August 2018
  • Day15

    Day 14 - Exploring Venice

    August 24, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    ‍John and I decided to forego the glass blowing factory tour.  Instead we decided to do as the slogan says and "get lost in Venice".  Which really means to just wander aimlessly which was very relaxing. One nice thing about Venice is there are signs on all the streets pointing to one of the bridges, so it's ready to travel around without getting to lost.  First we went to the Rialto bridge and to the fish, meat and produce market.  Then we wandered around and had lunch in a little shop.  John got mini ham and turkey sandwiches.  I got a vegetable and cheese in half a toasted pita.  I also tried the Spritz (a mix of white wine, Aperol and a spritz of Seltzer water).  It was okay, but more but then I expected.

    After eating we returned to the hotel and took the hotel water shuttle over to another island and wandered around there for a while.  When we returned we meet or group for a gondola ride.  It was so much fun.  And we had Musicians in our gondola.  One played a guitar and the other sang.  I think the serenading was for Bretna and Lonnie since their anniversary was a few days ago.

    Then we returned to our room to shower and dress for our farewell reception and the private St. Mark's Basilica tour.  While we were getting ready John got a call that Matt was being discharged today.  The hospital was arranging for ambulance transportation.  However, the snag was getting his prescription filled and put in his pill box. John tried to get someone close to Merica House to get the prescription, but could not get in touch with anyone.  So I contacted about friend, Marian,  and she agreed to pickup the pills and put them in Matt's pill box.  John continued to work on getting the prescription filled and the logistics off the discharge.  While John worked on that, I went to the reception to let Florence, our Tour Director, know we would probably not be going to St. Mark's.  It started raining a little after the reception began, so we moved indoors.  I stayed for the reception and then returned upstairs to our room.  Then we went to dinner in the hotel, so we could ensure we had cell service to contact the hospital and anyone else.

    We had dinner in the hotel restaurant so that we would be assured of Cellular service and WiFi.  Finally, the prescription was sent to the CVS near Matt and I could let Marian know.  And while we waited we got packed for the 9:45 am luggage pickup to head home.  Marian texted me when she got to Merica House and put Matt's pills in the pill box.  Now everything was settled and all we needed to concentrate on was going home.  It has been a fun trip and we have made a lot of new friends.
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  • Day14

    Day 13 - Arrive in Venice

    August 23, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    ‍‍We said good-bye to Florence and took the high-speed train to Venice.  The train ride to about 2 hours.  From the train station in Venice we took water taxis to our hotel.  At the hotel we had a buffet lunch.  On the buffet was a penne pasta with pesto sauce.  We were being served and without thinking I accepted the pasta or on my plate.  I also got chicken and green beans.  As I was heading for a table, our Program Director, Florence, stopped me to give me a plate of pasta in tomato sauce since I am allergic to the pine nuts in the pesto.  Thank goodness to Florence for looking out for me, since it would not have been good if I had eaten the park on the penne pasta.  And up to that point I had been so careful.

    Once lunch was over, we meet or our local guides and headed for St. Mark's Square and the Doges Palace.  There were a lot of steps and it was hot and the building was not air conditioned.  Our group was fine but the other group did not do well and some cut the tour short and returned to the hotel.

    After the tour we returned to the hotel to check-in and get our room keys, go to our rooms and shower and meet again to go to the restaurant.  This was our farewell dinner so the attire Evening Smart (aka dressy).  Our meal consisted of three courses.  For my first course I selected a vegetable roll.  Since John didn't think he wanted either, he selected the Caprese salad. The vegetable roll was like a spring roll, so I let John have that and I took the Caprese salad.  For my second course, I chose the vegetable lasagna; John chose the steak.  For our third course, we both chose the gelato.  It was a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate.  And there was lots of wine, of course.  Then it was back to the hotel and time to relax and then go to bed.

    John called the hospital and Matt was doing better.  The nurse said that they migh discharge him on Saturday, but they still hadn't gotten word back on what bacteria was the culprit.

    I was struck today by all the different ways there are to turn on the water in sinks; get soap for my hands; and dry my hands.   
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  • Day13

    Day 12 - Second Day In Florence

    August 22, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    ‍When I returned to the room after breakfast, John was on the phone.  It turned out that during the evening Matt's fever Rose to 104 and the aides called 911 and Matt was transport to Alexandria Hospital.  He was admitted to the ICU there (John didn't mention that Matt was in the ICU until later in the afternoon when I asked him about the phone call).  John spoke to the nurse who told him that they thought the fever was because of a urinary tract infection.  John provided or health insurance information and said he would call them later in the day to get an update.

