A Month In Place

One week from today, Brett and I will board a train and head for a week’s stay in Rome. We will have been in Florence for a month, in hindsight one of the best decisions we made when planning our itinerary.

A month in place, we’ve discovered, has had an amazing number of benefits:

  • We’ve saved quite a bit more than expected. We received a very large monthly discount for our stay in our wonderful Airbnb rental (38% over the daily rate). It’s less expensive for owners to have someone stay for a full month than having someone in and out in a few days, and discounts can range from 10% or more (there are usually discounts as well for weekly rentals). Also, because we’re in the apartment long term, we’ve been able to shop at local grocery stores, and eat most of our meals at home which has saved quite a bit as well.
  • We’ve been able to unpack our suitcases and set them aside. It’s been wonderful to live as residents rather than as travelers.
  • We’ve had the time to take some great side trips. The same was true when we stayed for three weeks in Strasbourg. Going away for a couple of days didn’t take away from our time where we were staying nor did we feel rushed or worn out on our visits.
  • We’ve gotten to know our neighborhood more in depth. This is one of the greatest benefits of staying in place for a while. We’ve learn all sorts of shortcuts and the best or better ways to get from Point A to Point B, depending on the weather or time of day. We’ve also found the best or better places to shop, and had a chance to interact with local businesses versus those geared more toward tourists. We’ve gotten a feel for our neighbors, through music, arguments, noise, and their comings and going.
  • We’ve had the time to do some fun, off-beat things, like searching for different gelato shops. We could of course do these things in a shorter visit, but it would have the potential to detract from other “must see” or “must do” activities.
  • We’ve had time to relax and recharge. This honestly has been the best benefit of all. By staying in place a month there’s been no pressure to get out and do something every day (although we usually do) so that we don’t miss out. If we want to take the morning off and sleep in it’s not a problem, the same for taking an entire day off. We’ve had the time to take care of personal business (FAFSAs and insurance changes) that would have otherwise impacted a shorter stay somewhere.

One month in place definitely isn’t always possible, and we know there are places where we wouldn’t want to stay a month! Family obligations, housing issues, or having a pet can make such a long stay difficult or impossible as well. However, our month in Florence, and our longer time in Strasbourg, have given us some solid reasons for how we might want to travel in the future, especially as we get older. Instead of quick visits or trips where we’re having to pack and unpack over and over and deal with transportation issues or live out of a suitcase, we’ve come to appreciate having the time to get to know a place more deeply, adequate time to rest when needed, and the time to settle in.

Gelato Every Day: Week 3

Day #1: We tried Cantina di Gelato, recommended by the ticket seller at the Palazzo Pitti, and it had some interesting and unusual flavors. I had (roasted) pumpkin and turmeric with fig; Brett chose rum with chocolate chips and hazelnut. The flavor cards were written in Italian, English and Russian (and the gelato was delicious)!

We have learned a lot these past few weeks about gelato. For example, this past week we found out that gelato was most likely invented in Florence – who knew? We’ve also learned several tips on how to choose true artisanal gelato. We’ve been on a hunt ever since to eat the best and avoid the worst . . . and mostly succeeded, I think.

Day #2: Vivoli, near Santa Croce, has been making gelato for 80 years! They only serve their product in cups. My flavors were rum with candied nuts and orange cream, and Brett had blueberry and Japanese persimmon.

Day #3: On our way to visit L’Accademia and after my fall, we stopped in at My Sugar. I chose rose (so good!) and matcha latte flavors while Brett had black sesame and hazelnut.

The ticket seller at the Pitti Palace that we chatted with last week, a local, told us that one way to find quality gelato is to look for small, covered containers. Or, look for small rectangular containers where the gelato inside does not come up to the rim (small batch). Also, make sure the flavor is written first in Italian. Finally, look for muted colors that are found in nature, and not bright “Pokémon colors.” He said if we see gelato in mounds we should run away as quickly as possible, same if we see the flavor cards written primarily in English as it means the gelato is industrially produced and pumped full of fat and made for tourists.

We also found a list of recommended gelateria written by a food writer and sommelier in Florence who leads culinary tours in the city – her site provided us with several new places to try. We were pleased to find our neighborhood gelateria, Sbino Gelatificio Contadino, made her list as we stop by frequently.

