Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 3

Day 6 (Sunday, October 18)
Our first full day in Florence! Today was a day devoted mostly to wandering, which we excel at.

The streets of Florence.

After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way toward the heart of downtown Florence. Our first stop was at a little house museum devoted to Dante, author of The Divine Comedy and a resident of Florence. This was a thoroughly strange place. What we didn't realize at the time was that this building didn't actually exist until after the turn of the 20th century - the local government demolished the pre-existing building in order to build one to stand in as Dante's home. On top of that, it had this....

...a mime. A mime who appeared to be voguing for us beneath a bust of Dante. It reminded me of the mime-statues you see at Caesar's Palace or The Venetian. It was just such a strange sight.

We moved on to wander the streets of downtown Florence, which are lined with clothing stores. We spotted all sorts of American intrusions, like Foot Locker, H&M, and, of course, The Disney Store. I'm always amazed at how The Disney Store manages to work its iconography into everything. Take the border around this tray ceiling, for example.

You might have to squint to see it. No? Okay, try looking closer.

Mouse ears! Even when they try to reproduce classic "Italian" architectural motifs, the mouse ears creep in.

Next we made our way to the Piazza della Signoria, where we saw the Palazzo
Vecchio. A replica of the Statue of David is located in front of the Palazzo, as well as a few other statues. Then we headed over to the Uffizi Gallery. This contained quite a few famous works of art, including Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus". Not being an art person, I wasn't very engaged. However, there were some really pretty views of the Ponte Vecchio.

After we finished up at the Uffizi, we headed down to see the Ponte Vecchio up close.

Looking across the Ponte Vecchio, lined with gold and jewelry shops.

After several hours of wandering, we slowly made our way along Florence's cobblestone streets and back toward the hotel, stopping in the leather markets and perusing vendors' stalls along the way.

We took a short nap, had a thoroughly unremarkable dinner at a nearby restaurant, and purchased a HUGE dish of gelato for dessert that we both shared before returning to the hotel for the night.

Day 7 (Monday, October 19)
We decided to make the most of our last full day in Florence. After purchasing our train tickets to Rome for the next day, we headed to the Duomo with the (foolish?) inten
tion of climbing the 463 steps to the top. This was a thoroughly exhausting idea.

Going up...

...and up...

...until you finally reach the breathtaking view.

The view in every direction is absolutely beautiful, as are the building's architectural details.

After taking in the view and catching our breath, we descended the 463 steep, narrow steps very, very slowly.

Back on the ground, we headed back toward the Ponte Vecchio and crossed over the bridge to the Oltrarno neighborhood. We wandered the area's narrow streets, poking our heads into shops along the way.

An Oltrarno street.

A small corner grocery.

A head of Romanesco, or Roman cauliflower at the corner grocery in Oltrarno.

Mopeds and motorcycles line all the streets.

After our stroll, we headed toward the hotel, perusing leather markets (again) where Dennis kissed the Porcellino. We also encountered the most glorious thing ever: the waffle cart. Here, you can buy two small Belgian waffles, and sandwiched between them is your choice of fillings: powdered sugar, Nutella, chocolate spread, etc. It was, in a word, divine.


We finally made our way up to Via Cavour and the Galleria Michelangiolo, a small private museum with working scale models of many of Leonardo da Vinci's machines and inventions (no photos allowed, of course). Then, off to the San Lorenzo market, which had the pushiest vendors we encountered in Florence.

For our final meal in Florence, we headed back to I' Daviddino, or Little David, where we ate dinner our first night in town. It didn't disappoint the second time either. We had a caprese salad and bruschetta to start. I had tortelloni for my main course, and Dennis practically cleaned his plate before I could snap a picture of his gnocchi. For dessert, Dennis ordered the amazing ice cream truffles...

...while I was disappointed to learn they were out of tiramisu. The waitress suggested the torta nonna instead, which she described as an almond cream cake. Topped with a liberal dusting of powdered sugar, it was absolutely, positively to die for. And it didn't have an ounce of chocolate!

We wrapped up our last evening in Florence with a leisurely stroll back to the hotel, where we rested up for our rail trip to Rome the next day.

Up Next: Dennis & Erin Take Rome by Storm!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day

At my parents' house in California this holiday, I'm thankful for a dad who's willing to brave the air quality police to build a Thanksgiving fire ("no burn ban is going to keep me from having a fire in my own fireplace on Thanksgiving!"), a mom who insists on making both pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake even though there are only four of us eating, and a husband who quietly puts up with the unique brand of crazy swirling around him at his in-laws' house.