    We had the day to ourselves to explore, but talking with the hospital resulted in us getting out later than planned.  We decided to go to the Cathedral Museum first.  We learned a lot about the contribution of the Duomo.  As we were leaving the museum John noticed the skies are darkening, so we returned to the hotel to pick up our umbrella and the rain ponchos we had been given in Rome.  While we were in the hotel we heard a lot of thunder. 

    We decided to get lunch before going to the next museum.  We selected two restaurants near the hotel, but in the direction we would be heading to the museum.  We found the first restaurant on our list easily enough and were seated right away.  We were given menus and began selecting what we wanted to eat and drink.  But no one came to our table to take off order.  Then I noticed a table that had been empty when we were seated who had drinks and bread.  We waited a few minutes longer and then left.  Our second choice restaurant seated us; provided menus and told us about the specials; and came back and took our order.  Meanwhile, it began to rain pretty hard.  Our meal was good and we finished when it looked like the rain had subsided.  Unfortunately, it was just a false sense of security, because it started pouring within a about a block.  We tried sharing an umbrella, but I just got soaked, so we both stopped and put on our rain ponchos. 

    At the Galileo Museum we stuffed our backpack, ponchos and umbrella in a locker, and purchased our tickets.  We were able to download the Museum app and because I had my Bluetooth headphones with me I could listen to commentary on each of the rooms.  John was only able to read text.  However, most of the display cases include information in English.  We toured the museum long enough for my sandals to dry out (no need for the hair dryer).

    We completed the tour and returned to the hotel to shower and meet the group at 5:30 for a tour of the Ufitzi Gallery.  The Ufitzi was very impressive and I got to see several paintings I have seen in books.

    After the tour, John and I walked to the river and crossed the bridge with all the gold shops just to look.  We considered having dinner on the other side of the river, but since we weren't very hungry, we decided to get soup or something light near too the hotel and to get some gelato at the shop or guide recommended (Perché no!). So we went back to the Yellow Bar.  I had vegetable soup and John had bread soup.  Both were closer to stews than soup.  I enjoyed mine, but there were too many green vegetables in his four hours liking.  I also had a bottle of the Toscana beer.  Then we had for the Gelato store where I got black cherry and hazelnut and John got black cherry and a cream.  I liked mine a lot, John thought his was just okay, since he prefers Lemon and they didn't have that.  We returned to the hotel and John called the hospital to get an update on Matt.  Matt's fever had gone up again and they still didn't know what the bacteria was, yet.  Matt was asleep, so we didn't get to speak with him.  Then it was time to pack so we could leave for Venice in the morning.  Looking forward to Venice.
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  • Day12

    Day 11 - First Day In Florence

    August 21, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    ‍At around 3 am John's phone rang and it was the aides from Merica House where Matt lives called to let us know that Matt was running a fever. John suggested they give him aspirin or Tylenol. He also told them that we were in Italy and 6 hours ahead of them, but to call us if the situation got worse (not that we thought it would.

    After breakfast, we enjoyed a wonderful lecture on At and History by Elaine Ruffolo, an Art History expert. Her specialty was Economic Art History and she teaches at the Syracuse University in Florence.

    After the lecture, we met our guides and walked to the Accademia to see Michael Angelo's sculpture of David (among other statues).  After seeing the David statue, our guide took us to the Duomo and then to the Piazza della Repubblica.  Then we had free time to explore on our own.  We decided to get lunch first and we went to the Yellow Bar.   Prior to being seated, they showed us where their homemade pasta is made.  I had their pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach. It was wonderful.  And I had my first Italian beer - Toscana.  John had a pizza with ham and Tonic water.

    Our plan was to visit the Galileo Museum and the Cathedral Museum after lunch.  However, both Museums were closed on Tuesdays.  So instead we wandered around for a while and then gathered up our dirty laundry and found a nearby self-serve laundromat.  To kill some time and to get change, I found a little shop where I could get fresh squeezed orange juice (squeezed while I watched).  Once our clothes were did, we returned to the hotel to shower and change for dinner.