Day #4: We stopped at small gelateria in Vernazza. Their selection wasn’t great and definitely non-artisanal. I opted for sorbetto instead of gelato for a change, choosing passionfruit and strawberry flavors. Brett decided on cherry cream and fiori di latte.

There were a few gelateria open in the Cinque Terre, but we ordered ours in Vernazza, where flavors were limited. Just to show how seriously gelato can be taken though, apparently a gelato war is going on between two shops in the village of Corniglia, with each claiming to be the best. Apparently the whole village has taken sides in the dispute.

Day #5: Back in Florence we were tired so walked down to Gelateficio Contradina and they did not disappoint: We both chose the egg cream with sweet marsala flavor, but I chose orange and ginger (very yummy!) for my second flavor, and Brett had coffee.

Sunday in Florence was cold and drizzly, but Brett took one for the team and went out in the late afternoon for takeout from our neighborhood shop. They didn’t have much left to choose from, but he put together chestnut and Speculoos cookie flavors – delicious!

Brett’s hand work continues to get better every week. I don’t even have to ask any more – we buy gelato and he’s ready to pose! He’s glad though that we have just one more week to go (maybe two if we continue our quest in Rome).

We finished the week back where we started, at Cantina di Gelato because it was one of the few gelateria open on Monday. I got rum with chocolate chips and hazelnut with Nutella swirl and chopped hazelnuts; Brett got passionfruit and ricotta and fig.

Cinque Terre Getaway: A Dream Come True

Manarola behind us – the hotel we stayed in is to the left, in the very topmost row of buildings! I almost can’t believe we hiked all the way up there!

A visit to the Cinque Terre had been on my bucket list for years. I’m not entirely sure when I first learned about these five small villages on the Ligurian coast of Italy – maybe a Rick Steves show? – but from that first moment I wanted to go.

These past two days my dream came true.

We were originally scheduled to go to the Cinque Terre last week, but after some bad storms and flooding we were warned to wait and go a bit later. After looking at the weather forecast we picked November 9 & 10 as the two days with the best weather we could hope for, and were thankfully allowed to change our train tickets for free to the new date. There was still a possibility of rain showers on the new dates, but nothing we felt we couldn’t deal with.

The train ride from Florence yesterday morning took around three hours because it turned out the train stopped at literally every station on the way to the Cinque Terre. One of the stops though was Carrara, where the fine, pure white marble that Michelangelo used came from, and is still being quarried today. We at first thought the white on the side of the mountains was snow until we realized that what we were seeing was marble.

Our first view of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Riomaggiore Station.

Both Brett and I gasped like children when we finally stopped in Riomaggiore and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. We hadn’t realized until then how much we had missed seeing the ocean. Even with cloudy skies the water was a beautiful shade of blue that reminded us of Hawai’i.

The dangerous condition of the trail between Manarola and Corniglia is visible; a short way along to the north the entire trail was missing. We were happy to use the trains on our visit.

We purchased our Cinque Terre park passes in Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the five villages, and then hopped on the next train for Monterosso, the most northern village of the five. The passes allowed us to get off and on the trains at our own pace, a good thing as all the hiking trails through the Cinque Terre were closed due to storm damage. Our plan was to grab some lunch in Monterosso and then walk around for a bit, then go to the next village, Vernazza, and finally head to Manarola, where we we had a hotel reservation for the night.

The beach at Monterosso, like everything else, was deserted. In spite of the clouds, the sea was still a beautiful shade of turquoise.

Entering Monterosso was like entering a ghost town. It’s a true beach town, and the season had officially ended on November 1, so houses and stores were shuttered, restaurants were closed, and there were almost no people anywhere. We were hungry and eventually found one open restaurant and had a pretty nice lunch – fish-stuffed squid ink ravioli with shrimp for Brett, and a grilled vegetable pizza for me. It was also kind of sad though because we were the only diners in the restaurant.

Vernazza’s main street


Fishing boats were pulled up onto the streets

After lunch we walked back along the beach to the train station to go to Vernazza. The train arrived and we climbed on and took our seats but then noticed that almost no one else had gotten on. Hmmm. As the train picked up speed we discovered that we had accidentally gotten on an express train which had been delayed by storm damage further north, and had ended up arriving at the Monterosso station at the same time as the scheduled local down to Vernazza. There had been an announcement, but as it was all in Italian we had no idea about the change in the train schedule. We watched forlornly out the window as we sped through the Cinque Terre and finally stopped at La Spezia, where after a short wait we caught the train back and eventually got off at Vernazza.

