted waiting for their turn to rub his foot.

    Ste Peter is a beautiful place to me. I know it was the excess and the way the money was raised to build it that disgusted the founder of my own denomination and was partly responsible for the Reformation, but I?m still glad Christendom has a St. Peter. The world is better for it. We need beautiful places to worship.

    I'm dead tired but I'm game to climb the dome if we can find the stairs. We never do. Oh well.

    Back home I try to nap. The kids fight. Finally I sent them out for gelato. I have a half hour of peace. I told them to bring me back some and surprise me. They come back with café. Good choice.

    Tomorrow a tour bus is supposed to pick us up in front of our apt at 6:45. I pray I gave them the right address. I left my alarm clock in Sorrento and I usually wake up at 6 so I?m worried how I will wake up earlier. I go out for another stop at the bancomat and what do I pass but a little shop that sells nothing but clocks! How can you not love a city that has a shop that sells only clocks! I ask for a little clock to wake me up ? only 7E and he even puts a battery in it for me.

    We eat in again. I have left over pasta that we toss with olive oil (and some artichoke hearts I add for myself) and I cook the left over sausage just by itself. It's a good dinner.

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    Thursday 5-20-04 Assisi

    I've planned a change of pace for today ? A Vastours bus trip to Assisi. It's about 3 hours away and I thought it might be a good treat to have a bus pick us up at the doorstep and have a tour.

    The bus is supposed to come at 6:45. 6:50 --no bus. Oh no. Did I give them the wrong address?? A little mini bus stops across the street and waves to us. This is a bus that collets everyone from around the area for various tours. This bus takes us to the agency where we pay 243 for 3 of us, then another bus that takes us to a bigger bus. It's 8 before we head out of Rome. Okay this is interesting. Half the bus peaks Spanish. This tour is in Spanish and English.

    First stop is at Orvietto to see the Cathedral. We get off the bus and get into a funicular to take us to the town on the top of the hill.

    Next a public bus to the Cathedral. There are enough of us to fill a large tour bus, plus other people are coming and a little mini bus shows up. I had promised my children the nice thing about this day is that we wouldn't spend any time standing on a crowded public bus. Okay I lied. But not on purpose!

    We don?t make it onto that bus. The guide promises us another one. A large group of school kids show up and their leader takes them to the font of the line "Dees ees OUR bus!" the guide assures us and sure enough she physically holds back the kids so we can all get on.

    The bus drops us off at a pretty piazza round the large Cathedral covered with scaffolding. I find the striped brick pattern interesting --it reminds me of a prison uniform.

    There's a beautiful art inside that I read about in a book I bought after I saw it. I especially liked the painting of the Resurrection of the Dead. Wish I'd had the book first so I knew what to look for. No, I wish I had Liz from Scala Reale with me!

    We get to Assisi and it?s time for lunch at the Hotel Savoy which is included except for drinks. Lunch is lasagna (not bad) and some unidentifiable meat that I think is lamb but Sarah won't eat it if it's lamb so I tell her I don't know what it is, salad, French fries and gelato for dessert. It's okay, not great, but lunch takes an hour and a half.

    We get a local guide whose first language is obviously Spanish. First we go to the basilica of St. Francis.

    I think the Spanish are getting a better tour. She goes on and on and on in Spanish. In English "And dees eez a peecture of St. Francis talking to dee birds" Oh great, I needed a guide for that.

    There are lovely mosaics in both the upper and lower church. There's scaffolding in the upper church, still working on restoration from the 97 earthquake. Then we walk through town to St Clare's church. Isaac's had enough churches and waits at the hotel. This is a terrible guide. We would have been better off getting book and doing this on our own.

    The bus takes us down to the St Mary church with the little church inside that St Francis restore. The kidsthink it is ironic there are signs forbidding dogs in a church dedicated to St Francis. We pass a beautiful field of red poppies down the hill.

    Final stop--a ceramics factory. Other tours listed this stop and I picked Vastours because they did not mention this and thought I could avoid it. Not possible.

    I did get to taste Orvietto wine which was very good but I didn't want to have to lug wine around. I tried some dark chocolate that was good but not any better than we can get at home. Most of the stuff here is crap. They have a lottery and two lucky winners on the bus get to take home free crap.

    It was after 8 before we got home. I'm glad I saw Assisi though the kids are not sure it was worth it. Next time I'd do it on my own.

    I don't want to cook. It's 8:30, normal time to go for dinner.

    We decide to try the place our rental lady suggested, also recommended in Great Eats, Da Marco E Fabio Formichello. We think we can't find it and decide to go into an interesting looking trattoria we pass by. Turns out from the cards on the counter -this is it. It just as a different name out front. The book suggests reservations but we are seated without a problem.

    A nice looking young man comes to our table and says "My mother just made lasagna- you like" Well we had lasagna for lunch already but I sure don't want to insult this nice young man?s mother.

    OMG ? this was the best lasagna I've ever had in my life. It?' made with some kind of wonderful creamy cheese. We clean our plates, wanting more.

    He comes back and tells us he's bringing us two pizzas. Okay, whatever you say. One comes with tomato sauce and cheese and one with mushroom, olives prosciutto and a hard boiled egg. I eat most of that one. Finally he comes by and offers dolce. Isaac has lemon sorbet and Sarah and I have cream cameral, wonderful custard with caramel sauce.

    My kids are finally getting into the long leisurely Italian dinner. A wonderful thing is happening. They talk. They talk to me, to each other. They talk about school, friends, they joke. The entire bill including wine and pop is 50 E.

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    Friday, May 21 Leftovers

    The kids are sleeping in and Mom is going to visit some churches on her own today. I started out at 7:15 am, taking the metro to Vittorio Emanuel. From there it is an easy walk to Santa Maria Maggiore. It's open but it seems only beggars and people going to mass are there at this hour.

    There?s a mass going on in one of the side chapels and I feel like a heathen walking around gawking. I would have liked to have gone up closer to see the mosaic in the apse but I was too self conscience about disturbing worshippers. I did listen to the history of the church on a telephone in the back.

    Next, the church for the made-up Saint, Santa Pudenziana. This was originally a Roman home, where perhaps there was a house church. It was known as the Pudens house but as the years went by, people forgot that and they made up a saint for the church.

    I almost missed this church because it's down a quiet side street and below street level. It's a smaller intimate church. I was able to look around by myself.

    Next some backtracking to find Santa Prassede, Pudenziana?s made-up sister. You can easily miss this church as the outside looks like a bank or something. Oh but the inside--a spectacular mosaic, blue background like Cosmos & Damion, very similar in fact. This time Peter and Paul are welcoming Pudenziania and Prassede into heaven. Frankly these mosaics impress me more than the Sistine Chapel.