    Dinner was at Restaurant Paoli, a medieval restaurant, where we enjoyed a typical Tuscan dinner.  We could again select three courses.  I decided to forego pasta since I had had it for lunch and instead chose a "vegetable pie" that was more like spinach torte with no crust for my first course.   For my second course, I selected the beef filet with a balsamic and mustard sauce.  It was delicious and very tender.  For the third course I selected dessert from the dessert cart.  The best part of the dessert was that I could get small pieces of more than one of the dessert.  I selected the chocolate balls that were like round Nepolians in a chocolate sauce and I selected a custard torte.  Both were wonderful.   And of course there was plenty of wine (everyone at our table had the white one - although all of us had either beef or pork).  

    We returned to our hotel around 9:30 pm. I read for a while and then turned in.
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  • Day11

    Day 10 - Cinque Terre and Florence

    August 20, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    ‍Today we left the hotel at 8:30 am and headed to Cinque Terre and then on to Florence.   We took the tour bus to La Spezia.  Then we got on a boat and sailed to Vernazza the 4th City of Cinque Terre.  We had a guide on the boat who told us all about Cinque Terre and he also gave us a short introductory your of Vernazza.  John and I decided to climb the tower  (150 steps) to get some good pictures of the city.  Then we found a little restaurant and bought pizza and lemon sodas. While we were eating I saw people stopping over a rope into an area with a No Trespassing sign. When I finished eating, I went to see where everyone was going.  It turned out the area lead to a beach area.  When we finished lunch, we scouted out the location of recommended Gelato shop.  John got lemon and strawberry and I got pistachio and cinnamon.  Cinnamon is now my new favorite.

    For the let of the trip from Cinque Terre to Florence we took the train. When we arrived in Florence, we got on a bus that took us to our tour bus and the tour bus took us close to the hotel.  Near the hotel, we said goodbye to our driver Daniele.  We got our room keys and were taken to our room.  Our luggage was waiting on our room.  We had a connecting room and one of the couples (Deb & Pete) had the other room that connected to ours.  We discovered that the connecting does were not locked and if we tried to close either door it opened the other for.  Pete called the front desk and they sent someone up to lock both doors.  Then we showered and for ready for dinner.

    We walked the 5 minutes to the restaurant, Il Caminetto.   Our reservation was for about 7:45 pm. We could select the courses.  I selected pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach, the filet in chianti wine sauce and for chocolate candies and Sherry.   John chose the filet in chianti wine sauce, roasted potatoes and Pana Cotta.  Florence recommended we ask for our steaks medium or they would come out too rare.    She was correct, mine was cooked perfectly.  The filet was high (almost twice the size of a filet in the States).  And of course we had all the wine we wanted.  Whoever told me they had small plates in Italy hasn't been here recently.  We headed back to the hotel at about 10:20 pm.  We relaxed for a bit then headed to bed.
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  • Day10

    Day 9 - Tuscan Countryside & Viareggio

    August 19, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    ‍‍‍I went to breakfast at 7 am.  I had pain yogurt with honey and pumpkin seeds.  We boarded the bus at 8:30 am. We drive through the Tuscan Countryside.  We took a detour so that we could get a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

    At around noon we stopped at an Italian Manor house. We were greeted with prosecco; Parmesan cheese (with honey); brocheta Witness chicken liver pate; brocheta with mushroom pate; olives and prochetta. Then we went to the table where we had smelt pasta with bougenaise sauce.  And wine, of course.

    Then we returned to the bus and arrived in Viareggio at around 4 pm.  We were welcomed to the hotel with a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade.  Instead of waiting for our luggage to be brought up to the room, we went across the street to the beach.  I walked to the end of the beach, took off my shoes and walked in the water for a few minutes so I could say I had been in the Adriatic Sea.  Then I cleaned my feet, put on my shoes and John and I walked down the beach avenue.  Then we returned to the hotel showered, changed and headed down to dinner. 

    The restaurant staff recommended that I avoid any dishes on the menu that had not been made in house.  I ended up selecting the shrimp ”cocktail” which was actually shrimp on a bed of shredded cabbage and drizzled with a mayonnaise and spice sauce.  For my second course I chose the Minestrone soup. For my third course I selected the grilled salmon with a side of artichoke mousse and a side of grilled potatoes.  For dessert I had Panna Cotta. Muy entire meal was delicious.   And, of course, we had wine.  I have been photographing all bottles of the wines we have been drinking since I can get many of them in the States.  John has liked all whites we have had so far.

