Tuesday, June 28, 2011: Firenze

This morning I enjoyed a quiet cup (ok…two cups) of cappuccino at a café across from our hotel. The woman there – the owner, I assume – was so friendly. I loved sitting there watching the people stroll by…some tourists, some locals. It was early enough that the city’s routine workers were starting their daily activities. Trash pick-up is obviously first thing Tuesday morning, shops received deliveries of food and other goods, and there were workers setting up scaffolding to work on restorations of the historical buildings. It was a nice slice of Florentine life, mixed in with a bit of tourist life…but mostly I enjoyed the solitude from my family.

My husband and I toured Il Duomo (only 2 minutes walk from our hotel) in the morning, walking the 154 steps up to the dome, and then continuing up the additional 300+ steps to the very top. Stunning views from here!! Rather than wait in the looooong line to enter the church, we elected to pay for the guided tour. It was a deal and saved so much time. Plus, we were able to see parts of the dome and church only open to those doing the tour. I highly recommend it.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat before meeting up with a guide (Marco Secci) to tour the Uffici museum, a 2 minute walk in the other direction from our hotel, then headed to see ‘David’ after that…amazing! Our guide was one of the best we have encountered. I made sure to get his business card so we can use him again when we go back to Florence. And yes, we do plan to return one day to see all the things we didn’t get a chance to visit.

Marco suggested yet another local place for dinner; also right around the corner from our hotel (I should mention we had a phenomenal hotel location!). After dinner we headed on a walk past Ponte Vecchio to one of the De Medici castles open for a late-night visit. My husband and I toured for a bit…amazing to see how grand some folks lived! It was a nice night and we enjoyed our walk back through town to the hotel. Florence is a beautiful city, well worth the visit. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to return.

Monday, June 27, 2011: Firenze

Today was more of a recovery day…we took it easy, strolling around Florence’s street markets and checking out the historical buildings/landmarks. We had lunch atop a restaurant overlooking Ponte Vecchio, and then we walked a bit more in the afternoon. It was nice to have a low-key day to unwind from all of the constant activity we had been experiencing.

We were directed to a different restaurant for dinner – another typical Florence-style eatery. Our waiter was phenomenal and funny, patient with us as we practiced speaking our minimal Italian. At the end of dinner a man popped into the restaurant dressed in renaissance attire and recited a portion of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ (in Italian of course). It was quite beautiful and was a fabulous way to end the meal!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011: Modena; Bologna; Firenze

Fun times today!!! We left Verona toward Firenze (Florence) and made a side trip to Modena to visit the Ferrarri museum. A voluptuous woman greeted us as we parked the car, asking my husband, “Would you like to drive a Ferrarri?” Grin upon his face, he replied, “Yes…”

Next thing I knew he was signed up to test drive the ‘California’…the one that has room for 4. In a short time he was driving off for a 30 minute test drive, our two boys (grins upon their faces, too) and one of the drivers in tow…That drive was supposed to include time to come back and switch out one of the boys for me, but the car representative somehow misunderstood and they did not return for me at all…so I got to go out with one of their other drivers (he drove) for a ride. All’s well that ends well!!

The ride over, we headed to the museum to check out the cars on display there (and yes, have a bite to eat…), thus ending the ‘drinking and driving’ portion of our travels! From here on out there should be no more car museums!! WooHoo!!!

Firenze was our next stop…and what an adventure trying to drive to the hotel we had! Our GPS had us going all sorts of ways: down one cobblestone street, up another, through this alley, out that one…we were so lost! We finally called the hotel and they told us to stay right where we were. They sent someone to find us/drive our car to the hotel. Then they took our car info so they could send it in to the city to make sure we didn’t receive any fines for driving places we shouldn’t have – and we drove into a lot of areas we shouldn’t have while searching for the hotel!

Paoli was the restaurant recommendation from our hotel concierge, and it did not disappoint. It even offered a snooty Italian waiter who really didn’t want to wait on tourists. But wait on us he did, and our meal was wonderful. We finished, walked back to the hotel (right around the corner), and enjoyed watching a street performance by a Charlie Chan-esque type man before heading to bed…

Saturday, June 25, 2011: Verona (morning)/Lake Gardo, Parma (afternoon/evening)

My husband and I toured Verona in the morning, leaving the boys after breakfast since they had no desire to join us. Our first stop was the coliseum in Verona…it is smaller than the one in Rome, but it is much more intact. In fact, it is still used for concerts and other large venues to this day. The very top tier is the only one not still in place due to an earthquake way back when…

Next, we did a walking tour (a la Rick Steves) through the center area of town. We strolled through streets and alleys, stopping at a pastry shop for some cookies, continuing on past the main square and past a couple of churches. We eventually ended up by the river and walked along it for a short time on the way back to the hotel to meet up with our sons.

The afternoon was a bit of a disappointment. The concierge had suggested a drive to Lake Gardo where we could view the lake and mountains. However, once we drove out there we found that it was crowded and there were not a lot of available places to park. We figured we’d just drive around and view the scenery instead, but found there really was no place to pull over to take photos, and the roads were not conducive to seeing the sights…what we did see was spectacular, and I would love to return one day when we have more time and can have someone explain how to best get around the area.

We continued on to Parma from Lake Gardo where we had dinner. Our little adventure of the day involved winging it to get there, finding out there are many zones non-locals are not allowed to cross via car (and they offer steep fines if you do cross those zones, so hopefully we avoided them all…), and finally locating a place to park. By the time we went through all of this we were starving! We did not get the tour of downtown Parma that I had hoped for, but we did have a great meal before heading back to Verona…including gnocchi for me (best I’ve had).  Perhaps the day didn’t go as planned, but it still had a nice ending!