    By now it was 9 am and I'm off to San Giovanni in Laterano. I could walk but it seems easier to take the metro which goes right there in two stops.

    From the metro stop you have to pass through the ancient Roman gate, Porta Asinaria to come up what is the back of San Giovanni. It's confusing because the back is more ornate than the front and I was afraid the church was closed. The square was lined with flags and balloons and a set up with mikes, some sort of event taking place later, I gather.

    On the way to the front of San Giovana, I crossed the street to the right to peek into Scala Santa and Sancta Sanctoria, where there are many pilgrims on their knees climbing what is believed to be the stairs Christ ascended to Pilate during his trail (it is said this tradition can not be traced any earlier than the 7th century, but then again, it's a symbol.) There are regular stairs for the less faithful on the other side, but I didn?t see anyone using them so I didn't go upstairs.

    On to St. Giovanni. This is the first time I've seen a "Beware of pickpockets" sign and it is in front of a church. Now that is just sad. It?s a beautiful church, this time with gold mosaics. I couldn't figure out to get the computer light to work to see the mosaic better.

    I would have liked to gone on to visit Quattro Coronati, but I was pretty tired by then so I came back to the apartment. It was a nice morning tour for me.

    When I got home I slept for a couple of hours then Sarah wanted to shop. Isaac wanted to lounge so we took the metro to Spagna and sauntered along the via condotti, window shopping.

    Then we were ready for something a little more low-brow like the souvenir stores around the Trevi Fountain.

    This time I had a coin so I threw one in for good measure. We stop for gelato, crème caramel for Sarah, crème caramel and nocciola for me. We stayed and watched all the people pose for pictures around the fountain.

    While I was changing film, Sarah spied a comedic scene as a toddler grabbed the water bottle of a distracted tourist, poured his water out into the fountain and walked away before the tourist knew he was there. Sarah laughed out loud as she watched the tourist attempt to take a drink and the confused look on his face as he pondered why his bottle was empty.

    Back to the apartment for some rest. The kids are determined to see the Mouth of Truth. This is not in a particularly accessible area or an area where there is much else to see.

    According to the KD Eyewitness book the bus 23 goes right there. That's a lie. There's no stop on 23 for Piazza della Bocca della Verita, which is what we want. An American woman overhears us talking and tells us to get off at the Marmorata stop. We wait more than a half hour. We should have taken the metro to Circus Maximus, would have been easier.

    The bus is so crowded, I don't know how we all got on it. I can't see out the window, I have no idea where to get off. We end up getting off to soon. I have no idea where we are. The 82 comes along, we take it to the Marmorata stop.

    It is a bit of a hike but we find the Bocca della Verita ( Mouth of Truth) at the Santa Maria in Cosmedin It's 6:30 and the portico is closed. All that and it's closed. But at least you can see it through the bars so we get a picture. The kids at least have seen it.

    There is a bus stop right in front of it, but it?s not the 23. We take the 95 to the Barbarini Metro. Because the other bus was too crowded to validate our tickets, we've made this 2 1/2 hour trip on one ticket, though a ticket is only good for 75 minutes.

    I'm sooo tired but we have to eat. Around the corner to Caravelli's again. Sarah wants what I had the last time, the cannelloni. Isaac has ravioli and I have risotto ragu. It is really good stick your stomach, no nonsense food. Just what I was looking for after a long, sometimes frustrating day of sightseeing.

    We decide our last night in Roma calls for dolce. Tiramisu for me, lemone torte for Sarah, cheesecake for Isaac. I had tiramisu once at an Italian restaurant in the states and didn't really care for it. This was different. This was wonderful. Sarah declares her lemone torte the best dessert she's had in her life. Isaac is also please. The total bill including wine, water and coke is 42.50 E. Good deal.

    So tomorrow we leave Rome. I like Rome. Rome is a charming city. I love how you can be walking along a normal busy street, turn a corner and suddenly be surprised by a beautiful fountain, lovely piazza, or stunning church. But I'm also ready to leave Rome. It's an intense city. The kids are ready to go home. I feared this would be a long trip but I felt, rightly, we needed a full week in Rome. And how could we come and not see Florence and Venice.

    Tomorrow ? Firenze

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    Joelle, I am loving your report (sorry, I sound like a McDonald's ad!)

    Oh how I wish I could have urged you to take the audioguide tour of the Vatican Museums. It's actually a CD and it's fabulous, so much easier to operate than those @$%! handsets. And the commentary is wonderful.

    Unfortunately with your teens you found it hard to get an early start, but the VC is really one place where this is imperative. It's always busy, but at least the crowds are manageable first thing in the morning.

    I understand your concern about cats but my brother absolutely must keep theirs inside. In Vancouver, BC where he lives, many is the time he's been out jogging and caught sight of a coyote running off with a cat in its jaws. City and country aren't so well delineated anymore in some parts.

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    Excellent report. You are a great writer who allows the reader to transport themself to Italy as your travel companion.

    You are very fortunate to have these memories of traveling with your kids. I am envious.

    Look forward my "trip" to Florence and Venice. Can't wait.

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    Sue - yes we should have done the audioguides, it turned out we ended up back at the beginning anyways. And the reason we were so late was because we were supposed to have met up with a private guide, but it didn't work out.

    And I make no judgements about whether or not people keep their cats inside or outside, different circumstances call for different rules. I just know I've been criticized because I let my cats go out in the country and found it interesting that in some cultures people wouldn't dream of anything else.

    But I digress and I have more installments to post...


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    Saturday, May 22, 2004 Rome to Florence

    Moving day and I have the bright idea to do laundry before we go. Maria is coming at 11 and I think I can do the laundry, pack and clean the apartment before that. At the lavanderia there is another nice man who takes my money and turns on the washing machine. One hour, he promises. I should be done by 9 am. No problem. My wash is done at 8:45. It takes a key to start the dryer, which I've paid for. But the man who has my key is gone. A woman I believe is his wife who speaks little English tells me to wait one minute. 15 minutes later I'm thinking I need to leave. She tells me to come back at 10. I can't come back at 10, I have to leave.

    But she doesn't understand. Come back tomorrow she tells me "Now is impossible" I ask for a bag so I can take my laundry home wet. Then I ask if I can't pay more and get another key for another dryer. Suddenly she gets an idea. She takes some money, puts it in the machine, pushes some numbers and starts the dryer. I get back to the apt with clean and dry clothes about 9:45.

    By 11 everything is done and Maria comes by to check us out. I cleaned dirt in that apt that was there before we arrived. She makes sure the TV works. All is well and she hands over my 200 E deposit and calls us a cab.