    After dinner we headed up to our room to pack for luggage pickup at 7:30 am.  Then, after reading a bit, I headed to bed.
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  • Day9

    Day 8 - Assisi

    August 18, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    ‍‍‍Breakfast at this hotel was self service.  Without eggs to order, there were fewer choices.  But they had yogurt, honey and nuts so I was fine.  And being able to get coffee without waiting was was an added benefit.  There was a bowl of brown eggs that I had assumed were hard boiled eggs, but when I read the sign next to the eggs, I realized that the eggs were raw and you had to use the appliance near the eggs that was evidently an egg cooker.  I was so glad I read the sign before I cracked the egg. 

    We left the hotel at 9 am and headed for Assisi.  On the ride to Assisi we learned a lot about Francis of Assisi.  We meet or guides when we got of the bus.  Our first stop was the Basilica of St. Francis. The Basilica is actually a cathedral and a tomb for St. Francis and his four friends who became monks with St. Francis.  The tomb also includes a simple church.  The art work was beautiful.  Once we finished touring the Basilica, we returned to the bus Android drive a short distance to Historic Assisi.  We drive because the walk from the Basilica to Assisi was extremely steep.  After a short tour we had free time.  Our first order of business was to get some lunch.  Porcuetta (sliced cooked ham) was recommended.  John and I each ordered a panini with flat bread.  The sandwiches were so large we could have easily done with a single sandwich.  In fact, I only ended up eating about 2/3 of mine.  After that we toured a small archaeological museum.  It was very interesting.  It contains the ruins below the temple that was turned into a church.  After touring the museum, John got a soda and finished his porcuetta panini and I got a scoop of pastachio and a scoop of strudel gelato. Then it was time to return to the hotel.

    Six of us had chosen an optional tour of Perugia.  So, after a quick break we returned to the bus and headed for Perugia.  The town was a mixture of the original Perugian buildings of the Middle Ages most of which now house commercial businesses and shopes.  Although the architecture was different it reminded me of Bath, England.  At the end of the tour, we opted to return to the bus because it was beginning to look like rain.

    When we returned, I showered and changed and headed to the optional wine tasting.  John opted for a short nap.  We were given tips on how to evaluate wines and some tips on food and wine pairing.  Then we a all went to the dining room for dinner.  John was waiting for us there.  Tonight I chose the fettuccini and truffle pasta, veal rump with potatoes and dessert with pastachio angel food cake and white chocolate.

    After dinner we walked around the grounds again.  The two teens from Canada showed us address of the hotel grounds we had missed the night before including a small crypt. 

    Then we returned to our rooms to pack up and head to bed.
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  • Day8

    Day 7 - Orvieto and Umbria

    August 17, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    ‍‍‍‍‍We left the hotel and headed for Orvieto.  We toured the Cathedral there.  The Cathedral was beautiful inside and out. We were told to plan to take a picture when we met up to head back to the bus around 3 pm.  At that time the sun striking the gold mosaic pieces would make the church glitter. 

    After the tour of the church, John & I toured the Etruscan Museum. The cost was 10 Euros per person. I asked if there was a Senior Rate.  There was a senior rate and it was 3 Euros per person (a savings of 14 Euros).  It does pray to ask.  The Museum was nice, but there was no English translations for the posted explanations.  But, that was not a big deal since most of the artifacts were obvious and I used the Google Translate photo feature to translate what I couldn't figure out.  I was moving faster through the museum than John, so when I finished the museum, I headed to the restaurant and John followed when he finished.  Lunch was another"light" meal with a 1st course of 2 pastas; 2nd course of beef stew, cooked eggplant and zucchini, and potatoes; and for dessert chocolate mousse. 

    At 3 pm, it was cloudy, so the church did not glitter.  So we returned to our bus and headed for the country villa we would be staying at.  After we got our luggage we changed clothes and returned downstairs for a history of the manor followed by a musical recital (very nice).  There it was time to head to the dining room for dinner.  I had a warm mushroom salad; followed by a grilled pork meal with arrugala; for dessert I had a crepe filled with gelato; and, of course prosecco andred and white wine. 

