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Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

Old Feb 12th, 2009, 12:00 PM
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Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

Getting to Know the Carabinieri: An Overdue Italy Trip Report

2-17 March 2008

BACKGROUND

Iíve had mixed feelings about writing a trip report because of some of the events of this trip. The title hints at my reservations, but also I knew that this trip was full of day-to-day humdrum life, as opposed to informative travel information. Recently I read a trip report from two Fodorites detailing their trip alomost year ago, and so I reconsidered. Then I reread the trip report I posted about a previous visit with R in 2004 and noted that some people seemed to enjoy the details of daily life. Hereís a link to that report:

If You Don't Like Reading About Food, Don't Read This Italy Trip Report

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p;tid=34541705

This report wonít be a report full of magnificent meals (we ate at home a lot) or descriptions of the well-known sights, since Iíve visited Florence a number of times and concentrated on lesser-known places this time. But it may have some descriptions of places and experiences you might like to try . . . or you might hope to avoid.

*****

Prompted by Italian friend R, I planned a March 2008 trip to visit her in Florence, Italy. Though Iíd been to Italy a few times since 2004, I hadnít been able to visit with her. She was excited for me to come and see her new apartment. Sheíd moved back to Florence from Cesena since Iíd last seen her. We would spend the entire time together, first in Florence and then traveling to some other part of Italy. Weíd think about some possibilities and decide on our destination once I arrived and we saw how the weather and Rís responsibilities might affect our plans.

About six weeks before my intended departure, I went online at the Delta website to see if I could book a seat on the direct JFK-to-Pisa flight which goes four or five days a week. I was pleased to see that there were seats available for about $700. Then I thought, ďI have enough FF mileage to get a free ticket,Ē and in the next thought, ďI have enough FF mileage to get a free FIRST CLASS ticket.Ē I switched to the ďUse MilesĒ function and discovered that I could use 90,000 miles to get free roundtrip first class/business elite tickets on any day that the flight was scheduled in March. Click click click and I had my first class tickets for taxes and fees of $39.54. It wasnít until the next day that it occurred to me to check how much this ticket would be if I bought it. I returned to the website and would have been able to purchase the same roundtrip ticket for more than $7,000, an excellent use of 90,000 miles in my opinion.

So now, in my own mind, this trip became a game to see how cheaply it could be accomplished. I didnít plan to skimp on anything or change my spending plans, but I would keep an accurate list of expenditures (something I donít usually do) just for the fun of seeing the total at the end. I planned to add to my fun by taking public transportation from my home in NYC to the airport and was delighted to think that I would make it to Italy and back for less than $60.


Sunday, 2 March 2008
8:25PM flight from JFK to Pisa, an uneventful trip. Even with the wonderful reclining seats and noise-reduction headphones, I never really get all the way to sleep for any length of time, but do feel rested when we land.


DAY 1: Monday, 3 March 2008 -- Florence

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

We arrive at Pisa at about 10:30AM, about 35 minutes early. First class means first off the airplane and Pisa is a small airport. Five minutes after landing, I am through immigration and waiting at baggage claim. Ten minutes more and Iím waiting in the terminal for R. She insisted on meeting me in Pisa, even though I assured her I could find my way to Florence and her place. While I wait, the local soccer team arrives and gathered fans wave banners and cheer them for a victory the night before. When R arrives she is surprised to see me waiting. After a quick coffee we take the next Regionale train to Florence (dep 11:43 arr about 13:00).

R insists on a taxi to her apartment, even though I always pack light and am willing to take the bus. Her new apartment is on Via Sirtori in a residential neighborhood outside the center near Campo di Marte, a large sports complex. Her apartment building is on a corner with shops on the ground floor and six full-floor apartments above. I am surprised when she says that each apartment has only one resident. I am even more surprised when I see her apartment. Each room has a door that closes: large living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, bathroom, and three bedrooms (one for R, one for guests, one as a ďworkĒ room). I live in NYC where space is a premium so this feels incredibly spacious. It is the typical apartment I've seen in Italy, with a hallway from which you access each room.

On other visits to Rís other apartments, Iíd slept on the sofa, but now I have my own room furnished with her parentís antiques. (I must admit Iím already eyeing the swaybacked antique bed and wondering if Iíll sleep at all on this visit.) From the living room at the corner of the building, there is a wrap-around terrace over the street. Thereís also a terrace off Rís bedroom that overlooks the courtyard. The windows of the living room and dining room have views of the nearby hills in the direction of Fiesole. On this sunny afternoon the view is lovely and golden.