    We get to the train station. Why didn't I buy a ticket before? Because I keep planning on the 12:30 train and we would have never made it. I went back to the machine. I was paying attention, I thought, but I end up buying an IC train, not Euro star. I knew something was not right. Too cheap. Back in line I go. I was able to upgrade it to 1:30 second class Eurostar to Florence. There's not much difference between First and Second class.

    Firenze is the first stop, exactly 1 1/2 hours later. There is a long line for taxis but they keep coming so we are soon on our way. Cabfare to our hotel is 6.25

    Via Pellicceria 2, Florence ? 155 E a night, triple

    This is an interesting hotel. It doesn't look like a hotel, no sign, just a small breastplate to ring. We are let into a dark, musty smelling stairwell. I've been warned about this and promise the kids it will be better on our floor. We drag the suitcases up one flight to the elevator and get to our room on the 3rd floor, which is bright and cheery. Our triple room with three twin beds lined up in a row is pretty spacious. The walls are yellow, the beds are yellow, and the bedspreads are yellow. There's also a sitting room and breakfast room we can use. We get 5 keys -1 for outside, 1 for elevator, 1 to let us in the apartment where the rooms are, 1 for the room and 1 for the electricity. And we have trouble keeping track of keys.

    Our window looks directly over the Mercato Nuevo. Right away the kids want to go shopping. Isaac bought a chess set, a copy of an exclaber sword (great how are we going to pack those - he buys all the big stuff). Sarah has her eye on a white leather jacket for 140 E but I tell her to wait and look around more.

    We just start walking and come upon the Duomo. Wow! What a building. From the outside at least, I think it is more imprssive than St. Peter. We walk toward the Uffizzi and cross the Ponte Vecchio. I stopped at a shop and bought a pair of leather gloves for myself and for Sarah's skating coach. Of course we stopped for gelato. It's very crowded.

    We rest before dinner. We want to try Tattoria Nella, which is nearby and recommended both by the hotel owner and Rick Steves, but it's too crowded.

    We keep passing full trattorias. People seem to eat earlier here, perhaps because of all the tourists. You wouldn't see places this crowded at 7:30 in Rome! We end up at the Piazza della Signoria and decide to do the tourist thing and eat outside at Ristorante Oragna. This turns out to be a good, choice, although a bit pricey.

    I know they say you shouldn't eat at a restaurant with a menu in 4 languages, but we were happy. We started out with bruschetta, prosciutto and crustini. The pate was the only thing we didn't care for. Sarah and I shared a plate of tortellini with tomato sauce which was very good. Then because we were hungry for something besides pasta and pizza, Sarah and I each ordered a pork chop.

    Isaac had a steak that was humongous but he had to send it back because he will not eat anything is remotely pink. The pork chops were grilled, fat, juicy and wonderful. We live in Iowa where we are used to good pork, and this was right up to our standards. Isaac thought his steak, returned to him black, was very good.

    The service was excellent. Bill for all including 1/2 liter house wine (not great but I drank it) large bottle of water and a coke--83 E. It was fun to have all the courses but I think I?d better cut back for awhile.

    We crossed the piazza for gelato. Sarah is fixated on cream caramel and I try the Grand Mariner (very good) Isaac wanted a big waffle cone which she dressed up. 16 E for gelato! Gelato was much cheaper in Sorrento and Rome.

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    Sunday am 5/23/04 Museum Day

    We got pasty from Café Gilli at the Piazza della Repubblica. It was wonderful. We just walked around, not sure what to do first. We ended up at the Palazzo Vecchio. Rick Steves calls describes the art here as "mediocre magnificence", but we enjoyed it. There are lots of paintings depicting Roman mythology, which Isaac is into so it had his attention.

    After that we walked over to the Uffizi, there was a small line, but I was afraid my kids would only tolerate one line and if it was only going to be one line, I wanted them to see David.

    When I began planning this trip 2 years ago, I knew the smart thing was to make appointments to see David and the Uffizi. But I didn?t. We took a trip a few years ago to Washington DC and had our congressman set up a bunch of appointments for us and I found it difficult to be where we were supposed to be at these times. I just like being more flexible. I wasn't sure if the kids were going to want to even go to the Uffizi. So I took my chances. A safe risk in May. Probably not a good risk in the summer.

    We walked to the Academia and got there about 10:30 am. The line looked long but we waited only waiting 20 minutes before we got in. It's my lucky day.

    This time the kids were impressed by David. They even enjoyed the rest of the art in the building. We kind of picked a theme which was how babies are portrayed. My kids noticed these artists must not have spent much time looking at babies because they are all out of proportion. We played pick the ugliest baby. Okay so we are not art connoisseurs.

    On the way back we passed a store with really cheap luggage. Isaac?s suitcase handle broke on the way to Florence, so this was very fortuitous for us. We bought a larger suitcase for 12 E. What a deal. We had lunch at one of those cafeteria type places. It was very crowded and the food wasn't that good and not any less expensive than a restaurant.

    On to Sarah?s favorite activity -shopping at the San Lorenzo open air market. She found a white leather jacket for 100E. Good thing I told her to look around. I wanted to buy my gentleman friend a nice leather wallet. I was looking at wallets but they looked kind of cheap to me. "Yes, you want a wallet? I am Valentino; I am King of the Wallets... I know what you want. I have good wallet for you, I am Valentino, King of the Wallets." Valentino found me a nice sheepskin wallet plus put on a good show.

    After that we are ready for a rest back at the hotel. At about 4 I asked the kids if they wanted to try the Uffizi. Isaac?s had enough but Sarah is game. We luck out again and stand in line only a half an hour. I confess to my disappointment, we never found the room with the Botticelli collection. But we did see a lot of babies! I never realized there was such a common theme of showing the baby Jesus playing with baby John the Baptist. He's so cute with his little animal skin romper. We also got to see Michelangelo's Holy Family. It made up a little for the Sistine Chapel being such a disaster.

    We rested before dinner. We went back to the piazza della Signoria and this time chose Il Cavallino, which was recommended by Rick Steves. (When I got home I saw it is also mentioned in Fromners).

    For antipasti Isaac has his usual prosciutto. I decided to try the ribolitta, a hearty vegetable and bread soup that is so thick, it?s almost like a casserole. The waiter suggested I pour olive oil on top. The house wine was wonderful and when I told the waiter he said "I know" Sarah and I order roast beef and potatoes. Isaac gets a steak.

    Of course the steak is pink when it comes. And so is the roast beef. I thought it was wonderful, when I make roast, I always have to overcook it or nobody but me will eat it. Sarah says it makes her sick to see meat that red. It's embarrassing, but at these prices, the kids need to eat, so I apologetically tell my waiter about my silly children who can't eat red meat.