    It had been a long day, so after a shower, I went to bed.
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  • Day7

    Day 6 - Second Day in Rome

    August 16, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    ‍‍‍We headed for St. Peter's Basilica at 8:30 am.  Our "skip the line" tickets, along with the early hour meant that the crowds were not too bad.  The Pieta was still impressive even though behind glass. 

    Ricardo pointed out an optical illusion where the distance from the front of the Basilica to the altar looks farther away when you are at the rear of the Basilica looking toward the the altar than the distance from the altar looking toward the entrance to the Basilica.  I didn't have the heart to tell him the distances looked roughly the same.

    After the tour of the Basilica, we had some free time.  I ended up purchasing two necklaces.  Then we went out to take a few pictures. The crowdshad gottenlarger. While we stood taking. pictures, several people tried to sell up" skip the line" tickets.  I wished I had a sign that said. "Already been there and done that."

    When were returned fromSt. Peter's we walked to a nearby restaurant and had pizza  and then walked to the Divinci Museum.  It was an enjoyable hands on museum.   On the way back to the hotel we stopped for gelato and then looked into the church next to the hotel.  Then we got ready for a private after hours tour of the Sistine Chapel Museum.  I had not realized that a museum was also housed in the building of the Sistene Chapel. The Museum includes tapestries, paintings, articles from popes and some archaeological artefacts.  We also saw some of the rooms painted by Rafael.  Ricardo described the rivalry between Rafael and Michael Angelo as well as Michael Angelo's fustration with being "commanded" by the Pope to paint the story of Creation on the Sistene Chapel ceiling.  The ceiling was more impressive than I imagined.  When I think of the ceiling I always think of the fresco of the Creation of Man.  I didn't realize how many other frescos make up the ceiling.  I also learned that the fresco of the Last Judgement was painted later and Michael Angelo completed it, a lesser known painter was brought in to cover the naked parts below the waist of the men.

    When we finished the tour, we had a surprise light dinner in the courtyard with prosecco and wine. What a special treat.  Then it was back to the hotel to pack to leave tomorrow for Umbria.
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  • Day6

    Day 5 - First Day in Rome

    August 15, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    ‍‍‍‍‍‍Today we got to "sleep in".   We had free time until 2:15 pm.  Of course, John didn't want to start out until around 10 am.  Today is a holiday, so we had been warned that some sights might be closed.  But the upside was fewer crowds.  Our first idea was to see if we could schedule a Segway Tour, but the the tours were 3.5 hours and started too late for us.   So we decided to visit the Capitolini Museum. The Museum includes an impressive collection of statues and bronzes and a collection of Roman art.  The Museum is housed on 2 floors and is not very large, but it allowed us sufficient time to view all the exhibits.  Afterwards we headed for the top floor so John could get lunch (I was still full from lunch.

    We returned to the hotel and then met the group for our two scheduled tours to the Pantheon and the Colosseum. We debated on whether to bring an unbrella, but decided not to since 1) the forecast was for no rain until evening and 2) the sky was clear & blue. 

    We met our local guide, Ricardo, and then walked the very short distance to the Pantheon.  However, because of the holiday, the Pantheon was closed.  We were told we could see the Pantheon on Thursday.   Ricardo still told us a lot about the Pantheon before we got on the bus to travel to the Colosseum.  Just before heading to the Colosseum we stopped for a group picture.  At the Colosseum we got our tickets and headed for the entrance. Before we could ge,t to the entrance, the skies opened and it started to pour.  It was definitely a major storm with thunder, lightening, wind and rain.  Only one of us had an umbrella and one person had a rain jacket and there was no place to get out of the rain.  Finally, we got in and huddled in an area where we were somewhat protected.   Our tour director, Florence, went out to purchase umbrellas or ponchos for us. John & I and a few others decided to brave the rain (since we were already soaked) to see the Colosseum.   Then we were told we should head for the exit where Florence had ponchos for everyone. 

    Once we all donned our ponchos we headed to the bus.  Once back on the bus we returned to the hotel.  But our adventure was not over.  There was water on the floor in our bedroom.  I called housekeeping and eventually a technician came to try to figure out where the water came from. The mystery was not solved, but the floor & wall were cleand up and we  showered and changed.  The rain stopped for our walk to dinner.  Despite the rain we were all in good spirits (helped along with prosecco, wine, good food and gelato).  
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