It was getting close to sunset when we arrived in Vernazza.

The beautiful sunset made up for the mix-up with the trains.

The little village of Vernazza was lovely and picturesque. We wandered around for a while, had some gelato, walked to the harbor to watch the sun set, and then hiked back up the hill to the station and headed for Manarola, where we had a hotel reservation for the night.

Dark was coming on fast when we arrived in Manarola.

It was nearly dark when we got off the train in Manarola, and we were a little frightened when we realized we had absolutely no idea where the hotel was. We punched it in on our GPS, and headed off in what we thought was the right direction, but after walking down a street for a while and climbing several flights of stairs up the side of the hill we looked again at the GPS and discovered we were nowhere near the hotel! We climbed back down into town and asked at one of the restaurants for directions and got ourselves headed in the right way. We eventually found the hotel – the owner was looking for us out the window! We were the only guests that night, and were given an absolutely lovely room with a private terrace. To say we were exhausted at that point from all the train rides, hiking and climbing we had done that day would have been an understatement. We both quickly changed and climbed into bed and were asleep in moments!

One of the morning views from our hotel terrace. The hotel’s owner also owns and works daily in the terraces across the way.

The winding street to our hotel that we had to maneuver in the dark – I was using the flashlight feature on my phone to help us find our way! The stairway in back goes up to the hotel.

One of the spectacular views on our way back down into the village.

Cafe latte for me, an Americano for Brett! Coffee in Italy is beyond delicious.

We woke up this morning to sunshine and stunning views from our terrace, which made all that climbing in the dark the night before worthwhile. The hotel provided coffee and some biscotti in our room for breakfast, so we had those, then got dressed and headed back down the hill for some more coffee. The walk down was much nicer in the light and provided some stunning views. After our coffee we wandered through the village for awhile and walked along a path around one of the cliffs. We were able to see from the path how thoroughly damaged and in what dangerous condition the trail was in and why it had been closed.

The north side of Riomaggiore.

We would have completely missed this view of Riomaggiore if we had turned right instead of left to head up the hill into the village.

Brett and I had originally planned to first visit the village of Corniglia, which sits between Vernazza and Manarola and then go to Riomaggiore. However, we realized neither of us wanted to do the 30-minute Stairmaster climb from the station up to Corniglia, nor did we want to wait anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half for a bus to take us up (and then wait as long for the bus to take us back down). So, it was straight on to Riomaggiore from Manarola. Since we never seem to do things the easy way, instead of turning to the right  from the Riomaggiore station and walking through the tunnel over to the harbor and village center, we instead turned to the left and headed up a steep hill that wove through the village but eventually brought us down to the village center. We rewarded ourselves with a wonderful lunch of traditional Ligurian pasta (Brett’s with mixed seafood, mine with fresh pesto) and then wisely took the tunnel back to the Riomaggiore station where we caught the train back to Florence.

I did not want to leave Liguria without eating pesto. This traditional dish of linguine with fresh pesto, potatoes and green beans was perfect; Brett had traditional spaghetti with assorted seafood.

Although our first day turned out to be kind of crazy (and exhausting), the morning walks/hikes through Manarola and Riomaggiore were wonderful and both of us left Liguria feeling like our visit had been a success. It didn’t rain, we saw all the villages (if only from afar in the case of Corniglia), and we got to eat traditional Ligurian cuisine. Dreams really can come true!

A Beautiful Day & A Lot of Art

The entire day was gorgeous – not a cloud in the sky.

Although rain and overcast skies had been predicted, we woke up this morning to bright blue skies and glorious sunshine. It actually took me a few moments to realize what was going on – I knew things looked different but it didn’t initially occur to me that the reason for that was because there were no low clouds hanging in the sky for a change.

We washed a load of clothes and hung them up, and – shock and awe! – almost everything was dry in a couple of hours. We’ve been having to hang our things up around the house and over the radiators the past several days in order to get our clothes dry so this made the sunshine even more appreciated.

In the early afternoon we set out to visit L’Accademia, with a stop for gelato along the way. As we were walking, my worst nightmare came true: I tripped and fell. My foot hit the edge of a broken cobblestone which threw me off balance and down I went. Several people rushed over to help, and one young man offered to call an ambulance, but thankfully all that was damaged was my pride – I did not hit my head or break or even sprain anything. It could have been a lot worse though.