R is a good, unpretentious home cook and we have a delicious lunch of tortelloni in fresh tomato sauce, sautéed beef with mushrooms, salad, and raisin cake. After our long late lunch we catch the #17 bus that stops a block from the apartment. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the center of Florence. We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pleasant sunny day, walking the streets of the centro storico, stopping at favorite sights. We cross the Ponte Vecchio and visit the Pontormo frescoes, personal favorites, in Santa Felicita and recross the Arno and visit the small church of Santi Apostoli, a new one for me. It is a pleasure to walk these familiar streets, chatting continuously, sharing updates about where life has taken us in recent months. There are plenty of tourists, but Florence does not seem crowded, even near the Uffizi and Duomo.

Our bus ride back seems even quicker than into the center, so I know this ride will not seem troublesome after a few days. We have a light supper of finocchiona (Tuscan salami), cheese, and fruit while we discuss the possibilities for the rest of my visit. We pour over maps and guides, dreaming the dreams so many Fodorites dream, of trips to here and there, new place or familiar friendówhere to go next?

TOMORROW: A Free Toilet (and Museum) in Florence

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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 12:44 PM
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I never can get enough Italy (or free toilets for that matter). Looking forward to more.

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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 12:48 PM
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I'm with you, Tom . . .

DAY 2: Tuesday, 4 March 2008 -- Florence

A Free Toilet (and Museum) in Florence

It was as I feared. The antique bed has an antique mattress and antique springs. It is like sleeping in a hammock -- and a short hammock at that. In the morning I rediscover the joys of bathing in a tub with a hose sprayer. To me this is a small inconvenience for the greater joy of travel in Italy. And it makes such good dinner party conversation.

Today Iíll be on my own in Florence since R has some household things to do. With no must-do itinerary, itís nice to take time over morning coffee, biscotti, and fruit before I head out to the bus stop. Within five minutes, a bus comes and since this is near the beginning of the route thereís always a seat. The exchange rate during this visit is the worst Iíve seen, right around $1.53 per euro. Pitiful. And so I am even more glad to ride the bus into town if it means I can stay in Florence for free.

R suggested I visit the newly-reopened Palazzo Davanzatti, the Museum of the Florentine House. It has been closed and under renovation for a number of years, so it will be new to me. The first things I notice when I arrive are that the museum is FREE and that itís only open the morning -- good thing I didnít linger too long over that coffee. Inside the entrance is a hall with some displays and then an interior courtyard. From the courtyard, one ascends to the upper floors that have historical furnishings and decorations. I am impressed in particular by the walls painted in patterns, some to look as if they were hung with curtains. The walls in the Sala di Pappagalli are indeed covered with a pattern of parrots. Back downstairs in the courtyard I discover another wonder, a public restroom. In fact, one could just wander into the courtyard from the street since thereís no admission. A public restroom in Florence is hard to find.

I head to the Oltrarno to wander the narrow streets and window-shop in all the teeny shops in the area. At lunchtime I find myself near a place I spotted some years ago and decide to give it a try. Enoteca Fuori Porta (Via del Monte alle Croci 10) is indeed right outside a porta of the city at the foot of the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. Itís a wine bar with food, including two pages of bruschetta and crostini. Thereís a lot of interest to me on the menu -- carpaccio di manzo or pesce spada, burrata con verdura ai forno, pappardelle alla boscaiolo -- but I choose the terrina di scamorza con radicchio rossa e speck (€9) and a glass of Pagliatura (€4). It is cheesey and bitter and great with the crisp Tuscan white wine.

More wandering for me, including a stop at a Bancomat. Iíd planned to wander some more but then it begins to rain so I head back to a bus stop and Via Sirtori. Before dinner we sit and chat and plot and chat and plot. Iíve been considering a trip to Parma for a few days, with possible side trips in the area to Modena and such Ė Iíve never been there before. R suggests we might like to return to Molfetta in Puglia. Sheís done some work on her grandmotherís apartment there, including installing hot water (see previous trip report) and suggests some other things to do in to area. We could stop and see Urbino along the way, also new to me. So many options, so little time. What else is there to do but decide over dinner?

R prepares fettuccine with broccoli and oil, braised gallo livornese, and more raisin cake. After some discussion, we choose a return to Molfetta. Weíll travel first to Pesaro for two days, from where we can daytrip to Urbino. Then from Pesaro weíll travel south to Molfetta, and probably daytrip from there to Bari, Bitonto, and Giovinazzo. Then back to Florence for a few days before I head home. Because of other concerns, R canít leave until Friday, which gives me two more days to explore Florence before we head south.