    He's okay with sending the steak back but is horrified at the idea of overcooking the roast beef. "But this IS roast beef!" He insists. "?I know," I say sympathetically. "Can ya cook it a little more please?" Back it goes. The poor cook probably feels he's being asked to commit a culinary crime.

    When it comes back, Sarah eats it all, but Isaac leaves parts of the steak uneaten because it's slightly pink. I suggest to Isaac maybe he shouldn't order steak anymore. The thing is, he likes it when he can get it burned enough. Total bill was 66 E.

    More gelato on the way home. I guess you just can't get 2 E gelato anywhere nearby in Florence. The smallest cone in 3.50 E.

    Before we go back to the hotel we stop at the pig (who is right under our hotel window) and rub his nose and feed him coins.

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    Monday, May 24, 2004 ? Pisa day Trip

    We left about 9 am, stopping at Gilli's for pastys to go. Here?s a lesson -3.50 E total for pastys to go. To sit down the same pastys are 4.50 each.

    We walked to the train station, without luggage it's not a bad walk. I bought tickets to Pisa, but nowhere could we find out which binariao (track) we need. The train was listed on the big black boards but not the binario. Finally I found it listed on one of the large schedules on a board on the track. Good thing I found out because everyone was getting on it and it was a very crowded train. It was an intercity train so there were no seat reservations. Lots of tourists going to Pisa.

    It's exactly one hour to Pisa. We followed Rick Staves advice to pick up the #3 bus across the street at the hotel. The difficult thing about taking a bus is that you are never sure where your stop is. I happened to see a big gate and a crowd of people and figured that had to be it.

    Sarah wanted to climb the tower, which meant of course that I had to as well. Isaac said "no thanks" We waited in line about 15 minutes and got an appointment for a 2:30 climb. It was 12:30 so we had 2 hours to kill. We decided to have lunch at a nearby café. Isaac had prosciutto pizza and was very disappointed when his "prosciutto" turned out to be regular deli ham. Sarah and I shared a salami pizza that was pretty good.

    Then we walked around, I got Isaac to come into the baptistery with me. It is very impressive. Sarah wore shorts so she couldn't go in the Cathedral. I had long shorts and had no problem. The mosaics and pulpit at the Cathedral are just stunning.

    We checked out the tourist stalls. Mostly junk but Sarah and I found journal books with matching pens. I had been looking at journals in Florence, but these were as nice as I'd seen and less expensive. The matching pens were a nice touch.

    To climb the tower you meet at the tourist office and a guide walks you to the tower. There's a warning about how strenuous an activity this is and that its' more than 300 steps. I begin to have self doubts. Sarah starts running up the steps and leaves me far behind. Well at least nobody passed me and I heard everyone else breathing about as hard as me so we are all in about the same shape. I did stop twice to rest. About 2/3 up there?s a balcony, but nope, you are not finished. The worse, however, is over. If you take a good rest there the final steps aren't so bad. It's quite a view from the top. Look around, catch your breath, take some pictures and go back downstairs again. Although downstairs is not as strenuous I though it was worse, they are step, leaning, slippery and no rail. But they are narrow enough that you can put your hands on both walls.

    While waiting for us Isaac enjoyed watching all the people taking the exact same photo-holding up the tower.

    Before we left for Italy I read lots of advice that the Pisa is a waste of time. I think it was one of our favorite days. Lots of tourists yes. But the kids loved it. And the Cathedral and baptistery are worth seeing. There are lots of other museums but my kids are museumed out.

    While at the train station I decided to buy our tickets for tomorrow?s journey to Venice. Isaac went outside to wait and was surrounded by a group of youngsters. He had on a travelers' vest with lots of pockets and felt them going after his pockets. He had no money but he did have his game boy and a camera in pockets. He managed to fend them off. He'd been suffering allergies on the trip and thinks the fact that nearly all of his pockets had used tissues in them might have helped. He didn't seem particularly upset by the incident. They started by telling him he'd dropped something and he was onto them right away, keeping a hand on the pockets with the camera and gameboy.

    When we got home we rested and then went to dinner early, about 7:45, hoping to get a table at Trattorea Nella.

    This time we were lucky. For antipasti we all had this wonderful garlic toast with olive oil. It was really good. I had their special pasta, ravioli with a pesto made from rugula. It was good, but very strong and I couldn't eat it all. Isaac had lasagna and Sarah spaghetti with spicy peppers. Sarah and I had the same dolce, cream with chocolate, some kind of thick cream covered with hot chocolate syrup. Very Good.

    As soon as we finished they brought the bill without asking. That never happened anywhere else in Italy. There were people waiting outside for tables and I did get the feeling they were trying to clear people out. That's an unusual feeling in Italy! Total bill including house wine (very good), water and coke- 55E.

    We walked around both the Piazza dell Piazza della Repubblica and piazza della Signoria and had gelato before going back to the hotel. Back in the hotel a large brass and snare drum band began playing right under our window. It was very festive.

    Tomorrow Venice

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    Still enjoying your report, Joelle. I thought it was a kind of neat game you played in the Accademia with your kids. That's certainly one way to get them into looking at all the art! I'll have to keep that one in mind. :)

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    This is the best trip report I've ever read! Maybe because I have teenagers and I feel like I know Sarah
    and Isaac now with your vivid descriptions. I can't wait to see what they thought of Venice. At the end of the trip report, I would love for you to ask them for their top 2 or 3 favorite things about the trip and see what their answers are.

    I loved the story about them walking through the forum arguing- paying no attention to the sights. I had a similar experience in Williamsburg with mine. And then the nice dinner where they were talking to each other- doesn't that just give you such a sense of pride and like it was all worth it?

    This trip will be something they treasure forever.

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    Enjoying your report, Joelle. Glad your kids were game forlots of new experiences. Isaac will have to learn the difference between prosciutto cotto and prosciutto crudo for your next trip.

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    This so sad that I'm coming to the end of trip report, it's like the end of my trip!

    Tuesday 5-24, 2004 Travel Day to Venice

    Sarah and I got up early to climb the dome at the cathedral at 8:30. We planned to stop at Gilli's on the way back but they were closed!

    There was only a small line at the dome. I thought Pisa was bad- this one has 450 steps! Of course Sarah left me far behind. About 2/3 of the way you get to see the inside of the dome. Heaven is on the top. Right at the level you are walking around are scenes of hell. Compared to going up more stairs, hell's not looking too bad. But I carry on.

    There was a point at which there was a sign pointing to the way back down and I do believe if Sarah wasn't waiting for me up ahead, I would have abandoned this death climb and gone back downstairs. What a shame that would have been because the top is not much further (although the last steps are VERY steep)

    At last we are at the top--outside with a beautiful view. Time to rest, take some photos and then back down again.