We arrived at the museum at around 3:45 and there was NO LINE. Nothing – we walked right in a and bought our tickets just like that. There were others in the museum, but it wasn’t crowded at all and we had time to look at everything and not feel pressured or overwhelmed.

Michelangelo’s David was purely gorgeous. The statue stands under a glass dome, and with today’s sunshine he was bathed in natural light to breathtaking effect. Both Brett and I took our time examining the beautiful work. I had never noticed before how huge David’s hands are, but they are another example of Michelangelo size and proportion to great effect.

One of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures – they were left behind in his Florence studio when he moved to Rome.

A closer look at Michelangelo’s chisel work

We also were able to see several statues that Michelangelo had begun but never finished, and it was quite something to view his chisel work in various stages, up close.

Some of the paster models we viewed were life-sized, and were made in pieces and reassembled for the sculptor. The dark spots on the models were for measurement.

The facial area on the plaster models were often covered with dots as measurements for the sculptor had to be very precise.

One room at the museum was filled with plaster models for sculptures and busts. At first we wondered about all the marks on the statues, but learned they were measurements for the plaster models to be reassembled and for the artist to use as they chiseled the stone. Some of the original plaster molds from the Renaissance are still being used today to make reproductions.

A Stradivari violin from the 17th century.

I wonder how long it took to learn to play the Snake.

The museum also holds a wonderful collection of Renaissance musical instruments, including some Stradivari stringed instruments, early harpsichords, and both wind and brass instruments.

Most paintings of the Virgin and Child show them with soft, calm and loving expressions.

This Virgin and Child have very suspicious expressions on their faces – very disconcerting.

This image was quite disconcerting as well.

And of course there were numerous Renaissance paintings, all glorious. I always enjoy looking at the facial expressions in the paintings. Usually they are fairly generic and clearly show what the person is experiencing – sadness, anguish, happiness, calm, etc. – but some times you have to wonder what the artist had in mind when he painted a particular expression on a face. More than a few of the artists seem to lack skill in painting babies.

We had planned to stop for a pizza before coming home, but both of our favorite restaurants were closed so we ended up enjoying wine, cheese, salami and crackers at home. It was a beautiful day!

Busy Days Ahead

The Tuscan hills in the distance

I woke up yesterday feeling like our time here in Florence was slipping away, that it was almost time to go and we hadn’t seen or done much of anything except eat a whole lot of gelato. I got out of bed and looked at the calendar in a panic, and was relieved to see we actually have around two more weeks left in Florence before we go to Rome.

I realized we have been here long enough though, and done enough, that I was feeling like we’ve been here much longer than we actually have. We really have settled in here in Florence.

The past and the present exist on every street. Renovation and preservation are going on everywhere.

Our remaining two weeks here though will be busy ones. We had big plans to see all the “big” museums this week: L’Accademia, Pitti Palace, the Uffizi and the Boboli Gardens. This past Sunday was the monthly free day at national museums, and we were going to wake up early and get in line early for L’Accademia. However, we woke up to cold, drizzly weather and my bursitis was on fire, so we ended up scrapping that plan. And, we had forgotten that almost everything is closed on Monday (it’s hard to find much of anything open on Mondays) so we spent the afternoon wandering around and taking ourselves down unknown streets to see what we could find. We went over to visit the Pitti Palace yesterday afternoon but learned we had gotten there too late to visit – you need at least three hours so the last tickets are sold at 4:00 and we had arrived at 4:45. Sigh.

A view that never gets old – the Ponte Vecchio stretching across the Arno.

We had a lovely chat with the ticket seller though, who told us the best times to visit the museums and also gave us tips on where and how to find the best quality gelato! We bought tickets to visit the Uffizi next Tuesday afternoon, and then walked over to a gelateria he recommended (it was fantastic!). We are going to try to visit the Pitti Palace later this afternoon, and will go around 3:30 to be sure we can get in. Brett is actually more interested in the Boboli Gardens, so if the weather is OK he may tour that while I visit the Palace – we’ll see.

Slices of beauty are everywhere, and the old is treasured.

On Thursday afternoon we will walk over, stand in line, and visit L’Accademia. We’ve noticed that the lines for the museums seem to be shorter in the late afternoons now so we plan to be there between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. which should give us enough time to get our tickets and take our time inside. I am excited to see Michelangelo’s David. It has been one thing to see his work in books and photos all these years, but every piece of his work I’ve seen so far has taken the definition of beauty (as well as skill and artistry) to a whole new level.

