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2001: A Maitaitom Italian Odyssey - "The Lost Trip Report"

2001: A Maitaitom Italian Odyssey - "The Lost Trip Report"

Old May 3rd, 2013, 03:29 PM
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2001: A Maitaitom Italian Odyssey - "The Lost Trip Report"

Last week while rummaging through my drawers (my desk drawers, so you’re not confused about my personal habits), I found a notebook that contained incredibly extensive notes from our May 2001 trip to Italy. I don't even remember us taking them since I was not on a travel board at the time…but we did, and they’ve been sitting at the bottom of my desk for 12 years (doesn’t say much for my organizational skills).

This was the FIRST European trip Tracy and I went on with Kim and Mary (although we had done a short test trip the year before in Northern California to see if we could co-exist for a long period of time without killing each other).

Of course, some of the elements from this trip are not relevant today, especially prices, since everything was still in lira. However, cities and hill towns don't change that much, and most of our hotels still get fairly stellar reviews (except for the Rome one), although the prices have gone up substantially (the dollar was damn strong in 2001). Plus, some of our exploits along the way were pretty funny (at least to us). We even got through the journey without putting the wrong petrol in the car.

Our nearly three-week trip took us to the Cinque Terre, Florence, Venice, Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Pienza, Orvieto, Todi, the Amalfi Coast (Positano), Pompeii and finally to Rome.

I assume most of you will not be interested, since this trip was so long ago, but for the few who might want to follow along I thought I would post it (hey, I'm in between real trip reports…I need something to do…and can you really ever have enough Italy). I will put the first few of days up on my website soon, just because I can't believe we were ever that young (or that my hair was ever that short). All our pictures were scanned 12 years ago from slides and prints (no digital cameras back then for us), so some of the quality is not as good as it would be today.

The first few days that I have posted detail our usual conundrums, errors and fun we always seem to have on our vacations, including an airline strike, lost luggage, a toll gate faux pas of major proportion and a restaurant sing-along that today ranks as one of my all-time favorite travel moments.

What's truly amazing to me is how I can look at my notes that are 12-years-old and remember each day like it happened last week. Hell, I don't even remember what I watched on television or had for dinner last night.

So in case you are interested in the Fearsome Foursome's first joint European adventure, here is 2001: A Maitaitom Italian Odyssey…The Lost Trip Report.

Days 1 and 2 – Where’s Kim, Sorry But Your Air Carrier Is Now On Strike, Stuck In Munich, I’m Not Getting On This Little Plane…Oh Wait The Flight Attendants Are Gorgeous, Saying Hello To Julie Andrews, Luggage…What Luggage and Cinque Terre We’re Finally Here

It definitely was an ominous portent of things to come when Kim and Mary called in the morning to tell us their flight from Carlsbad to LAX had been canceled.

The original plans were to meet Tracy and me at the airport, and then the four of us would get on a lovely Lufthansa jet headed for Munich, Germany, where we would change planes and take the short flight down to Milan, Italy. In Milan, we would rent a car and head for the Cinque Terre for a couple of nights. We would then travel to Florence, Venice, towns in Tuscany and Umbria, the Amalfi Coast and Rome.

Luckily, Mary was able to catch an earlier flight to LAX, however Kim was not scheduled to arrive until after 1 p.m., and our flight was at 2:25, cutting it much too close for comfort.

As it turned out Kim could have walked from Carlsbad to catch our flight since we ended up taking off more than an hour after our scheduled departure time. This delay presented our foursome with our first (but not our last) dilemma of the day, because our late arrival would now mean we would miss our connecting flight to Milan.

On board our flight, we asked the flight attendant if there was a chance the Munich to Milan flight was delayed, too. Although my German is not very good, her expression when talking to another flight attendant said (in any language), “These poor folks are s**t out of luck!”

It wasn’t long before the pilot gave us our next piece of wonderful news. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said as we were approaching Greenland, “I am sorry to announce that Lufthansa has just announced a strike, and this is the last flight that will be arriving or departing Munich.” Great, I thought, I hadn’t even packed any lederhosen.