TOMORROW: Meet the Macchiaioli
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 01:04 PM
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Ellenem this is fabulous!!!!!
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 02:01 PM
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DAY 3: Wednesday, 5 March 2008 -- Florence

Meet the Macchiaioli

During the night the temperatures dropped. We can see a dusting of snow on the hilltops. R and I will spend the day together. Right after breakfast we head to her local travel agent to book our train tickets. I am delighted that I can educate her about Amica fares. She has a senior citizen discount card, so she already gets a discount, but she didnít know about this other option. We book all our tickets for all our trips. Hereís the data for the Trenitalia aficionados:

Florence to Bologna ES 2nd Class €17,00
Connect to
Bologna to Pesaro R 1st Class €12,40
Two days later
Pesaro to Molfetta IC+ 2nd Class €35,50
Five days later
Molfetta to Bologna IC+ 2nd Class €34,40 (Amica fare!)
Connect to Bologna to Florence ES 2nd Class €17,00
TOTAL €116,30

With our plans set and tickets in hand we head into the center with a few stops in mind. Our first stop is the Museo di Storia di Scienza. Much of the museum is closed for restoration but we choose to pay the €4 fee and visit anyway, enjoying the two small exhibits of bicycles and Galileoís telescope.

We grab a quick lunch at Rís favorite self-service in the center, Hot Pot on Via Lamberti opposite Orsanmichele. (R has little patience for what she considers the poor food at higher prices that seems to be working its way into the center of Florence.) Hot Pot has reasonable food at reasonable prices Ė grab a tray, make your choices, pay the cashier. I have eggplant parmigiana and a side of bright green beans for €9,40. And a bathroom break Ė if thereís a bathroom, use it.

After lunch we head to the Palazzo Pitti to visit the Galleria díArte Moderna. The name may be misleading since the museum was established around World War I and consists of art considered modern then. R wanted us to view in particular the collection of works by the artists of the Macchiaioli movement. This term was new to me (Even though Iíve visited these galleries before, I was clueless about these artists), so I will quote from Wikipedia: ďThe Macchiaioli were a group of Italian painters from Tuscany, active in the second half of the nineteenth century, who, breaking with the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian academies of art, painted outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. The Macchiaioli were forerunners of the Impressionists who, beginning in the 1860s, would pursue similar aims in France. The most notable artists of this movement were Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega and Telemaco Signorini.Ē R had an ulterior motive for viewing these artworks: We would visit a new museum dedicated to another famous Macchiaiolo, Giuseppe De Nittis, while in Puglia. I enjoyed these works and Rís impressions of them as we visited the galleries.

We also visited the Galleria Palatina, which has the occasional wonder mixed into crowded ill-lit salons. Itís like a hidden-picture game: see if you can spot the Botticelli or Raffaello hiding in the dark over-stuffed rooms. Iím not usually troubled by jetlag -- perhaps the bed is working against me as well -- but I find myself feeling as though I could fall asleep standing up while touring these galleries.

Near the Palazzo Pitti we catch a #11 bus that will drop us quite near Via Sirtori. We reach home -- I crash and R packs. Though we have another day before we leave, she has extra things to pack that she wants to transfer to Molfetta. A simple dinner of ziti al pomodoro, Tuscan sausages, and sautéed zucchini, then postcard writing and early to bed.

TOMORROW: Another Museum, Another Restroom
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 02:26 PM
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ellenem, Thank you for deciding to write this report. It is very good reading.
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 02:34 PM
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Ellen, you can write!! Keep it coming. This is an excellent read.
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 03:39 PM
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Hi ellenem,

i for one am very glad that you decided to post this over-due report.

what I'm not so pleased about is that i see no prospect of my being able to go to Florence in the near future to find all these lovely places for myself.

Keep it coming!

regards, ann
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 04:32 PM
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Thanks for all the kind thoughts. Here's another episode.

DAY 4: Thursday, 6 March 2008 -- Florence

Another Museum, Another Restroom

Not only did it grow colder during the night, but windy as well. I'd left my shutters partially open and had to get up in the night to shut them because they were rattling constantly.

R and I head into the center to visit another museum I've missed in all my visits to Florence, the Museo Marino Marini. You ask, "Who's Marino Marini?" All you Italophiles and particularly fans of Venice know one of his prominently-positioned works. Marino Marini is the artist who created the man-on-horse sculpture with the infamous appendage that sits facing the Grand Canal at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. I knew nothing of him aside from that sculpture. I discovered a lovely, thoughtfully-designed museum in a desanctified church. The collection follows a chronology of sorts. Marini explored some of the same sculptural themes throughout his career . . . men, horses, men on horses, miracles of men on horses (Paul on the road to Damascus?) . . . progressing from life-size figurative forms to monumental totally abstract forms. This is not the museum for everyone, but for €4 it might be just the break one needs from the crowds of Florence -- we had the museum virtually to ourselves. The museum itself is modern in feel, all white walls to showcase the bronze, wood, and terracotta of the artwork.