Florence’s architecture demands you look up as well as ahead.

Friday morning we are heading up to the Cinque Terre for our overnight visit. Unfortunately, rain is still in the forecast so it looks like we will be riding the train between the five villages versus hiking on the trail (the trail is closed if it starts to rain). It will be what it will be, but we’re still excited to finally be going. We’re going to go to Siena one day next week but are not sure which day yet.

Another familiar sight around Florence – outdoor seating, rain or shine, warm or cold.

Otherwise we are taking each day as it comes. Although I have to watch myself in order to not aggravate the bursitis, we enjoy strolling around the city, checking out different neighborhoods and sometimes window shopping – there’s always something interesting to see. Besides enjoying some gelato every day we usually also stop by the market to pick up something we need or have forgotten. I’m not sure why it never dawned on me before that there is no big modern city out there somewhere on the outskirts – what we see everyday from the beautiful old buildings to the narrow streets to the shops and restaurants is Florence. It’s wonderful.

Our apartment is cozy and warm now that the heaters are on. There is still more pizza, pasta, risotto and bistecca fiorentina to be eaten. More gelato too. I’m so glad we have another two weeks left in this wonderful city!

Gelato Every Day: Week 2

Day #1: We stopped at what turned out to be an expensive gelateria near the train station to get out of the pouring rain that day. We both ordered malaga (rum raisin) but I added fondonte, a dark, rich chocolate, and Brett chose peanut butter with chocolate.

A friend remarked on Facebook the other day that she loved how we had a “sweet tooth in spades” these days. I wrote back that one thing we have enjoyed so much since we started our adventure is how much less sweet bakery items and gelato have been since we left the U.S. Everything from cookies to pastries to pies to gelato seems to have a lot less sugar and fat, and I’m convinced that the reasons Europeans don’t suffer from being overweight like Americans is that a) everyone walks a whole lot more over here; and b) people here eat a whole lot less sugar than we Americans do.

Day #3: We had gelato with limoncello at home for Day #2, but on Halloween we headed to our neighborhood gelateria, Gelatificio Contadino, for some of their special flavors. I ordered egg cream with orange and pumpkin pie for my flavors, and Brett had a “beige” cone: cinnamon cookie crunch and ameretto.

Gelato looks to be very high calorie but actually has less sugar, fat and calories than ice cream. That’s because it’s made with milk versus cream and usually does not contain eggs or other fats, and does not have as much added sugar. Gelato does not have air whipped into it like ice cream does so it stays creamy.

Day #4: We stopped again at La Carraia, rated one of the best gelateria in the city. They have loads of flavors to choose from, and there’s always a crowd there. Brett got chocolate mousse (amazing!) and coffee flavors; I chose walnut & fig and strawberry cheesecake.

Day #5: Since we were near the Ponte Vecchio this day we decided to have gelato again at Da Angelo, another highly-rated gelateria. We both got their yummy chestnut flavor, and then Brett added green tea and I had ginger (which had a lovely kick to it).

This week we visited our neighborhood gelateria twice because for us they have the most inventive small batch flavors. We also stopping in at Da Angelo again (over by the Ponte Vecchio) and at La Carraia to try some more of their delicious flavors, and checked out another new stop when we were out. One rainy day we stayed home and didn’t go out at all, but had vanilla gelato in the freezer and topped some of that with creme of limoncello – heavenly!

Day #6: We were back to our neighborhood shop on Sunday. I decided on apple (so, so good!) and pumpkin flower; Brett ordered persimmon cinnamon and Vinsanto cream.

Day #7: Brett is on a quest to stop at all of the Top Ten gelateria in Florence, so today we tried Porche no? (Why not?) which has been making gelato in Florence since 1939. Their selection and product did not disappoint: chocolate with peanuts & milk cherry for Brett, eggnog & strawberry mousse for me.

As we did last week, we try to look for new and unusual flavors, but it was a bit more difficult this past week. Brett again did superb work as the hand model.

We Have Options

If Brett and I have learned anything it’s that it’s never too early to start thinking of the future and making plans, if necessary. Anyone who has been reading this blog or one of my earlier ones knows that we like to set goals and then get to planning so those goals can be achieved .