Arriving in Munich, we received some good news. We, along with three others in the same predicament, were now booked on a flight from Munich to Bergamo, Italy, on an airline called Air Dolomite. We would then be bussed to Malpensa and be reunited with our luggage. All was right with the world…almost.

As we walked out on the tarmac, my worst airplane fears were realized. Air Dolomite’s plane was about the size of a Tonka toy, and my motto, “If it doesn’t hold a 100, I don’t fly,” would be put to the ultimate test.

Without even time to down an alcoholic beverage to calm me, we were on board, and our Air Dolomite experience turned out to be wonderful. The dual prop plane ascended in record time, and soon we were flying over the Alps, although I was a little concerned we might fly into the Alps.

At one point, we were so close that I was certain I saw the Von Trapp family trying to escape Germany, and I swear I heard yodeling.

As for Air Dolomite, the service was great with meals served on real china by some incredibly gorgeous flight attendants. “Hey, I kind of like these small planes after all,” I said to Tracy after chatting with one of the flight attendants for a bit. I instantly got my first “look” of the trip.

The “Magnificent Seven,” as I now dubbed our group of stranded tourists, were transported by bus to Malpensa, and soon we would pick up our luggage and the rental car, and we would be off to the Cinque Terre.

As an aside, two of the Magnificent Seven turned out to be neighbors of ours who only lived two blocks from us. Yes, it a small world, however right now it was a world without suitcases.

None of our luggage was at Malpensa, but the lady at the counter said not to worry, it would be coming in on a later flight that evening, and they would send the luggage to our b&b in Levanto.

Satisfied that we would eventually have clean clothes, we hopped in the car and drove 2 hours and 15 minutes to the town of Levanto. Levanto is located just outside the Cinque Terre, but proved to be a great place to stay and was only a few minute train trip to the first Cinque Terre town, Monterosso al Mare.

We passed some nice scenery and quaint towns until we reached the forested coast. Our VW Passat took us into Levanto, and our b&b host Federico at Villa Margherita had given us perfect directions.

Villa Margherita had cute gardens, and the rooms were clean, albeit small, but the price to stay there was small, too…only about $70 a night. We all showered, and then Federico told us about a place in town where we could get some good pizza.

We wandered through Levanto to the Taverna Garibaldi (via Garibaldi 57). It was a great choice. Both the Quattro Formaggio pizza and the Italia pizza (basil, mozzarella and pomodero), hit the spot. We washed that all down with some beer and a large carafe of wine. The total bill came to 41,000 lira (or about 20 bucks).

On the walk back to the Villa (yes, it was now a Villa), we passed by an old cemetery where numerous graves and crypts were illuminated by electric candles. In the distance, we could see a castle and a church lit up on the hillside.

Who needs clean clothes when you have all this, I thought? We got back to the Villa a little after 11 and we all passed out shortly thereafter with dreams of tomorrow bringing fresh clothing and spectacular scenery. Some dreams come true…some do not.

NEXT: Day 3 – A Walk On The Beach, Your Clothes Are In Switzerland, Short Cut To The Train, Harboring Four Tourists, Sock It To Me, Getting Tanked, Manarola Lunch, Take A Hike, The 300 Stairs To Corniglia, “You Betcha,” Dinner In Vernazza and A Nightcap to Cap An Interesting Day
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 03:32 PM
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Day 3 – A Walk On The Beach, Your Clothes Are In Switzerland, Short Cut To The Train, Harboring Four Tourists, Sock It To Me, Getting Tanked, Manarola Lunch, Take A Hike, The 300 Stairs To Corniglia, “You Betcha,” Dinner In Vernazza and A Nightcap to Cap An Interesting Day

At home, it takes an act of Congress to get me out of bed. Not so on vacation. Even though we got to bed late, I was up by 6 a.m. and just before 7, while Tracy, Kim and Mary were getting in the last of their beauty sleep, I was walking through Levanto scoping out our new hometown.

