European Adventure: Venice

We drove from Noce to the airport in Venice, where we dropped off our rental car, and boarded a vaparetto (water taxi) to get to our next apartment.

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I loved the look of Venice, right away. The architecture and surroundings felt so historical.

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We met our host close to our stop and were relieved to find she spoke Spanish! My husband and I are much more comfortable speaking Spanish, instead of bumbling through Italian, which is what we had been doing, up to that point.

We unpacked, and set out to explore. Venice felt like a maze, it was easy to get lost and just when we thought we knew where we were going, we would run into a water dead end. We still had fun though, while being lost, it’s then that you see the best parts of a city.

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Our guru Rick Steve’s warned us that the restaurants right near the water were mostly tourist traps, with poor, overpriced food. When we were ready for dinner, we found a restaurant that was not close to the water, but in a busy piazza.

Unfortunately, this was our first disappointing meal of the whole trip. The grilled vegetables and salad were OK, but I ordered gnocchi in tomato sauce that was way overcooked and mushy. Everyone else had similar feedback about their food.

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After dinner, we continued to explore and decided to bring one of our bottles of wine that we purchased the previous night in Castellina to Piazza San Marco. This piazza was bustling and lively and we sat on the steps of Basilica San Marco, slowly drank wine and people watched. The piazza was absolutely beautiful at night, and I am so glad I got to see it in the at glory because the next day, I was not as impressed.

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Eventually, we made our way back to our apartment and settled in for the evening. We slept in the next morning and slowly eased into the day. My husband and friends left to the train station to make our travel arrangements to France. I stayed behind in the apartment to get some yoga in. I tried to fit yoga in where I could. I brought my travel mat along, but space was limited in some of our places, so it did not always happen as often as I wanted. Finding these moments alone was also important for my vacation time, as well. I am a natural introvert and absolutely need my time alone. This was not always easy when travelling with others, but I tried to find small ways to still take care of myself, so I was not worn out and grouchy. (I did a class from YogaGlo. My laptop is literally, glowing.)

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Lunch was another disappointing meal, unfortunately, that doesn’t deserve much more of a description than that. Unfortunately, Venice was so compact and touristy that it was hard to find restaurants without a tourist vibe.

We then made our way back to Piazza San Marco. It was too late in the day to tour the Basilica, the crowds were pretty out of control, and honestly, we were a little cathedral-ed out. However, we were able to observe some bizarre behavior in the piazza.

I had heard the piazza was famous for it’s pigeons, but I was still appalled to see people encouraging pigeons to land on them, so they could take a picture. I was also equally appalled to find people playing and splashing around in the water in the piazza, which was coming from overflown sewers. It was all very concerning behavior, to me, and I am glad I have the memory of the piazza from the previous night, which is how I prefer to remember it.

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We people watched some more and watched more bizarre things that tourists do. Eventually, our hunger and determination to find good food moved us along. We explored around more carefully, and found a restaurant near our piazza that (finally!) had good food. We had incredible luck with restaurants near our apartments, and we should have remembered that, in our searches.

For our last meal in Italy, I ordered pesto pasta and my husband had a pizza marinara, with pesto drizzled on. It was a great meal!

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The next morning we were up super early for a massive day of travel. We were going to be making our way to Annecy, France through vaparetto, 2 trains and a bus. We said Ciao to Venice and Italy and were ready for a new adventure and country.

My friend Mischa, in his Venizian maska

My friend Mischa, in his Venizian mask

European Adventure: Rome

My husband, step-son and two friends left from LAX, flew ten hours to London, had a short layover, then flew another two hours landing in Rome. It was a long day of travel! Our friends’ luggage ended up getting lost (they eventually got it back the next day), and we were tired and hungry.

But,…we were in Rome! It was an exhilarating experience to pull up to our rented apartment and see how alive our piazza was, even at 2 AM.

Fortunately, there was a cafe, literally right outside our door, and the food was amazing. We ate here a few times, during our stay.