Happy Turkey Day, Y'All!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 2

Day 4 (Friday, October 16)
Dennis and I both slept poorly last night, but we still managed to get up at a reasonable hour. After a quick hotel breakfast, we headed down to the nearby waterbus stop and caught the line to Murano. The bus ride was long - about an hour - because of all the stops the bus makes, but we got a nice view of the city and San Michele, the cemetery island where Venetians are buried.

Following Rick Steves' Venice Lagoon Tour in our guide book, we hopped off the bus at Murano. Murano is known for its glass-blowing, so we fully expected to see glass workshops at every turn. Not so much. In fact, we didn't see a single one. We decided to make our way to the Glass Museum, and along the way we took in some lovely views of the island. And then there was this weirdness:


Maybe if it wasn't surrounded by crowd barricades. Or in shadow. Or had some sort of explanatory label. Maybe then I'd get it. But instead, all I could think was, "Thi
s is no Chihuly."

After touring the glass museum, which had some lovely glass and cera
mic artifacts excavated from the island (no photography allowed, but you can see some of the collection here), we made our way to the stop to catch the bus to the next island, Burano (yes, they rhyme). Along the way, we found this little piece of awesomeness, attached to the exterior of a building:

Double huh?

I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess this has to do with the island's tradition of glass blowing. But something is just not quite right here...

After a lengthy wait (Burano is a less popular destination so there are fewer
buses) and a 40-minute ride, we arrived in Burano. Burano is known for its lace-making, so we were hoping to see little old ladies lining the streets, tatting to their hearts' content. Instead, we found what we came to call l'isola dei gatti - the island of cats. They were everywhere.

"That's right, this is my boat. You got a problem with that?"

"Why yes, I do make all the lace sold here myself. Why do you ask?"

We found Burano to be much more picturesque than Murano. It had a much more "lived-in" feeling - like real people make their lives there.

Houses painted in pastels and laundry hanging out to dry. Sigh.

So lovely.

Since the island's Lace Museum was closed for renovation, we strolled the island, had lunch, and then made our way back to the bus stop. We waited a while for our bus, then sailed back to Venice. The ride took about an hour and parts of it were decidedly unpicturesque, and we were pretty tired and windblown by the time we got back to Venice.

After a short nap, we headed out to dinner at a restaurant near the hotel that the staff recommended to us, Ristorante Antica Sacrestia. This place was down a dark alley and around a corner, but it seemed to be drawing plenty of diners. We were lucky to be seated immediately; folks arriving just a few minutes after us were lined up out the door. The ceilings were low, the lights were dim, and the tables were packed in like sardines. But the owner greeted us and the servers were attentive (though clearly busy). And the food was mostly tasty. Appetizers were good, wine was tasty, and Dennis's fish was excellent. I ordered the cuttlefish "alla veneziana" with polenta. Turns out that in this case, "alla veneziana" means "cooked in its own ink." Also turns out that I don't care for the taste of cuttlefish ink or food that looks like a solid black mass. I can't hold this against the restaurant, though, and since everything else was great, I'm guessing it's more an issue of my taste than the restaurant's preparation. On our way out, the owner stopped us and gave us a complimentary bag of house coffee (perhaps because I ordered yet another caffelatte after dinner? I'm so enamored with these now). A perfect ending to our last night in Venice.

Day 5 (Saturday, October 17)
We got up early this morning and took the #1 water bus line to the train station. The nice thing about this bus is that it travels the length of the Grand Canal. The major drawback is that it's a little slow (about 45 minutes from San Zaccaria to the train station) and it's seriously crowded - especially during the morning "commute," which is when we were aboard. Still, since we didn't take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal while we were there, it was nice to see the full length of the Canal before we left.

After arriving at the station much earlier than necessary, we eventually boarded our Eurostar train to Florence. Since we're wimpy Americans, we booked first class tickets and wouldn't have it any other way. We sat next to a nice Australian family with two adorable kids who weren't at all annoying (so rare for other people's kids!), and I shot a series of really blurry photos from the train during the 3 hour train ride.

The closest thing to a good shot from the train.

Dennis was very patient with all my photo snapping.