I strolled through Levanto down to the sea and saw a huge mansion on a hill that had a park-like yard. On the way back, I attempted to be a local and stopped in the Bar Levanto for an espresso and a cappuccino. I stood at the bar with a bunch of guys who were speaking Italian, and for 3,500 Lira, just for a moment, I was one of them…well, except for that speaking Italian part.

I sat in the Villa Margherita garden to jot down some notes and soak in the morning sunshine before I went inside and joined our group for breakfast. Mary was still a little sleepy, as the church bells had awakened her a few times.

Federico provided a nice spread for his guests, and he had already been on the phone with Lufthansa, who had given him no definitive as to the whereabouts of our luggage.

No problema, I thought. I was in vacation mode, plus I had brought an extra pair of underwear and pants in a carryon bag, so at least I had a couple of fresh pieces of clothing to start the day. My traveling companions had no such luck and were wearing their airplane clothes.

Some guests at Villa Margherita gave us a tip about the short-cut walk to the train station that they said would allow us to not have to climb any stairs (we would need that strength later in the day). At the station, we bought an All-Day Ticket for 5,500 Lira ((about $2.75).

Our first stop was the second Cinque Terre town, the incredibly beautiful Vernazza. Vernazza’s harbor was full of colorful boats, and we made friends with some of the neighborhood felines who were scrounging for food.

The four of us walked around town, and then Tracy and I climbed the medieval Belforte Castle with its cylindrical tower. The views were great. I think Kim and Mary are down there waving to us.

We started to take a hike toward Corniglia, but after we had arrived at a point where the view back to Vernazza was astounding, Tracy informed us she was a bit worried about the hike, because she did not have any socks.

Getting blisters on Day One would be bad, so back to Vernazza we walked, and since the day was getting progressively warmer, we all decided to buy some clothing to get us through the day and night just in case our luggage was still in limbo.

Tracy bought socks and a shirt; Mary got a new shirt while Kim bought a shirt. I was daring and purchased a manly tank top because it was getting so hot. No one confused my spaghetti arms with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, but what the hell, I was comfortable if not stylish.

We hiked back up a bit for a group photo with Vernazza in the background, but by now we were starving!

We hopped on a train to the town of Manarola, another picturesque Cinque Terre town. We gobbled down some seafood, pasta and pesto (not to mention a little Cinque Terre vino), and then it was time to take the hour hike to Corniglia.

The views back to Manarola as we started along the trail were stupendous, and the trail wound itself along the coastline with vistas that blew our minds at every turn.

One thing we didn’t know until we neared Corniglia is how high it is. Navigating more than 300 steps, we finally made it to town and promptly found a spot for libations that afforded great views back toward Manarola. We again sampled the local wine that actually tasted like it was carbonated.

We took the 300 stairs back down and caught the train back to Levanto. We stopped by the graveyard that had been illuminated the previous night for a quick visit. After walking all those stairs in Corniglia, I was happy that I didn’t have to stay here permanently.

When we got back to the Villa Margherita there was a note saying our luggage was on it’s way to Genoa. It seems it had spent most of the day in Switzerland. This was the first trip where my luggage visited more countries than I did.

Just as we were walking out the door, the phone at Villa Margherita rang, and it was a Lufthansa representative stating that our luggage would be delivered the following morning. That was a good thing since we were leaving for Florence the next morning.

Back in Vernazza we first stopped by the Ristorante Belforte, which is built into the castle, for some vino. Our young server asked Mary a question, and her answer then started a routine that Abbot and Costello would have been proud performing. She answered his question with the words, ”You betcha!”

Obviously, our young friend did not know English very well, and for the next ten minutes Mary attempted to explain its usage and meaning, further confusing him (Kim, Tracy and my laughter probably did not help the situation). Mary’s explanation was to no avail, and he finally left perplexed at what these crazy Americans were talking about.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and some pretty good tasting wine, while our server could only shake his head.

For dinner, we dined at a place overlooking the harbor, Taverna del Capitano, celebrating its 35th anniversary. To be truthful, it was not very good, although their mussels were ok (but not as good as my muscles in a tank top), and the views of the harbor made the evening even better.