Our welcome to Italy meal: sauteed spinach, bruschetta, penne arribiata 

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I was extremely relieved to find how easy it was to find vegan food. Cheese was not automatically added on to as many dishes as they are in Italian American restaurants. I found this to be true through all of Italy and I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh, simple ingredients.

Our first picture in Italy. We are exhausted, but excited!

100_1810 Rome was all about taking in the sites. It was amazing to walk around a place with such rich history. I did not know where to look first. There was so much to take in and my history teacher husband was going nuts spewing out facts and dates.

On our first full day, we started with a visit to The Colosseum.

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It was absolutely amazing and interesting to see history come alive. Unfortunately, I felt all the travel catching up to me. I had a migraine, felt like I was seconds away from throwing up and was sweating up a storm.

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And, so it goes with travel, sometimes. I hung in there for our next stop, The Forum. We explored around and tried to imagine what it must have been like as the center of Ancient Rome.

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I was pretty done after this point. We walked the sweaty miles back to our apartment, where I blasted the air conditioner, chugged some water and took a nap for a few hours. I think I was mostly tired and dehydrated. It took me a few days to find the correct appropriate hydration/lack of public restroom balance. Public restrooms are not as easily available in Europe, and I was not drinking as much water as I should have been, for fear of not finding a restroom.

Water and rest did the trick, and I was finally feeling like myself again. I met up with my family and friends in our piazza, and settled in

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We finished up our first full day in Rome by hanging out in our Piazza Santa Maria. It was bustling and full of energy. We enjoyed drinks, while my step-son played soccer with kids he met. We ate more delicious food and exhaustion caught up to us soon enough.

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On our second day, we slept in and leisurely explored our neighborhood, where I had my first of MANY pizza marinaras. It is such a simple dish; thin, crispy pizza, topped with marinara sauce, olive oil, garlic and spices. We ate this all over Italy.

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We took it little easier this day, but still explored around. We made our way to The Pantheon and walked around the surrounding area. We also saw the Trevi Fountain (which was turned off!) and a museum. We eventually found a nice park to relax in the shade for a few hours were I took a welcome nap. I can’t recommend how needed this is, during busy vacations!

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Dinner was at Popi Popi, a place recommended to us by an ex-pat we met earlier in the day. I had spaghetti with tomato sauce. Again, the ingredients were few, simple and fresh. It was absolutely delicious.

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The next morning, we woke up early, to make our way to The Vatican. According to Rick Steve’s (our travel guru, who never steered us wrong the whole trip) Italy guidebook, The Vatican gets pretty packed, so arriving early is optimal.

We all wore pants, since shorts are not allowed and I brought a sweater to cover my shoulders. Even though it was early in the day, we already started sweating on our walk over.

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I was pretty blown away by how elaborate The Vatican was. It was a work of art in it’s own right, with embellished architecture, ornate decorations and murals, frescos and sculptures all over.

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However, it all struck me as a little bit….much. It felt more like a museum more than a place of worship, which I realize may have been the idea, I guess my expectations for it where just…different.

Still, I was awe struck several times. We climbed and sweated to the top of St. Peter’s Cupola (the staircase up was narrow, windy and harrowing), and although it was extremely crowded at the top, we still had a pretty amazing view.

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We spent some time exploring the inside, but the crowds were growing and growing. It was hard to look around when there were tour groups crowded around certain sites.

As we left The Vatican, we saw the line just enter stretching all through the courtyard. I was definitely glad that we got there early!

We enjoyed our last night in Rome back in our Piazza (it was definitely our favorite neighborhood). We are dinner one more time at our café right across from our apartment.

Along with grilled veggies, olives and bruschetta, I ordered the pesto penne. Again, all deeeeeelish!

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We were able to find soy gelato and enjoyed hazelnut and chocolate. It was a nice way to end our Roman Adventure!

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The next day, we took a cab to the rental car station at the edge of town, and started our journey to the Tuscan region….