    There are separate steps to go down for most of the way but there are some areas where the up and down people have to make room for one another. Lucky for us we came early enough that going up we only bet a few going down. We met more up climbers on the way down.

    My glimpse from the dome is the only look I got at the inside of the Cathedral. The lines were always too long. And it was not going to open until 10 and we had to go back and pack.

    We were packed by 10:30 and Ann the hotel owner let us put our bags in the sitting room so we could go out again. Our train is not until 12:38 and we are only about 5 minutes from the train station.

    The science museum was close by so we thought we'd check that out. Oh my goodness, I thought it was crowded before--the piazza della Signoria was just jam packed with tour groups. The line to the Uffizi was nearly out to the river. Advice to readers--don't count on our dumb luck--get reservations!

    Isaac was the one that enjoyed the museum the most--we did get to see the infamous preserved finger of Galileo. Why I don?t know.

    Now the one room that did interest me, full of cast models of babies in the womb being born, different positions, things that can go wrong, the kids thought was gross. Okay a preserved finger is cool but babies being born are gross. Whatever.

    By 11:30 we were on our way. It was very busy at the train station and I was glad I had bought my tickets the day before. Again the binario for our train was not listed on the large boards so I looked it up on the schedule on the track. Binario #9. It was noon--time for our usual Train Station Lunch --Mac Donald's!

    About 12:15 they announce the track # has changed to 11 so we lug our suitcases over there. This time we are in luck and our car is up front. Usually we have to run to the back of the train, even when we are first class.

    Train ride from Florence to Venice is 3 hours. I warned the kids that when we get there it is probably going to be the most unpleasant time of our trip because you can't get a taxi right up to the door. We will be carrying our luggage around.

    I have the exact instructions to our San Rocco apt. Take the #82 to S. Toma. 5 E per person and 3.50 for each piece of luggage. It was very crowded in the vaporetto. We get pushed way to the back and I could barely get us back to the front with our luggage, squeezing past other luggage to get off.

    It's not really that far to the apartment but with our luggage weighed down with 2 weeks of souvenirs --it's pretty hard and I?m not good at following directions.

    Eventually the rental agent came and got us. I think I would have found it eventually.

    Now comes the fun part. Its FOUR flights of stairs and no lift. I knew that but somehow didn't think it would be all that bad. It was pretty bad. What was I thinking?

    Anyway we made it. It?s a decent enough apartment. Not as nice as the one in Rome, but there's more room than a hotel. I fork over my 450, plus 200 E deposit in cash.

    The rental lady isn't gone 20 minutes when Sarah locks herself in the bathroom and can't get out. Then she breaks the handle. I can't get her out. Isaac can't get her out.

    And my #!@! phone won?t work! I tried going downstairs and calling but the call still won?t go through. I go back upstairs, the kids have managed a way to pass the key from the window in the bathroom on the clothesline to the living room, but neither Isaac nor I can get the key to work.

    I go back downstairs and to San Rocco square to look for a pay phone. They are all over Rome and Florence, but do you think I could find one? Finally I went into a Tabacci store and told the guy my ridicules story. Fortunately he spoke English very well and let me use his phone.

    At first the lady was saying she couldn?t do anything about it. Huh? "Okay?" She asks "NO ITS NOT OKAY MY DAUGHER IS LOCKED IN THE BATHROOM"

    The Tabacci guy suggests we call the fire department but I'm not sure of the address. When I got back my phone was working and the owner called and said someone would be there in an hour.

    In the mean time Isaac entertains her by playing hangman; they slip the paper back and forth under the door. This is the best I've ever seen these two get along.

    So the handyman comes, slips the key in the door and unlocks it, no problem. I swear upon all that is holy, both Isaac and I tried that key several time, several ways and it would not open. Do I feel stupid? Then he had to fix the lock because the handle was broken. He was very pleasant about it. He did stick the key in the drawer and say "I prefer you not use the key" Yea. Good idea.

    So it's about 7 pm by the time all this is over and done with. So much for any sightseeing today. We have only 2 real days in Venice. I don't have a map and can?t quite figure out if there are any eating places listed in our books.

    So we walk around and see a very nice looking trattoria just over a bridge. Isaac has prosciutto and I have shrimp with oil and lemon juice. It?s served on these leaves that come in all the salads that I find too bitter for my taste. Sarah and Isaac both have spaghetti--I warn them not to order "al nero" unless they want it blackened with cuttlefish ink.

    I had spaghetti carbanara - with eggs, cheese sauce and bacon. It's all very good and with drinks the bill is only 45E. We are out of there before 9.

    We stop for gelato and Isaac tries granite (kind of like an icee) and he never went back to gelato after that. 3 euro for all. We are back in the land of cheap gelato.

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    "Isaac will have to learn the difference between prosciutto cotto and prosciutto crudo for your next trip."

    What is the difference? I don't remember there being any difference when it was listed on the menu other than sometimes he would get prosiutto pharma, which he liked, but we were never even sure what that was.

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    Ok, Joelle, I thought it was hilarious when my husband and I got on the vaporetto platform and expected it to move after we exited the train station. We didn't realize at the time that we were on the "platform" and not the actual boat.

    However, I have to admit that your story of Sarah being locked in the bathroom and all the ways you tried to get her out takes the cake on Venice humour. :)

    Looking forward to reading about the rest of your time in magical Venezia.

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    Yea Sarah did seem to have most mishaps on the trip - splitting her head open, being left behind on the bus and then getting locked in the bathroom. Good thing she's pretty good natured.


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    Joelle, that was a hilarious story about the bathroom (although I bet it wasn't funny at the time!)

    Not to worry, I did not feel judged re your comments about cats. If anyone did any overlooking of circumstances, 'twas I who forgot about your guide standing you up at the Vatican Museums, may he have the curse of the seven-year itch for doing such a thing and wrecking your experience.

    I hope you were able to console yourself on the Duomo stairs in Florence that this was going to burn up a dozen gelato's worth of calories...

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    <<What is the difference? [between prosciutto cotto and prosciutto crudo] I don't remember there being any difference when it was listed on the menu other than sometimes he would get prosiutto pharma.>>

    prosciutto = ham
    cotto = baked (like "deli ham")
    crudo = raw (or cured--prosciutto di parma is a famous, very fine version)

    Sounds like Isaac loved the prosciutto crudo. Sometimes cotto versus crudo is clearly marked on a menu, sometimes not.

    Poor Sarah locked in the bathroom. . . My exhusband NEVER got the hang of Italian locks. Since you can turn them around more than once to lock them, he was always turning it the wrong way and getting us even more locked in (or out) of various places. Once, a public bathroom attendant had to get me so I could speak to him through the door of his private toilet and direct him which way to turn the key. All the lady bathroom attendants were in hysterics.