We topped off the evening with cocktails at the Blue Dolphin, then caught the last train back to Levanto and walked to Villa Margherita.

Our very short stay in the Cinque Terre was complete, but Firenze awaited. Hopefully we would have something to wear.

NEXT: Day 4 – Clothes Encounters Of The Third Day, “Take The Ticket And Go Away,” Stolen Drugs, Umbrella Policy, It’s Just Like The One In Vegas, Wine With A View, A Dinner Feast and When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Big Pizza Pie…That’s Amore!
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 03:37 PM
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Oh boy.
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 03:37 PM
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Day 4 – Clothes Encounters Of The Third Day, “Take The Ticket And Go Away,” Stolen Drugs, Umbrella Policy, It’s Just Like The One In Vegas, Wine With A View, A Dinner Feast and When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Big Pizza Pie…That’s Amore!

Considering we had such a slow start to this Saturday, it turned out to be one of the most memorable days we have ever spent on vacation, so much so that the four of us still remember it like everything happened yesterday.

I was up early again wandering the streets of Levanto, downed a couple of cappuccinos and chocolate pastries (a man has to eat before breakfast) before walking back. The four of us met at the Villa Margherita breakfast room, and somehow I was able to partake in some delicious coffee cake and very strong (exactly how I like it) coffee with steamed milk.

We then did one more walk through of Levanto, with me as the guide since I had already done the tour twice. I think Levanto makes a terrific base for the Cinque Terre. It’s more of a “real” town, but it is only a few minutes by train to the Cinque Terre (there is also a trail that leads to Monterosso al Mare if you want to walk).

Back at the Villa Margherita, just as Federico had told us, promptly at 11 a.m. a Lufthansa van pulled up with our missing luggage. We all changed clothes, bid arrivederci to the generous Federico and were on the road to Firenze.

I was worried about driving in Florence proper, but as it turned out, I should have worried a little sooner. On the road from Levanto to Florence there are tollbooths where you pay and get a ticket for the next booth.

It seems we (well, I was driving so I guess I better fall on my sword here) screwed up and must have been in an incorrect toll lane. I inserted the ticket, and the machine said we owed some money. There was just one minor problem…there did not seem to be any place to insert the money.

As we looked for a slot to pay, a voice (a rather disgruntled voice) came over the speaker and gave us the directions on how to pay (we think) in Italian. Since none of us speak fluent (ok, we really don’t speak any) Italian, this presented quite a quandary.

To make matters worse, as we fumbled around trying to figure out what the hell to do, cars were lining up behind us, and the line was getting longer and longer and longer.

Once again (only a little more irritated and louder) the voice came over the speaker attempting to instruct us on what to do…in Italian, of course.

Our newly fresh clothes were now full of sweat. We couldn’t pay, we couldn’t understand the voice trying to instruct us and we were now the cause of a giant logjam of automobiles waiting at an Italian tollbooth.

It was then we were given the catch phrase for the rest of the trip. As we sat there, feverishly trying to figure out what to do in this increasingly embarrassing situation, suddenly a ticket popped up out of the machine. A second later a voice said (very loudly…and in perfect English), “Take the ticket and go away!”

And away we drove (laughing at our stupidity) heading for Florence, a town where five years before I had backed up down a one-way street when it seemed there was no way to get to our hotel the correct way. I was hoping I wouldn’t run in to (literally or figuratively) any Florentine citizen who might remember that fateful day in 1996.

Today we got to within two blocks of our hotel, but once again a one-way street (not going in our direction, of course) stopped our forward momentum. As pedestrians, people on vespas and others parted quicker than the Red Sea on a Moses afternoon, we (I) drove maniacally (yet under control) through the streets of Firenze.

We navigated the streets, crisscrossed the Arno and before too long we were at our appointed destination, Hotel Hermitage. As Mary stated in her notes, “Tom did a wonderful job and actually got us right to our hotel after an amazing u-turn mid-span on a bridge over the Arno.” I hope my insurance company doesn’t read my trip reports.