Our current Big Adventure will continue for another 13 months – we will finish up at the end of a three-month stay in England in November 2019. But then what? We know from experience that it’s not too early to begin thinking of which direction we might like to go afterwards.

So, we have started talking about what happens “after.” While the topic doesn’t dominate our conversations and we aren’t close to a decision yet, we have come up with three distinct options for the future, all of which are pretty much running equal at this point. We’re not in any hurry to make a decision because none of the options will require as much advance planning as the Big Adventure did, and we have the time now to think more about and weigh each plan as well as get input from our family before a final decision is made.

The three options we have settled on at this point are:

The idea of living in a small urban apartment is very appealing.

  • Settle down somewhere. That is, rent an apartment (we have absolutely no interest in buying a home), buy furniture, etc. and set up housekeeping in one place. There are lots of advantages to this option, especially when it comes to our children and their eventual plans, and we imagine this will be their first choice for us. We would like to live in an urban area, where we can continue to walk to get our groceries and use other facilities, or use public transportation when necessary. But, east coast or west coast? Our son and family will continue to live in Japan and they come to the west coast almost every year, but there’s a very strong possibility our daughters will end up living in the east. So, lots still to think about when it comes to this option. And, Brett and I wonder if we’ll really be ready to settle down, even after another year of travel.

    We could definitely see ourselves living in Strasbourg for a while.

  • Live overseas for a while. We completely and totally fell in love with Strasbourg when we were there and can still envision living there, for at least a year anyway. We loved the city and its amenities, its affordability, its cuisine, how easy it was to get around to other areas in France from there and its proximity to other parts of Europe. Of course, moving overseas would require us doing a ton of paperwork in order to obtain a long-term Schengen visa, we would have to become more proficient in French, and we would have to find a place to live and then furnish it (hello IKEA!). The biggest negative is that we would be a great distance away from our children for a while which is something we would have to seriously consider. However, this might be the time to do something like this, before more grandchildren come along. The option is appealing enough that we are giving it serious consideration.

    Brett and I have always loved road trips and the options they provide.

  • Continue the Big Adventure in the United States. This choice would entail buying a car (a Prius most likely) and driving around the U.S. and Canada for a year or longer, staying in Airbnb rentals just like we’re doing now. Brett and I have seen a lot of the United States over the years, and we’ve lived in a variety of places throughout the country, and both of us would enjoy having the opportunity to stay in different locations for a while and see more of an area than “just passing through.” The biggest negative with this plan for us is having to buy a car and picking up all the expenses that go along with that – it’s not an idea we’re crazy about.

Brett and I are definitely, as our son has said, “restless people.” We are greatly enjoying our current nomadic lifestyle and can see ourselves continuing in some form, but the idea of settling in some place where we could continue to travel now and again also has some serious advantages. All three of the above plans come up frequently in conversation these days, with us discussing the pros and cons and how we would or could pull them off. They always seem to end up getting ranked differently each time we talk about them too which means we need to have a lot more conversation and do some more thinking about each one. Thankfully we have over a year to decide, but at some point we’re going to have to choose one and then let the real planning begin.

Which one would be your choice?

Some Florentine Miscellany

This many biscotti should last us for a while (or so we hope).

Just a few things that have been going on here recently:

More Italian cookie favorites

  • Our favorite snack in Italy (well, outside of gelato) continues to be . . . cookies! We’re talking the kind you can find at the supermarket – they are tasty, affordable, and w-a-y less sweet than U.S. cookies. We usually enjoy two or three for dessert in the evening but have been know to nibble them during the day if the desire arises. Some favorites are pictured above (don’t know their names), and we have also been enjoying different flavors of biscotti.
  • WenYu and YaYu’s FAFSAs are done and submitted for next year, and they and Brett will finish up other financial aid paperwork when we’re together in December. Brett carried along our financial information on a thumbdrive for just this purpose, and even with all the time differences, multiple questions and so forth he and the girls finished everything up in a few days. This is our last year of filling out the FAFSA for WenYu; after this we’ll have just two more years to do with YaYu and then we are done with the FAFSA for good!

    Candy Ninja and his sidekick, Bubble Gumby!

  • We loved the several Halloween pictures from Japan our daughter-in-law sent (yeah social media!). She made the kids’ costumes this year from an idea she found on Pinterest. Our grandson was a candy machine (his costume won first prize at his school!), and our granddaughter was a gumball machine. So cute! Neighborhood trick-or-treating is not a thing in Japan, but they go to friends’ homes and parties to celebrate, and our son always carves a pumpkin with them.