    Keep the report coming!

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    Wednesday 5-25-04 Venice

    I let the kids sleep in though I would have liked to be up and out earlier. Yesterday was traumatic enough. We set out about 10:30, with no particular plan or itinerary. We stopped and got some big thick chocolate chip cookie/biscuits and followed the signs to San Marco.

    We came out of a small dark alley right at a gondola stop. I didn't know it at the time but we were pretty close to the Rialto Bridge. Of course we are approached for a gondola ride and the kids want to do it, might as well do it now. But I know I'm going to get hosed when he says "200 E for long ride" "Okay, 100 E for shorter ride" I take the 100E ride. I knew it was going to be pricey but I was hoping 100 E would get us a longer ride.

    It is a short ride but we went under the Rialto Bridge, we saw Marco Polo's house, Casanova, and some other palaces. We got to go down some quiet canals and people above us on bridges took our pictures. It was over in about 25 minutes. That was the only disappointing part of it. But how can you take your kids to Venice and not have a gondola ride?

    We continued over the Rialto Bridge.

    Along the way I saw a shop that sold the most beautiful cameos and I saw one pendant with a woman wearing a small diamond. It was soo pretty and 200 E. I've never spent that kind of money on jewelry for myself. I thought of the advice that if you see something you like, buy it right then because you may not find it again, but I kept walking. I was immediately sorry because I could not imagine how we would ever find it again in this maze like path of ours. Oh well, it wasn't meant to be, I said to myself.

    Eventually we found our way to San Marco. Isaac bought some food to feed the pigeons while Sarah complained that they were filthy diseased creatures that no one should go near. I couldn't resist and took some food and let a few land on my hand. I would have liked to have gone inside the Basilica, but it looked like at least an hour line. We'd all pretty much had enough of art, museums and churches so we just walked around.

    It was time for lunch so we walked a little away from the main tours spots and found "Trattoria Canonica" Isaac had his favorite pizza prosciutto which he proclaimed one of the best. Sarah and I shared a pepperoni pizza. Of course the waiter had to warn us that pepperoni was a vegetable. What confusion that must cause among tourists.

    The prices on the menu were very cheap so with only 2 pizzas I expected a much lower bill than 43E. The coperto was 7.74 and 12% servizo.

    I saw no need to leave a tip. 12% turned out to be pretty common servizo charge in Venice but that was the highest coperto I ever paid. But the food was very good and I guess that's still pretty reasonable for Venice. The address is 30124 Venezia, San Marco.

    Sarah and I wanted to shop and Isaac wanted to feed the pigeons so we left him at the square with some Euro and Sarah and I wondered around, buying little inexpensive masks as gifts to bring home.

    After we found Isaac again we took the #1 vaopretto to St. Paulo, got off and got on another one back to San Marco. I bought a 24 hour pass with a discount for the kids. Everyone says this is such a charming ride. Well, maybe when it is less crowded. It was so crowded, we couldn't sit by the window, Isaac found a seat outside but there were so many people standing around him he couldn't see anything.

    Isaac did have an interesting experience while he was playing his gameboy on the boat. A couple of Italian kids came up to him with their gameboys and noticed they were playing the same game. They managed to communicate somehow. Oh the international language of video games.

    On the whole however, we found the vaporettos to be about as charming as any other crowded bus, and a little more nauseating.

    We could have gotten off at our St. Toma stop but Sarah wanted to see if we could find our way back from San Marco. She also wanted to find that shop so I could get that cameo.

    Amazingingly we took the exact same route back and found the shop. So I bought the pendant. It really is very lovely. She did the paperwork so I could have the tax refunded, I did get it stamped at the airport, but never found a place to mail it in.

    I cannot believe how easily we found our way back to the apartment, without even looking at a map. In every other city we got lost constantly. In the city you are supposed to get lost, we didn't. At least not today.

    We came home, climbed the four flights of steps and rested before setting out for dinner at 8. We decided to try a nearby trattoria recommended both in Chow Venice and Great Eats in Italy, Trattoria San Toma. It was very easy to find in camp S. Toma.

    We ate outside and as it was almost the end of our trip and I still had $$ in my account we decided to go for it. I had prosciutto and melon--the melon was very sweet. Isaac had prosciutto pizza and Sarah Sausage and pepperoni. The sausage turned out to be very much like American pepperoni. I had gnocchi ragoo and grilled vegetables. The gnocchi was wonderful. I'd had gnocchi somewhere in Sorrento that was nowhere near as good.

    Then we had dolce and she invited us to come inside to pick what we wanted. Sarah and I had some kind of chocolate cake and Isaac had some kind of cherry torte. It was all very good. Then we had café (Americano for me, I can't handle espresso) and cioccolata for the kids.

    We stayed and talked and enjoyed the parade of people passing by. The total bill was 95 E and we decided it was just as much a Venetian experience as the gondola but cheaper and lasted longer!

    Sarah wondered if they'd ever be content to eat at Applebee's again. I know I'll never stomach another Pizza Hut pizza.

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    Thursday, May 27, 2004 Murano

    Our last full Day in Venice and Italy. Sarah and I got up early to get pastys and brought them back to the apartment.

    We left at 10 and walked to San Marco (couldn?t talk the kids back into a vaporetto) and took the #42 vaporetto to Murano. DO NOT TAKE THIS BOAT TO MURANO. You sit far below, can hardly see out and it's nauseating that low and it stops EVERYWHERE.

    It took us an hour an a half to get to Murano. It was not a pleasant ride. Did I mention my kids argued the entire hour and a half?

    We did get to pass an enormous Princess Cruise ship. The size of it was unbelievable. Sarah was convinced there was an ice rink on it and wanted to be there. They both thought a cruise would be a good idea. Yea sure, no problem.

    Finally we got off the board and went to some glass factories to watch the glass blowing. Isaac especially enjoyed watching them make the glass vases. He could have stayed there all day, watching. I kind of wish we had gone on one of the tour boats because we didn't get to see the infamous horse demonstration which I think the kids would have enjoyed..

    After the demonstrations we walked along, enjoying the scenery and shops. Sarah bought a tiny little flamingo and Isaac bought a larger dolphin.

    We stopped to eat at a café along the canal. Della Marow. I mention it's name in order to suggest you eat elsewhere. This was our worst meal in Italy.

    I had spaghetti with garlic oil and hot peppers that was actually pretty good. But Sarah ordered penne with meat sauce and Isaac had spaghetti with meat sauce. They bought Isaac and me the same spaghetti with hot peppers. The waiter was quite insistent that we ordered the same thing. Hmm, I'm pretty sure that what I ordered sounds nothing like "ragoo".

