Sunday, February 15, 2015

{Vacation Recap} Rome, Italy: Settling into Charming Travestere

I suppose intense heat (none of those lines yesterday were in the shade), physical exertion, and maaybeee too much vino caught up with us by time had to leave Florence, because we woke up with splitting headaches.

We also had no luck securing a cab to the train station, so had to rebook our tickets for a later time.  Luckily it worked out so that we still checked out of our flat on time and could still make it to our 1pm meet up in Rome.

I guess you could say we were definitely a bit worse for the wear by time we boarded the train :)

We made breakfast out of leftover cheese from Tuscany, biscotti from the flat for Tom, and fruit.  We also had a couple of espresso's and focused on staying hydrated. Luckily it was a fairly short ride!


However, our moods quickly changed as we cabbed it into Travestere the neighborhood we would be living in for the duration of our time in Rome - and found our flat.

We were instantly charmed:

The pink, ivy covered building on the tiny cobblestone street, was beyond adorable, and once you walked in, you found yourself inside a cute courtyard - even more charming!

After waiting for a few minutes, we met our host - another super stylish Italian guy - and got the low-down on our cozy accommodations.

We used another AirBnB rental, and flat out adored it.  While it was smaller than the last, it was incredibly comfortable and had everything thoughtfully laid out.  From the much appreciated Nespresso machine and pods (we were a bit "over" the Mokas at that point!), to every toiletry immaginable in the bathroom, we had everything we needed and then some.  We were also pleased that it had a washer so we could do a bit more laundry.

The pictures on AirBnB are much better than mine so here's a quick photo tour via the site photos.

We were charmed (sorry, I keep using that word, but trust me it's well earned!) by the loft style bed - it featured curtains that could be closed for more privacy.

The closet was under the loft, and we used the open space with the mirror to store our suitcases and unpack.  A"dressing room" of sorts.

Cozy bed - and look at those beams!

I loved the blue doors leading into the bright kitchen. It was very modern and updated.  It also came fully stocked: produce and OJ in the fridge, new jars of Nutella (yum!), and the basics like salt & pepper, olive oil, etc.

The washer was located near the window (not pictured) and the fridge is in the tall wood cabinetry right behind the blue door.

The shower was have to appreciate an updated, clean bathroom!

I wish I could say that seeing our new digs envigorated us and we hit the ground running, but after the slow start we had that morning, we decided to unpack and just take it easy.

Later, Tom declared this flat his favorite even though it was a lot smaller than the last one. I am on the fence.  I think the fact that we did a bit more "hanging out" in this neighborhood made us feel more at home, whereas in Florence, we spent so much time outside of the neighborhood (Tuscany, our "free day" etc) so it's hard to compare. Both were places we would stay again in a heartbeat, but the charm factor in Travestere is incredibly high!

When our stomachs began to growl, we looked at our yelp bookmarks and realized there was a gluten free pizza place within walking distance.  It was early afternoon at that point, so we figured we could eat a pizza there for lunch, and then take one back to enjoy as dinner with wine back at the apartment.

It was a great walk, and after crossing the Tiber to get to Voglia Di Pizza , we settled in and enjoyed bites of two delish pizzas. While it was MUCH better than what I'm used to getting back home, it wasn't quite as fab as the Florence pizza.  That's not to say it wasn't good though!  Yum...

HUGE Bruchetta.

We boxed up what we couldn't finish, and headed back.  On our way we stopped by a gelato place, Fior di Luna which I had also bookmarked, in order to give it a try (hey, someone's got to do it right?).  It ended up being such a delicious find that we visited it one or twice more during our short stay. I really enjoyed a strattacella made with donkey milk of all things!  While in Rome...

(Pictures via Yelp since I forgot to snap some)

We took well needed naps after all of that, and woke up to live jazz playing in the streets. We threw open the windows to fully enjoy the music and decided it was the perfect time to break out a bottle of wine and leftover pizza.  The weather was gorgeous and the music was great!

Our "exciting" evening concluded with catching up on a couple of Luther episodes (gotta love the BBC)  before heading up to the loft for the night.

Honestly, sometimes simple nights in are exactly what the Doctor ordered and end up being THE BEST nights.

Despite not "doing" much, I wouldn't change a thing about our first day (well, we could have done without the headaches).  After a short introduction, we were rapidly falling in love with Rome!


{Vacation Recap} Florence, Italy: Last Day

Oh my! It's been a while!  I realized I better get on this, because after Italy, I actually have 2 other trip recaps and other happenings I'd like to capture here.