At one point, exploring the nooks and crannies of this interestingly divided space, I turned a corner and come upon the open door of the restroom. In contrast to the rest of the museum, the restroom is tiled from floor to ceiling in horizontal white and blue stripes with all the plumbing and grab bars painted bright red. I take a photo. I take a number of photos. I have to set up a Shutterfly album to share these photos with you.

We have another quick lunch at Hot Pot and then R heads home while I did some shopping. I may write that I'm shopping, but usually I'm just looking. I like visiting shops in different places, especially grocery and housewares stores, as if I'm studying cultural artifacts. I don't often find things that I actually want to buy. Usually when I do, they're silly things. In this case I did actually find some things to buy, but not the type of things you recommend to the tourists who ask, "What should I buy in Italy?" What did I buy? A kitchen towel with a giant rooster woven into the design that I knew my mother would love (she did - and wondered why I didn't get two) and transparent bright orange plastic salad servers (fork and spoon) that I knew a friend would love (she did - orange is her favorite color). How do you explain that kind of thing to people who ask, "What should I buy?" I usually say that I don't really buy anything because I've been to Italy so many times. It's just easier.

Next I stop at the Museo del Opera del Duomo. I'd seen some of the original Ghiberti panels for the Baptistery when they visited NYC in 2007 and was interested to see the rest. I must also confess that I'd skipped visiting this museum for years, so this was my first visit in its renovated setting. The museum has modern displays, good lighting, and excellent didactic panels -- wait -- am I in Italy? I am surprisingly moved by Michelangleo's unfinished Pieta. At one point I overhear a conversation between three women, obviously Americans by their accents, who are trying to make sense of the labels of some of the sculptural pieces. One woman says, "Look, this piece is by So-and-so and he's from Marmo. This sculptor is from Marmo, too." I can't resist butting in. "Marmo means marble," I tell them. They laugh and one suggests I stick close by.

Back on the street I realize it is Day 4 and I have not yet had a gelato. On the way the wind gusts and it begins to snow! I hear shouts of "Neve!" from all directions. The snow is gone as quickly as it came. I reach Perche No and am glad I headed here because they have one of my favorite flavors, canella (cinnamon), but sad because they don't have gianduia. Oh well, I'll have to settle for bacio. Such difficult choices.

After walking through the San Lorenzo markets and purchasing some pillboxes featuring David, Mona Lisa, that Campanile in Pisa, and Primavera (the request of a friend), I catch a bus back to Via Sirtori. Notices posted at the bus stop announce a change in route for later that night. When I arrive home, R verifies that a soccer game of some import will take place at the Campo di Marte nearby. The loud men congregated on the street outside my windows seem to confirm this. Later the streets are packed with men, cars, and vespas.

Since we leave for points south in the morning, we empty the fridge for dinner. Such a tragic fate, our leftovers include prosciutto crudo, various cheeses, fruit, bread, and one last pasta al pomodoro. We make some sandwiches for the train and finish our packing for the next part of the adventure.

TOMORROW: Frozen Bellini, Anyone?
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 05:00 PM
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ellenem- enjoying your report. I am looking forward to the rest, since I think the "views" would be more interesting when you have a personal friend as a guide!

thank you for sharing!
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 05:30 PM
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ellenem - I agree, it's never too late to post a trip report!

Now I wish we'd been in Florence when you were. We spent a fair amount of time poking into odd kitchen and general shops in Florence because I decided I needed to return with an olive oil container. I didn't but we enjoyed the hunt.

Looking forward to the rest!
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Old Feb 12th, 2009, 05:58 PM
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What a lovely trip report. Here's to "day-to-day humdrum life" in Florence!

Looking forward to more . . .
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 02:15 AM
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Really looking forward to more!
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 03:20 AM
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Brava, ellenem! Looking forward to the rest.
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 04:47 AM
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Ellen, thanks for deciding to write a trip report. All the meals at "home" sound wonderful. I agree that going into houseware shops and grocery stores is an interesting way to spend time. How lucky to have a "local" hostess and a chance to visit some out of the way corners of Florence.

thanks for sharing and keep it coming!
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 06:59 AM
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Thanks to all for sticking with me on this.

rose, My recent quest has been gelato spoons. A flatware equivalent of those flat plastic gelato spoons actually exists. Twice I've had proprietors say, "Oh we don't have those. . . No wait, maybe we do." And he's unearthed them from some buried box.