The folks from the hotel came down to help Tracy and Mary with the luggage, while Kim and I dropped the car off at the rental office. When we returned Tracy and Mary appeared more harried than they looked at our tollbooth experience, “What happened,” I asked?

It seems that when they deposited the luggage in the lobby of the hotel, someone stole our little blue ice bag. Usually an ice bag theft would mean nothing, except that this particular ice bag held the arthritis drug Enbrel in pre-filled syringes (the drug needs to be refrigerated) that I injected once a week (my rheumatoid/psoriatic arthritis was really bad in those days, and without Enbrel my knees would have swelled up like a bowling ball within 9 or 10 days, and I would have been rendered a virtual cripple).

Tracy, Mary and the housekeeper (or as I called them…Charlie’s Angels) gave chase to the thieves, looking underneath parked cars in search of the stolen drugs. Luckily for us, the scoundrels must have opened the bag, seen there was nothing exciting to steal and left it behind. The hotel employee apologized profusely, but it was really no one’s fault. They all took their eyes off the ice bag for just a few seconds. In any case, there was no harm done.

Both couples checked out our lovely rooms that overlooked the Arno, and a few minutes later we were on foot ready to explore Florence on this very hot and humid day.

Tracy and I wanted to introduce Kim and Mary to the place that serves the best chicken sandwiches on earth, Caffé Giracosa, but sadly they were sold out for the day. We had originally been here in 1996, and they were the most incredible chicken sandwiches I have ever eaten (still to this day, I might add).

We started to walk toward the Accademia to see the David when the skies opened up. As we were pelted with rain, Kim came to the rescue and bought two umbrellas from an enterprising fellow. However, we only needed the umbrellas for about another two minutes when the rain promptly stopped as quickly as it had started.

The Accademia was surprisingly uncrowded, and after a short wait, we stepped inside to look at the big guy. He was quite impressive, although Tracy said, “It looks just like the one in Vegas.” That sound we heard was Michelangelo turning over in his grave.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by the Uffizi to pick up our timed 9 a.m. visit the following day. Now it was time for relaxing, and the Hotel Hermitage was perfect for doing just that.

The roof top terrace at our hotel had stupendous views of the nearby Ponte Vecchio and the Arno, not to mention other Florence landmarks. The four of us celebrated a now beautiful evening with a couple of bottles of Chianti.

I had decided that on our first night in Florence we should be real Italians and dine late. While preparing for our trip, I had read about a restaurant called Da Il Latini (Via Palchetti 6/r) that reviews said was both good and fun. There were basically two seatings, and the late seating’s tended to have more locals than tourists, so that’s what we did.

Looking back, this was probably the most memorable meal I have had anywhere in the world, and it really had little to do with the food, although the meal was very, very good.

At 9:30 we were lead to the second of three rooms at Il Latini. This rustic restaurant had prosciutto hanging from the ceiling at every turn, and on each table was a seemingly bottomless, huge bottle of Chianti. Walking through the restaurant to our table, the sweet smell of ripe melone was beckoning me.

There really wasn’t a menu, so we just had the waiter order for us. We started with prosciutto e melone (the melon tasted like candy), brushetta and foie gras on crostinis. Next came a tomato bread zuppa, an incredible vegetable bread soup and a white bean soup.

The group then shared raviolis stuffed with spinach and ricotta plus some rigatoni in a spicy meat sauce. But wait…there’s more!

Next up, I had a great grilled filet, served rare just like it should be. My three companions opted for a very good roasted chicken.

Life is not complete without dessert, at least for the guys. Kim had the tiramisu sprinkled with chocolate chips. The tiramisu was made with a sponge cake. I had the vanilla gelato with fresh strawberries. Both desserts were winners.

We all washed down our dinner with some dessert wine (Vin Santo) and plenty of biscotti for dipping. I then had a cappuccino (yeah, only an American does this, but the waiter did tell me you can only order this after you have completed eating).

Now as I mentioned, when we sat down there was a giant, straw covered bottle of Chianti (from the owner’s estate we found out). This bottle was huge, and you drink kind of on the honor system. Well, this group never met a huge bottle of Chianti we didn’t like, so we certainly put a dent in the bottle as our meal took a long time to consume.