    Finally the waiter agreed to take it away and bring Isaac what he ordered.

    In the meantime we see pools of congealed grease on Sarah's dish. She can't eat it. I taste it and it was truly awful. Worse than a tavern (sloppy joe) at a midwestern church supper.

    Then the waiter brings Isaac spaghetti and he tastes it and begs for water because it is so spicy. It's got the same green peppers as was on mine. The pasta is cold. The spaghetti is spicy hot. We are quite certain that all the waiter did was take Isaac's plate with the spicy spaghetti and dump that nasty meat sauce over it.

    So I'm the only one that ate my lunch. Usually when we don't finish our plate the waiter notices and looks hurt and we feel guilty. This time we hope he asks "You no like?" But of course he doesn't.

    I only had 1/2 hour left on our 24 hour vaporetto tickets so we decided to go back after lunch. I had hoped to visit some other island but the kids have a low tolerance for time on vaporettos.

    This time we took the #5 back to San Marco. It?s a straight trip, no stops. This is the boat to take.

    Everyone is a bit irritable so we decided to go back and rest. Of course this is the time we get lost. I know the joys of getting lost in Venice have been extolled everywhere, but when you are hot, tired, had a lousy lunch and are with irritable and fighting teenage siblings, trust me, there is nothing charming about being lost in Venice.

    The good thing is that it is hard to stay lost for long in Venice. We managed to find a familiar square and get back to our apartment. After a rest, I was regretting not seeing the inside of San Marco and we still had gifts to buy. Sarah agreed to come along.

    We shopped along the Rialto Bridge, completing our list. By the time we got to San Marco it was closed at 5:30. Oh well. We were tired so I thought we should have an expensive drink at one of the cafes on the square with an orchestra. Sarah had an 8.50 E cioccolata and I had a 15 E café with Kailua.

    Ah, but the way they brought it out--beautiful china with a delicate pink rose pattern on a silver tray, Sarah had a little pitcher of milk and one of chocolate to pour into her cup. It also came with a carafe of ice water.

    We could see the basilica and watch people, sipping our expensive drinks. We even saw one hapless couple sit down with their ice cream cones and be politely shooed away by the waiter. It must have been one of the waiter's birthday and the orchestra played happy birthday. Sarah said she could get used to being rich. Needless to say, we don't live like this at home. Well if this trip motivates my kids to work hard and be successful to live this way, this is a good thing. Hey, not that I don't work hard!

    Anyway the bill came and I was expecting a high cover charge but how about 8.90 e "musica supplimenti?" 32 E for coffee and hot chocolate. Sitting with your daughter in St Mark's square? Priceless. Besides, we leave tomorrow and I need to unload some euro.

    Sarah and I got a little lost again on the way back and happened upon a campo that was a little neighborhood with little children playing on plastic Little Tyke playground toys and old ladies sitting on benches talking. We found a place where the real people live!

    We were so beat when we got back (remember those four flights of steps!) nobody wanted to think about dinner. I wasn't even hungry but the kids didn't really have lunch.

    About 8:15 we figured we'd better eat. We stopped at a window with take away pizza and calzone, but there wasn't anything that appealed to the kids so we kept walking.

    Not far from our apartment is a Chinese restaurant recommended in Chow Venice, "La Perla de Oriente." Chinese food in Italy? Why not?

    It's a lovely little place; pink napkins folded prettily, pretty pink china. Sarah and I had spring rolls that were the best restaurant rolls we've ever had (we make these at home and think ours are the best). I had hot and sour soup, okay, but I've had better.

    The kids had stir fried noodles that were served first in the manner of a pasta primo. Then I had sweet and sour pork that was just excellent, Isaac had fried prawns in the best lightly crispy batter and Sarah had a wonderfully tender lemon chicken. This is one of the best Chinese Restaurants we've ever been to. With 1/2 liter of house wine, coke and water, coperto and 12%servizo 39 E total. It was a nice end to our trip.

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    Oh this is so sad for me, the last installment, I've been enjoying reliving this trip by typing it and posting it.

    Friday, May 28, 2004. Arrivederci to Italy

    Time to go home. I think we are ready. I never did figure out how to call a taxi. Gee, would have been nice if the rental agent could have helped. When she came to check us out she just helplessly said she didn't have the number. It just killed me because there was even a dock in front of our door and a taxi could have picked us right up.

    Instead we dragged our suitcases down four flights of steps, schlep them over the cobblestone street, not even really sure where we were going--trying to find the bus station.

    Fortunately by following signs to Piazza Roma it was not too far, we only had to heave our suitcases up and over two bridges. We found the bus station but we also found a taxi stand and it seemed that was the better way to go. 80 E he told me. No problem. It was a very nice way to leave Venice.
    The kids thought it was much nicer than a vaporetto ride. No kidding.

    Our trip home was exhausting but uneventful.

    So Isaac's favorite 3 things in Italy
    were: The cat sanctuary, Fragola granite, and the pidgeons in St. Mark.

    Sarah's top 3, Shopping, the Colleseum and gelato

    This was pretty much a once in a lifetime trip for us, and I'm really glad we did it.

    If I had to do it again the only thing I would change is that I would PACK LIGHTER.


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    Bravo, This is one of the best trip reports I have read on Fodors. Your attitude says it all...once in lifetime trip.

    There are people who post and complain about the cost of food, hotel, water taxi. You knew this trip was special and showed your children how to travel...Do the unusual and spend the extra Euros on drinks at the cafe in San Marco square. The time you spent just sitting there with your daughter was well worth it and a memory to last a lifetime. Taking a water taxi to the train station and shelling out 80 E makes you feel like a queen as opposed to a tired, distrunted traveler trying to get home.

    I hope you get the chance to travel again and I can read about it.


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    Joelle, thanks to you, and Sarah and Isaac, for a wonderful trip report. It was a delight to read. What a great gift you, and your late husband, have given to your kids. Best wishes for many more adventures, Maureen

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    Thanks for the kind words for my report. It was pretty wordy, but I wrote down just about every detail so my kids and I could remember it all.

    Preparation for the trip with sites like these helped me be a little more free with my money. When I first read that a gondola ride could cost over $100 I didn't think I could possibly afford it. I had time before I took the trip to get used to the idea. The same with the cost of coffee on St. Mark's square.

    I think I probably will think of a way to get overseas again. I always wanted to go to Paris, but then again, we really didn't do Venice justice....


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    Wonderful report, Joelle. I almost felt as if I was along with you. I kept interrupting my family (who were glued to the TV) to read them small portions. We did a similiar trip last year with our then 14 and 11 year old daughter and son, so much sounded familiar.