So where were we? 

Oh yes.  Florence - our one "free" day.

After sleeping off our food coma, we hit the ground running.  The only real plans we had were tickets to view David at the Academia as we both always wanted to see it in person.  We booked the tix prior to the trip as we has heard it sells out fast...I mean, you don't want to dream all of your life of seeing this piece of art, only to get there and be turned away, right?  We thought 10 am tickets would be perfect for our "easy" (see how I keep using quotes? This should tell you that it was anything but...) day.  Time enough to sleep in and enjoy vacation, but not so lazy as to waste our last day in Firenze!

Here's a tip friends:  if you have tix to the David, get there much earlier than your start time.  We got there about 10 minutes prior and proceeded to wait in line for about 45 or so minutes.  I'm still not sure how that works as our line seemed just as long as the "non ticket holders" line, but there you go!   
Despite Florence having amazing pieces of art and world reknowned museums, we decided early on that we would not be spending our day inside. I would love to go back and check out more, but with such a short visit, we thought it best to simply wonder around the city and people watch for our last day. 

 I say all of this, because after we saw David, we immediately left!  And yes, the 45 minutes in line was worth it :) David is truely stunning and a lot bigger than I imagined.  I had no idea just how grand he was - for whatever reason, I went through most of my life imagining him as life sized...not bigger than life.

We spent a lot of time viewing him from - ahem  - all angles...

Afterwards, we walked through the markets and eyed some goods we knew we would want to come back for (mostly leather wallets and scarves!).  

From there, we decided to give the Duomo a try.  I had read about "climbing" the duomo and got it in my head that our visit would not be complete without this experience.  This lead to a series of long waits in line.  So long in fact, that at one point, I frantically checked my phone and used up what we thought was precious data in order to see if I could score last minute "skip the line" passes ("no matter the cost!"). Alas, no luck.  

This unfortunately ate up a lot of our precious free time, and further confirms to me that "winging" it on your dream vacation isn't always the best idea.  I probably should have researched this a bit more to avoid all.the.lines.  While ultimately worth it - I'll never forget that view! - if we were to do this again, I'd splurge for a tour or one of the above mentioned passes. Oh well.

Good thing she's pretty:

Our first line wasn't so bad. It moved very quickly and took us through the Cathedral. The only "gotcha" was that my legs were apparently too exposed so I had to take off my chambray shirt and tie it around my waist in order to appear decent (I had to go as far as buttoning it so it looked like a really ill fitting skirt).   They seemed a bit inconsistent in terms of making women cover up - several went in more exposed then I, and others were given a hard time who had more on than me.  Go figure.  Gotta love women body shaming!

When we got inside, we were again amazed at how incredibly grand everything is in Italy. I mean, they go BIG.  There was beautiful marble everywhere you looked and massive doors that made you feel tiny. We spent some time wondering around and snapping pics and defintely enjoyed our visit.  You actually appreciate having other people on the grounds with you, because they add a bit of "scale" to all of the gigantic pieces. 

The only disappointment was that we assumed there would be another line inside which said something like "climb the duomo here!", but nope.  We found out that we would need to go all the way outside and wait in yet another very slow moving line in order to buy the 8 Euro tix.  

Once we made it through that line, we were  then directed to yet our THIRD slow moving line to get to the stairs. Deciding to make the best of it, we made fast friends with a lovely British couple to pass our time and then it was time to get to business!

The climb consists of around 500 steps up very steep and narrow stairs. At many points, there are people passing you on their climb back down and you find yourself essentially gripping the wall, feeling as though you are hanging on for dear life.  Tom is usually the one with a fear of heights - I have never considered myself scared of heights in general -  but I experienced my first case of Vertigo at this point in our adventure!  

It started, when I noticed I had a hard time looking down.  As in, feeling as though my feet were no longer firmly planted on the ground. I lead the way up the stairs and just made myself concentrate on one step at a time (500 stairs = a lot of concentration!).  It's a very claustorphobic space and at one point, the dome from the main cuppola juts at your side and you literally see it taking shape around you.  Even though you are not technically looking down,  you know exactly how high up you are going!

I wasn't kidding about that "clinging to the walls to let others pass" thing:

Tiny Window:

There are a couple of points in which you are given the opportunity to get out of the stairwell and look out over the Cathedral from the Cuppola which we eagerly took advantage of.  It was a such a beautiful sight, and defintely brings home how high up you are as you start to recognize areas of the church that hours ago looked larger than life and now seem insignificant.  The pictures aren't the greatest because of the plexiglass, but hopefully give an idea of how high we were getting...