I think I'll have a Shutterfly album up by this afternoon.
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 07:37 AM
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DAY 5: Friday, 7 March 2008 Ė Florence to Pesaro

Frozen Bellini, Anyone?

Today is Travel Day. Itís less windy but still cold. After breakfast, R goes through the motions of closing the apartment, opening secret panels and turning valves to turn off the water, electricity, and gas. We shut and lock all the window shutters. Weíll be away for seven nights but I suspect she might do the same if she were away for two nights. R is surprised when I tell her that in my NYC apartment it would be impossible to turn off the water, gas, or electric. Her reaction implies that thereís a good chance my apartment might catch fire or explode or flood while Iím away since Iíve left it in such an unsafe condition.

I love a train ride. I love the anticipation as you make your preparations and step away from home. I love staring out the window to see whatís coming next. I love not having to pay attention to anything but whatís outside the window. I love seeing the bits and pieces of lives as you pass by. I donít know how to drive, so much of my travel is on trains at home and on vacation. I donít think R can drive either Ė she certainly has no car Ė so our visits always involve a train at some point.

Our ES train speeds to Bologna on this cold, overcast day. As we climb higher into the mountains, rain begins to fall. Soon the rain turns to snow and winter surrounds us in the mountain valleys. We arrive in Bologna early, which means our 30-minute train connection is even longer Ė a damp, unpleasant wait in the underpass. Fortunately our Regionale leaves on time though itís pretty crowded. Rain pours down the entire way to Pesaro. R stares out the window and remarks again and again that she canít believe she forgot her umbrella and waterproof shoes.

At Pesaro the train station is a madhouse. Many have congregated inside because of the rain. Adding to the frenzy, a bus from Urbino has arrived and hordes of university students are trying to cram through one small door. We force our way out and opt for a taxi since the streets are flooded, the rain still falling. Hotel San Marco (viale XI Febbraio) is a neat, clean, modest hotel. We chose it for its location, walkable from the station yet on the edge of the pedestrian center. It is so inexpensive that weíve reserved separate rooms Ė I can certainly afford €40 per night on my own, especially since after two nights in Pesaro weíll be in Rís apartment for the rest of my visit. (This trip is getting cheaper and cheaper Ė it costs me more to stay home.) The twin beds pushed together in my room are enticingly flat. The small bathroom has a real shower. In all, characterless but comfortable.

After relaxing a bit we head out to find R an umbrella and then to the Musei Civici. By the time we walk the empty streets to the museum, Rís feet are soaked. Housed in part of a large palazzo, we pay our €4 fee in the bookshop downstairs and then climb to the museum on the second floor. It is a bad sign when all the museum workers we see are wearing coats, scarves, and gloves. We view a few rooms that display a large collection of local ceramics and then move on to the pinacoteca. The huge Bellini altarpiece in the main room is the centerpiece of the museum. Fifty chairs are set up in front of it so visitors can sit and contemplate this magnificent artwork. But it is freezing in this room and in every room we visit. In our damp clothes, we are happy it takes just an hour to visit this museum. Downstairs again, the bookshop is small and well heated. We take our time examining the books and cards.

Outside itís still raining and though weíre warmer, we know a remedy for our dampened spirits: thick cioccolato caldo at Caffe la Dolce Vita. Our spirits lifted, the rain just a mist, we check the bus schedule for our trip to Urbino tomorrow. Then we head for our dinner choice, Trattoria Da Sante (via Giovanni Bovio 27). It is one of those simple places you find all over Italy . . . bad overhead lighting . . . unfortunate paint color and paneling . . . basic looking menu . . . These all signal good food to me. How else could they survive? The specialty is seafood, so we start with a magnificent spaghetti in bianca alla vongole Ė as good as I have ever had anywhere and an enormous serving for two. Then we share a fritto misto and grigliata di pesce misto with contorni of tomatoes and eggplant gratin and crispy roasted potatoes. With water this feast cost a total of €37. Unusual for her, R suggests we tip the waiter €2 since we may be back again tomorrow.

What a difference dry feet and a full belly make! We wander a different route back to the hotel. R shares her plan for the rest of the evening and confirms what Fodorites have always suspected: Even Italians might use a bidet as a foot bath.

TOMORROW: Giorno de la Donna

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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 09:28 AM
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Wonderful report, Ellen. Thanks for sharing!
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 09:45 AM
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Here's a link to my album for this trip:

http://ellenem.shutterfly.com/
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Old Feb 13th, 2009, 12:17 PM
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Nice shots! Love the groups of fruits and the tiled bath is awesome.
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