When we were first seated, there were a lot of Americans finishing their meals, but by about half way through our dinner, the Americans had all left, and the entire room was speaking Italian, except for us, of course. The room was noisy and everyone seemed to be having a blast.

After all the Chianti and Vin Santo, the four of us were feeling no pain, including yours truly. We were having such a great time and in such a great mood that for some reason (ok, perhaps inebriation could be a factor), out of the blue I sang out, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…” Before I could sing another note, a large group of Italians at the table next to us, belted out, “That’s Amore!”

Well, that sort of opened the fun floodgates. For the better part of 90 minutes the four of us, along with about 20 of our newest Italian friends, sang a variety of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra tunes, took pictures of one another and laughed the night away. They all spoke English pretty damned well. It was the coolest night.

Finally, about 12:30, the owner came back to our room and reluctantly said that he had to close up, and it was time for us to go. When we were handed the bill, we could hardly believe it. The total cost for one of the most fun evenings I have ever spent came to a total of 120,000 lira per couple (60 bucks)!

We all laughed more as we walked through the rest of the restaurant that was now pitch black because the rest of the patrons had left about an hour previous to our departure. Damn, what a night!!

NEXT: Day 5 – A Major Museum Disappointment, Incredible Stained Glass, A Walk In The Garden, It’s A Pitti, Tracy Gets A Workout…Tom Gets The Look, Home Of The Dominicans, Don’t Be A Phony Try The Negroni and Leo Makes Our Night
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 03:52 PM
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On our first trip to Florence, probably in 2000, we had a similarly memorable experience at Il Latini, on a Sunday at lunch, where we were actually among very few Americans in a sea of Italian families. A waiter in a Venice trattoria told us to go there. It was a different time. Thanks for the memory.
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 04:13 PM
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Your hilarious renderings only improve with age. When I see your name on a TR I start to laugh in anticipation. You are one witty critter! Once again, a giggle a minute. So glad you unearthed this one. Can't wait to read the rest.
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 04:57 PM
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Geez... just when I was about to log off to watch Frasier reruns...there you were.
Such fun. Memories too. My husband and I stayed at the Hermitage... recommended by a friend who's a cardiologist. Just when we were leaving my husband tipped over the luggage stand.. a very heavy bench... on his toe. Which promptly swelled and bugged him for several days after.(Til he soaked it in a bidet in Siena -

Anyhow he threatened to sue our young friend for malpractice (for her hotel recommendation)... something she and I still laugh about even tho
my husband has gone to that wonderful Venice in the sky.
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Old May 3rd, 2013, 06:33 PM
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Love reading about your trips Tom. Heading out now but have bookmarked for later - can't wait!
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Old May 4th, 2013, 05:17 AM
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I love it! I am sitting here laughing out loud as the cat looks up from her nap as if to say, "Tone it down!"
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Old May 4th, 2013, 05:24 AM
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it was quite a wait but well worth waiting for - more please!
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Old May 4th, 2013, 05:56 AM
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Bookmarking for a leisurely, wine-accompanying read. Can't wait, Tom!
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Old May 4th, 2013, 06:39 AM
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What a nice surprise! Didn't expect another of your TRs until England. Must make a note of Il Latini.
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Old May 4th, 2013, 10:14 AM
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Even after all these years, Il Latini still gets mostly positive reviews. Detractors call it "too touristy," but it seems that most people whose reviews I read still think it's a fun place with good food. I've been back to Florence a couple of times since this 2001 trip, but did not return to Il Latini because I figured we could never duplicate that experience. The other amazing thing about that night was that we didn't get to bed until about 1 a.m. Ah, to be young again!!!