We finally saw the light and emerged onto the viewing deck.  

The sights were beautiful and definitely made the climb worth it.  Also: how great would it have been to be greeted Tuscan style at this point? A glass of wine would have been very welcome!  

Tom pointed out later that I moved very strangely while up there...I would make sure both feet were firmly planted before having the courage to take a cautious foot forward and besides the few pictures I snapped, generally stayed away from the edge.  Seriously, I have no idea what was going on.  I'm usually fairly fearless, I've been to the Hancock and the Sears Buildings, we've hiked the Napoli Coast...heights are no new thing...but between this and my experience in Tahoe, I'm starting to wonder...

Tom was a champ and his fear of heights seemed to disappear up there.  After several pics and a rest, we turned around to make the climb back down.  It was fairly uneventful, but I can assure you it was not as pleasant as the climb up.  At one point, almost at the bottom, I got dizzy and my foot slipped.  Tom has never seen me like that before and waited ahead of me so he could snap a few pics of me in my element :)  They will never see the light of day...

We stopped again to view the cuppola from above and were taken aback by how gruesome some of the frescos were on the ceiling.  They really went with a "scare them straight" tactic back in the day huh?  

We also enjoyed the other "break" rooms where items used to build the cuppola were recreated and on display

After all of that, we were in disperate need of refreshments.  We saw a nice place tucked into a side street and thought it would be a perfect place to split a well earned bottle of wine al fresco style.  

Again, we were amazed at the hopitality and the amount of food that comes with a drinks!

Once we refreshed ourselves, we headed back to the market to get our goods.  I had way too much fun buying beautiful scarves for a steal as well as some money clips for fathers back in the states.  We also spied a fairly cheap (30 Euros) suitcase and picked it up as we knew we'd need it to lug our gifts home.  

By then we were ready for lunch!  Using yelp, we made our way to a sandwich shop that we had bookmarked prior (most likely the restaurant was a recommendation from a friend or a blog post but I can no longer recall).  It took a while to find (streets in Europe are definitely not easy to navigate!), but somehow we made it.  

There were two shops of the same name directly across from each other, so we went with the one without a line.  This isn't usually our MO as you typically want to go where it looks hopping, but as we knew it was sandwich shop and might take a bit of broken Italian in order to get my order right ("no bread") we forged ahead.  Best.Decision.Ever. 

If you walk into a highly recommended sandwhich shop and say "Senzo Glutino", this is what you will end up with my friends:

The first guy behind the counter didn't speak English but somehow understood my broken Italian phrases.  He went to the back and brought out someone who was able to converse easily with us (even gently correcting my Italian at some point).  I just asked him for no bread and a spread of anything he thought was the best.  I had no other restrictrions and let him know I was game for headcheese and the like.  He seemed to have fun with it and was very generous.  Tom took one look at my bounty and abandoned his origional idea of just getting a sandwhich (and that's saying something because the sandwhiches we saw looked incredible). We eneded up splitting my meal and getting the 2 euro, pour-your-own-glass house wine.  I loved it when the same helpful fellow came over and topped off our glasses to the brim saying "No, no, no...THIS is a glass of wine".  God, I love Italy.

A few minutes later and the whole place was crowded.  If you ever find yourself in Florence, I highly recommend All'Antico Vinaio.  It seemed to be filled with very happy people with very full bellies and best of all, was very reasonably priced. 

Now, full on food porn:

Bottles of the 2 euro house wine we enjoyed - if I ever see it in the States, I'm definitely picking up a bottle.

We wondered around for a bit, and then went out of our way to find a gelato shop, La Carraia, before heading back to the flat for a rest.  We didn't get a chance to try it, but I heard that Gelateria Vivaldi is worth checking out as well.

For dinner that night, we had reservations at La Giostra and had high hopes. Unfortunately, we were quickly turned off despite it's charming setting...

It was crowded with loud tourists and seemed in general a bit over-extended.  After being shuffled to a nearby estabilishment with no explanation or idea of what was happening (it actually felt a bit "corporate" or something which was NOT what we were going for), we left in favor of a co-workers recommendation (she got married in Italy the year prior and had her rehearsal dinner there).  

Trattoria L'Parione was much more our speed.  We knew we were in for a wait as we had no reservation, but they pointed us to a great bar (full of amazing boat drinks!) where we could have fun killing time.  We finally ended the night with a delicious, intimate meal and then went back to the flat to pack for our next adventure: Roma!