After we arrived in Florence, we made our way to our hotel, Hotel Casci. We got a little lost along the way, and it was made all the more nerve-wracking by the fact that this was the first Italian city we'd encountered that had cars. Cars with drivers who seem not to value pedestrians' lives at all. But, we finally arrived at our hotel, checked in, and collapsed in our room. This one was about as well-equipped as the last, but lacked the picturesque Venetian view. It also had the world's most awkwardly placed toilet paper dispenser and a combination sink/fold-out bidet that released the most disgusting rotten egg smell every time one of us took a shower. Not cool.

After a brief rest, we got a snack at a cafe and then we made our way to the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze. We reserved tickets in advance, which was a good thing, since it allowed us to bypass the line and the super-aggressive street vendors who hassled waiting tourists. The highlight was, of course, Michelangelo's Statue of David (no photography allowed, although this didn't seem to stop most visitors). I was really struck by how large the statue was. For some reason, I always thought it was much closer to life size, but it's actually much larger. There was also a special exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs located throughout the galleries, which made for a really interesting juxtaposition of nudes in the arts over time. Kinda cool.

After David, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap (which, of course, went too long thanks to me), and then headed out for a late (by American standards) dinner at a cafe down the block. This turned out to be an awesome find. Named I' Daviddino, or Little David, the food was excellent and reasonably priced. I had tortelloni filled with spinach and ricotta in a cream sauce with ham and zucchini. I really regret not taking some photos of it, because it was sublime. We wrapped up our day with a stroll back to the hotel and much-needed night's rest.

Coming Up Next: Dennis & Erin do Florence!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Please pass the martini and diet pills now....

...because I feel like I'm in the 1950s.

Some of you may remember the origin of this blog's name, "Liggiland." It came about when I announced to my then husband-to-be that I wouldn't be taking his last name, but that I was more than happy to meld our last names into one and then we could both change ours. After some initial strife, he doesn't seem to mind anymore. No one in my family minds it. But my mother-in-law insists on referring to me as "Mrs. Liggio." At first it was "Mrs. Erin Liggio." I asked Mr. L to talk to her about it, but mostly I bit my tongue and sucked it up. And then this arrived in the mail today.

The offending article.

Mrs. Dennis. Liggio.

Apparently, I don't even get to have my own first name anymore. Now, I know that in the past, and probably still in some parts of the world today, married women considered it a privilege to be able to call themselves "Mrs. Huffington P. Nobgobbler." I'm not one of them. I love Mr. L, and most of the time I'm perfectly happy to be his wife. But I didn't change my name when I got married for a reason -
I'm still the same person I was before I said "I do." My fundamental personality didn't change. One of my core relationships did, but who I am didn't. And so I didn't change my name.

The replacement of my first name honestly feels like a smack in the face. It feels like to my mother-in-law, I have no first name or last name (or identity) of my own - I'm just "his wife." I find it maddening. I know there are women who don't mind this, who embrace it even, and I'm fine with that because it was (presumably) their choice. What's infuriating to me is that my mother-in-law insists on continuing this even though she's been told repeatedly that it doesn't just bother me, it offends me. I worked hard in school, in my career, and in my personal life to build a personality and identity I'm more or less proud of. I don't want that erased or replaced at someone else's whim.

Okay, that's enough venting on that. Lighter notes in the days to come, I promise.

Signing off,

Not Mrs. Dennis Liggio

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 1

I know, I know, I've been slacking. It took me a full week to get back into my normal routine, then a couple more to post pics to Facebook and Flickr. But I'm finally back to normal and all the photos are posted, and now it's time to make you jealous with all the little details.

Day 1 (Tuesday, October 13)
We flew Delta (which I refuse to hyperlink to), which I wouldn't recommend to anyone. Our original flight departed Austin around 1pm, connected in Atlanta, and then continued on to Venice and arrived at about 10:30 the next morning. Two weeks before our departure, Delta canceled our original flight. Our new itinerary departed about 6 hours earlier, at 6:45am, but only arrived in Venice 1 hour earlier. And we had stops in Atlanta and JFK. Delta FAIL. The only redeeming qualities were the unlimited free wine and beer on the transatlantic flight and the free Bejeweled I played the entire flight on the screen embedded on the seat in front of me. Oh, and I watched "Night at the Museum 2", also for free. Awesome.