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Old May 4th, 2013, 11:29 AM
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My husband and I are sitting in the airport as I type waiting for our 25th anniversary trip to Italy. I've loved reading your T.R. So funny and informative even if it is 12 years old!
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Old May 4th, 2013, 01:59 PM
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NEXT: Day 5 – A Major Museum Disappointment, Incredible Stained Glass, A Walk In The Garden, It’s A Pitti, Tracy Gets A Workout…Tom Gets The Look, Home Of The Dominicans, Don’t Be A Phony Try The Negroni, Introducing Dr. Mary and Leo Makes Our Night

Four weary Americans, all nursing slight (some maybe more than slight) hangovers awoke groggy on a glorious Sunday morning, but somehow we were able to drag ourselves to the Hotel Hermitage rooftop for a nice breakfast. Kim and Mary were extra tired as they had trouble sleeping.

The staff at Hotel Hermitage was both friendly and accommodating and, after a nice breakfast, the four of us trudged over to the Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery) at about 8:45, where we had 9 a.m. reservations. As there were no lines, they told us we could go in early.

We bought audio guides for 8,000 lira apiece and went on the Uffizi Greatest Hits Tour. I must say this museum was a disappointment.

It wasn’t so much the paintings as it was the way they were displayed. The lighting and open windows with the sun shining in made the art very difficult to see properly. It took us about two hours to go through the Uffizi.

Next stop was the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John) on the Piazza San Giovanni. The stained glass was marvelous as was the mosaic ceiling. Ghiberti’s Gates Of Paradise Doors are not the original, but a replica of the one housed at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Original or not, they were spectacular and there was always a large crowd around it whenever we walked by during our three-day stay.

Next we headed across the Arno toward the Boboli Gardens and The Pitti Palace. I told our group that we should round up some friends and have a soirée at the palace. “We could throw a Pitti party.” Before they could throw me in the Arno I added, “You know, if they ever remove the palace, Florence would be A Town Without Pitti.” Kim, Mary and Tracy walked faster to get further away from me.

A couple we had met at the hotel told us if we went to the Pitti Palace to be sure to see both the Galleria Palatino and the Royal Apartments. We did, and we all acknowledged that we actually liked the Pitti Palace better than the Uffizi. Viewing the art here was much better suited to the eye.

Next we headed to the Boboli Gardens, which I hear in 2013 have fallen on rough times. That’s too bad, because when we visited in 2001, they were beautiful.

We started at the Amphitheater and walked up the hill to the rose garden that was full of roses (although not in full bloom) and some pretty peonies. Not only were the flowers gorgeous, but also the views out onto the Tuscan landscape gave us a glimpse of what we might expect later in the trip when we were to travel through the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.

By now, Kim and Mary were hungry and tired. Kim (being the gentleman that he is) told Mary they would look at some street art near the Pitti Palace, go grab a bite and take a little nap back at the hotel.

Tracy, on the other hand, was with Mr. No-Nap (aka me), and although hungry, we went off in search of another historical Florence sight. Right before we started our walk, I saw Tracy out of the corner of my eye, and her Spock-like “look” at me made me happy she couldn’t do that “grab-your-shoulder-and paralyze-me” Vulcan Death Grip Spock does so well.

The Basilica Santa Maria Novella’s construction began in the mid 1200s. Thankfully the church was so nice that Tracy momentarily forgot she was mad at me.

Back at the hotel, Tracy phoned her mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, while I went up to the rooftop and tried a drink I had never had before…a Negroni. Before my motto of, “You’ll never be sorry with another Campari,” there was “Don’t be a phony, try the Negroni.”

A Negroni is made with 1/3 Campari, 1/3 sweet vermouth and 1/3 gin. They throw in the orange slice to make it look healthier. Shortly thereafter, I was joined by Tracy on the rooftop. Kim and Mary, who were now sufficiently refreshed to begin cocktail hour (which for this group sometime stretches to hours), came out a few minutes later.

While enjoying our vino, we met a couple from St. Louis (Ron and Martha) who would become involved in one of our adventures later in the trip. It was at this moment on our debut trip together that we all got to see, for the very first time, Mary spring into medical mode.

Ron had a cold, and before you could say antihistamine, Mary was offering him Dayquil, Nyquil and even some antibiotics.