    My son, who protested loudly at the thought of visiting museums before we left, actually confessed yesterday that he now likes art. They also both told me that history was much more interesting now that they have been to some of the places they are studying in school. Brought a big grin to my face, I have to say!

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences. I hope you get to finish your visit to Venice (with a side-trip to Paris) soon!

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    One of the most memorable times of my trip to Italy in 1997 with my mother (one of many memories) was sitting on balcony on St. Mark's Square sipping diet coke with real ice. It was such a treat to just watch all the activity and rest. I have really enjoyed your report.

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    I really enjoyed your trip report. I was also widowed at age 42 with a 13 and 10 year old boy and girl. I thought about going to Europe with them but have to admit that I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and did not quite have the nerve.

    Not to mention, during the teen years it was really difficult to get them to break away from sports, band and camp activities.

    I did go to France with my daughter later, but I have yet to be able to persuade my son to go. He's still much more interested in mountain climbing in the US.

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    Hi Sally--I had six years to get ready for this trip, I would have been pretty overwelmed at the idea of taking my kids to Europe soon after he died. I did leave them with my sister and go to Israel but that was a tour group where I appreciated being taken care of and being told what to do.

    My daughter was not at all excited about going on this trip. She resented missing her last day of middle school and she didn't want to go that long without skating. I just didn't give her much choice and I don't think she's sorry now :-)


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    thank you soooo much! We leave tomorrow,starting in Venice. I had a bisy day at work today but felt as if I needed to watch my 'soap opera'..couldnt wait to get home and see the last segment!!! I think im gearing up for the gondola ride but not sure!!!! I almost hate to think of it that way...but was looking forward to the vaporetta. Maybe a very early ride will be the trick..if we can get up that early with the time change! thank you again !!!Karen

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    I've stayed late at work just to finish reading your report. Your trip and your family sound wonderful: I love Isaac's theory about the used tissues preventing pick-pocketing, and I love imagining Sarah doing her axel practice in an Italian square (even if she never got the chance- what a great image!)

    You have such a sly sense of humor (and such an understanding that sometimes teenagers just need to sleep or they will explode) that I kept cutting and pasting your most quotable lines into a Word document to share with my husband.

    For everyone's delight, here it is...The quotable JoelleinItaly04:

    1.) The kids have never seen a bidet and are grossed out when I tell them what it is for. Later when Sarah realizes the shower is too small to shave her legs she decides that is what the bidet is good for.

    2.) Oh yea, I've always believed that being herded and crushed on your way to church is a wonderful prelude to a spiritual encounter.

    3.) Most of the stuff here is crap. They have a lottery and two lucky winners on the bus get to take home free crap.

    4.) My kids are finally getting into the long leisurely Italian dinner. A wonderful thing is happening. They talk. They talk to me, to each other. They talk about school, friends, they joke.

    5.) We kind of picked a theme which was how babies are portrayed. My kids noticed these artists must not have spent much time looking at babies because they are all out of proportion. We played pick the ugliest baby. Okay so we are not art connoisseurs.

    6.) But we did see a lot of babies! I never realized there was such a common theme of showing the baby Jesus playing with baby John the Baptist. He's so cute with his little animal skin romper.

    7.) Heaven is on the top. Right at the level you are walking around are scenes of hell. Compared to going up more stairs, hell's not looking too bad.

    8.) Okay a preserved finger is cool but babies being born are gross. Whatever.

    9.) In the mean time Isaac entertains her by playing hangman; they slip the paper back and forth under the door. This is the best I've ever seen these two get along.

    10.) I let the kids sleep in though I would have liked to be up and out earlier. Yesterday was traumatic enough.

    11.) A couple of Italian kids came up to him with their gameboys and noticed they were playing the same game. They managed to communicate somehow. Oh the international language of video games.

    12.) On the whole however, we found the vaporettos to be about as charming as any other crowded bus, and a little more nauseating.

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    Wow, thanks Blueswimmer, I didn't realize how funny I was till I read your top 12 :-)

    So um, my favorite 3's really hard because I just enjoyed the trip so much, I have to say the tour with Liz from Scala Reale of early Roman churches was a highlight, long leisurely meals with my kids laughing and talking, and finally, the sense of satisfaction that I showed my kids many famous sites and showed them how to travel with a sense of adventure and humour.


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    Great report. I wish I had the time read every word but I did read a good chunk of it. That use tissue bit had me laughing real hard. Tell your son that is quite the interesting idea.

    I give you a lot of credit for doing this with just you and your two children. You really showed your children a great time and something they can remember forever. When there friends are saying I worked this summer and I went to summer camp they can say "my mom wisked us off to Italy" while talking with their hands and finish all conversations with "ciao!". :-)

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    lv- to rent my phone was $39. I haven't got my bill for the calls yet, .325 a minute. I called my gentleman friend every night and sometimes we talked nearly a half hour -for some reason he couldn't get through to call. So I expect a bit of a phone bill


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    Joelle, I add my voice of appreciation for your report. I had a hard time finding it tonite, I hadn't finished reading it before. I started to panic. I also agree that Blueswimmer did pick out some of my favorite lines. I hope you get to travel soon and send us another report!

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    I also had troubles finding this post so I could read the last part, but then I did a search for 'Isaac' and found it right away!

    This is a great trip report. I seldom read entire postings but this one certainly caught my attention. I think that this trip report will be your best souvenir.

    Joelle, I think that you are the bravest woman taking on a trip like that. Maybe I sould consider taking my daughter sooner than I thought!

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    Excellent trip report, joelle! You touched my heart and made me LOL several times. This is a keeper, one to go into my permanent file of places we hope to one day visit. And i can only hope we have as much fun as you!

    Blessings to you and yours and hope you have many more wonderful adventures!!!

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    What a great trip report! I am sure you will figure out a way to be back in Europe for another vacation. The trip and the memories you gave your kids is priceless.

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    Wow, I don't read this forum as much now, just browsing to remember my trip and look what popped up again. Thanks for the kind words - glad you enjoyed it.

    Love to go to Europe again, the Olympics made me want to go to Greece, love that feta cheese. Maybe after I pay off our recent trip to CHicago...


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    starrsville - thank you so much for this top-up!
    It certainly has added much enjoyment to an otherwise dull Saturday morning.

    Joelle - if you are still, sometimes, referring back to this site for memories, thank you for sharing such wonderful experiences!

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    Popped in to get some tips for a quick stop with church youth to New Orleans, clicked my name and saw people are still reading this report...well a few months ago anyway - thanks!

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    I just read your entire report this weekend and it has inspired me as I plan my trip to Italy with my 18 year old son. I too am a single mom and this is my graduation present to him but I am not an experienced european traveller and am abit scared about doing this all on my own. thanks to all your tips and experiences I think maybe we can pull this off!

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