Day 2 (Wednesday, October 14)
We arrive in Venice, and I am totally excited! Why? Well, first, I'm in Venice. But also because Mr. Liggiland had a 50/50 shot at getting arrested at immigration. You see, one of his brothers signed him up for Italian citizenship when he was just a teenager (their grandfather immigrated from Italy, so they were eligible), and Italy has compulsory military service. Not knowing this, Mr. L didn't know to file the requisite waivers until after the fact, which is when the Italian consulate promptly lost them. Maybe. We don't know. It seems that Italy has yet to enter the 21st century, because they still do everything on paper and don't digitize any of their records. Suffice to say, I spent months telling Mr. L he better be on his best behavior or else I might turn his AWOL butt in at immigration. My threats turned out to be completely empty though because Italian immigration consists of one guy who takes your passport, gives the photo a cursory glance, stamps it and sends you on your merry way. That's it. Thoroughly disappointing for me, but a big relief for Mr. L.

We got to skip baggage claim because we managed to fit everything into 2 carry-ons, thanks to the magic of Space Bag Travel Bags, which may be the best invention ever. Using these awesome instructions, we purchased our tickets for the water bus from the airport to old Venice and found the bus stop (which is a long, chilly walk from the airport terminal). I was a little nervous about trying to communicate, but it turned out pretty much everyone could understand my broken Italian (and the guys on the bus were more than happy to correct my pronunciation of the stop we needed) or, more often, spoke enough English to get by. The bus ride was a long one, over an hour, but it gave us an opportunity to take in some nice views of the lagoon and Venice from a distance.

We got off at the San Zaccaria stop, named for a little church nearby that's dedicated to John the Baptist's father. After getting slightly lost, we finally found our hotel, Hotel Fontana, which turned out to be right around the corner from the church. Lesson number one in Venice: what they call "streets" we call "alleyways," so take that into account when trying to navigate.

Our hotel, Hotel Fontana, seen from the street.

Even though we arrived a little early, our room was ready so they let us check in. While the room's decor wasn't luxurious, it made up for it with the most picturesque view of the Venetian street below.

See? Picturesque.

After a much-needed nap, we headed out to wander Piazza San Marco.

Piazza San Marco, with the Campanile (Bell Tower) on the right and St. Mark's Basilica in the background.

Detail of St. Mark's Basilica.

Detail on one of the buildings lining Piazza San Marco.

After a bit more wandering around the Piazza area, we headed to dinner at a restaurant near our hotel, Trattoria da Roberto. We each had pizza - I had pizza capricciosa, which had all the usual yummies as well as artichoke hearts, and Dennis had the "house special," which had pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, and "wurtzel," which looked like a sliced up hot dog. All tasty enough, though, to satisfy us at the end of an exhausting first day.

Day 3 (Thursday, October 15)
While I slept well our first night in Venice, Dennis did not. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed out see the interior of St. Mark's Basilica (no photographs allowed) and the Palazzo Ducale (aka Doge's Palace, also no photographs allowed). While neither of us was terribly impressed with the Basilica (we're just not church people, I guess), we did like the Doge's Palace. My favorite part was crossing the Bridge of Sighs and touring the prison.

Exterior of the Doge's Palace, sometimes called "the wedding cake" because of all the ornamentation on the building.

Detail of the Doge's Palace.

The Bridge of Sighs is undergoing some restoration work, hence all the sky-and-cloud-covered scaffolding surrounding it. Dennis commented that it looks like the windows of the new store going in at the mall.

Next up was a wander through the streets of Venice, courtesy of our fabulous Rick Steves guidebook. We got to see the former Nazi Party headquarters in Venice (which is as ugly a building as you might expect) and the La Fenice Opera House before finally making our way to the Rialto Bridge. We had a quick lunch in a cafe (where I first experienced an involtini - a rolled up, toasted warm pizza), then went to see the bridge. While the bridge itself was lovely, the view from it was much, much better.

We wandered the area
surrounding the Rialto Bridge, which is known for its fish and produce market, and saw some gorgeous things, including this amazing spice shop.

After our mini-adventure, we headed back to the hotel (stopping for gelato along the way, of course!) and took the a short afternoon nap. Afterwards, we got up and headed back to the Campanile di San Marco for some gorgeous sunset views of Venice.

A rainbow over Venice at sunset.

To finish the day, we headed out to dinner. Dennis had what he called the second best calamari of his life, whileI had some very tasty spaghetti alla carbonara. We finished it off with what I would eventually decide is the perfect Italian dessert: tiramisu and caffelatte.

Coming Up Next: Murano & Burano, then on to Florence!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Italy Sneak Preview

I've been meaning to blog about our trip to Italy, but I've been working hard to get all our photos up on Flickr first. I promise to get you all the play-by-plays soon. In the meantime, check out our photos from Venice, Florence, and Rome.

The Arch of Constantine, viewed through one of the Colosseum's arches.