A little after 7:30, the four of us went in search of dinner. We had nothing planned, so we went over to the Santa Croce area looking for Acqua al 2, which has a sister restaurant in San Diego. The place was jammed, but we remembered that Franco at our hotel had recommended a place nearby called Ristorante Leo, Via Torta 7r.

Although there was room downstairs, we were lead up to a rather sterile room where there was just one other couple, also American. We then waited for our server…and waited…and waited.

I was getting antsy and we were just about to take a hike from Ristorante Leo, when this guy grabs a chair, puts it at our table and plops down to chat with us. It turned out his name was Marco, the owner of Ristorante Leo, who also happened to be Leo’s grandson.

He regaled us with stories about his grandfather who was the White House chef for 20 years, and that JFK ate at Ristorante Leo just a couple of weeks before his assassination. Whether any of his stories were true at this point made no difference. Marco was charming, and our dinner was fabulous.

Kim and Mary started with a salmon carpaccio. Tracy had the antipasto Tuscano (bruschetta, cucumber & cheese) a delicious salad with pine nuts. I, as usual, had some prosciutto e melone (you just don’t get melons like these in the U.S., so I had to take advantage).

Second courses included Ravioli Leo (ravioli stuffed with spinach and cheese in a velvety sauce that Tracy said was ”divine” topped with small Italian shrimp that were “bursting with flavor”).

We all guessed the delectable sauce was a red pepper, lobster sauce, which is why we don’t work for the Food Network. Marco told us it consisted of Pomodoro and Cream of Asparagus. The funniest thing about that is that Kim hates tomatoes, yet loved that sauce.

Kim ordered a great grilled swordfish, Mary had chicken, Tracy went for the veal scallopini with artichoke hearts, Gorgonzola and fennel, while I savored a veal chop smothered in Porcini mushrooms and the sauce from the Ravioli Leo.

(Note: Sadly it looks like Ristorante Leo is no longer in existence in 2013)

In the biggest upset in history, we all passed on dessert, even Mr. Bottomless Pit (that would be me), but our sweet tooths would be satisfied shortly thereafter. Walking off our huge meal we passed by the famed gelato store, Vivoli. Since it would be closed the next day, we felt an obligation to give this place a try.

I tried the riso (rice) gelato (damn that Rick Steves), which turned out to be an error in judgment, but I’m not one to dwell on my mistakes so I quickly tossed the rice gelato and tried the Mousse Café (much, much better…light, airy and tasty). Kim ordered a plain café gelato that he quickly exchanged for Mary’s Chocolate-Orange gelato that tasted just like candy. Tracy’s banana gelato, she said, “tasted just like a ripe banana.”

We kept on wandering and eating our gelato and then walked some more so we could all fit in our clothes the following day. We finally got back to the hotel, but despite our best intentions to not stay up late, by the time we made it back to Hotel Hermitage it was nearly midnight.

NEXT: Day 6 – Tower Flashback, Mary & Kim Escape The Taskmaster, The Real Gates Of Paradise, Chicken Sandwich Nirvana, Tie One On, Fabulous Firenze Viewpoint, How Did He Carry His Head That Far, In Chanting, Iris Eyes Are Smiling, Santa “Don’t Call Me Jim” Croce, Head For The Hills, I Only Scraped That Other Car and We Don’t Serve (But We Secretly Love) California Wine
maitaitom is offline  
Old May 4th, 2013, 02:03 PM
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12-year-old trip report? Hmmmmmm
Tom, Tracy, Kim, and Mary? I'm in!
ellenem is offline  
Old May 4th, 2013, 05:12 PM
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I feel as if I've gone to the library and discovered an unread book by a favourite author! Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to post this report, looking forward to reading the rest!
janeog is offline  
Old May 5th, 2013, 12:50 AM
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Thanks for posting this. I really enjoy your trip reports!
Saraho is offline  
Old May 5th, 2013, 03:45 AM
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Always such fun reading one of YOUR reports! I hope you have many many years of future trips as it seems you enjoy writing about them as much as taking them!
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Old May 5th, 2013, 05:21 AM
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Wonderful TR, Tom!

Sighing for Italy, TDu
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