    The money bag with its expanding collection of coins.

  • We’ve been saving coins and bills along the way for our grandson to help him start a currency collection. By the time we get to Japan he’ll have some assorted Argentinian pesos, Uruguayan pesos, all sorts of Euros, some British money (thanks to our long layover in Gatwick on the way back to the U.S.), Indian rupee, Hong Kong dollars, and Australian and New Zealand dollars (and of course American bills and coins). We’ve also managed to pick up the odd coin here or there, like a five peso coin from the Dominican Republic (?????), and we plan to help him find a book when we’re in Japan where he can keep and display his collection. You can find a book for any sort of collection in Tokyo – the fun part will be the hunt!

    The remainder of our Florence souvenirs.

  • Earlier today we did some planned shopping and bought ourselves some gloves as well as a beautiful spring green stovetop espresso maker that we’ve been admiring in the window of a small hardware store we pass almost daily. The gloves are cashmere-lined lambskin. Brett got a black pair, and I got two pairs: black and bright purple. They should last us for years.

    This is a copy of Michelangelo’s David that stands in the Uffizi courtyard – the original is in L’Accademia.

  • We are going to take it easy again tomorrow because we will be up early, early, early on Sunday morning to begin four days of Operation Museum Overload. Sunday is a free day for national museums, so we’re going to head over to L’Accademia and get in line early. We’ll be back in line again early Monday morning at the Pitti Palace where we’ll pick up three-day passes to see it, the Boboli Garden on Monday and finally the Uffizi next Tuesday.

Rainy Days in Florence

It was nothing but wet, wet, wet for three days in Florence.

We have been extremely fortunate on our travels when it comes to the weather – up until last weekend, that is. Other than some cold and rain when we were in Normandy (which is to be expected) we have pretty much enjoyed sunny, blue skies and warm temperatures. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get to wear any of the cold-weather things I had brought along.

All of that changed last weekend, when thunderstorms, loads of rain, and cold temperatures rolled into Florence, definitely not weather that invites one to get out and wander around. We spent all day Sunday huddled in the apartment, in our pajamas, reading, writing and trying to stay warm (heat can’t be turned on until after November 1). On the plus side, we didn’t spend anything!

Rain pouring in under the kitchen window/door. Usually the rain falls parallel to the building so not a problem but this time it came directly at the building. Our host said it had never happened before!

The weather was almost worse on Monday, but we dashed out for a few groceries and gelato in between storms. One of the storms that passed through was so intense that we had water coming in the kitchen window/door, flooding the floor. We grabbed up every towel we could find to mop up the water that had come in and prevent the flooding from getting any worse. It was crazy!

We had also been watching weather reports for the Cinque Terre as we were scheduled to visit there today and tomorrow, but things did not look any better. Yesterday morning our host strongly advised us not to go at this time, that conditions in the Cinque Terre were considered very dangerous as there had been flooding and more storms were expected.

This pretty view lasted less than five minutes before dark clouds and rain returned.

Looking for any excuse to get out of the apartment at that point, we decided to take our chances with the weather and walk to the train station to see if we could get the date changed on our already-purchased tickets. The weather yesterday morning had been bouncing between blue skies and rain (mostly rain), but we bundled up and grabbed our umbrellas, a good thing as it began raining hard within a couple of minutes of leaving the apartment.

We thankfully had no problem changing our tickets at the station. In fact, we were pulled out of a long line by a helpful TrenItalia employee and our tickets adjusted on the spot. We will be going up to the Cinque Terre week after next when things are supposed to have calmed down, weather-wise (we were also able to change our hotel reservation). After the tickets were taken care of we thought that since we were out we should walk around for a bit and see if we could find the 13th century house of the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri. We’d heard it was not an easy place to find and thought a bit of a challenge might be fun.

My new warm slippers – so comfortable!

We decided to go by way of the back of the Duomo so I could buy a new pair of slippers, one of the purchases we had decided to make in Florence. We first stopped though for some gelato (to get out of the rain) before heading to the shoe store. My new slippers are wool clogs made in Italy by SuperGa (“People’s Shoes of Italy”) in a lovely spring green, my favorite color. I had seen them in the window when we were in the area the other day and both Brett and I thought the price was right and that they would make a nice souvenir.

Dante’s bust on the side of the house was our sign we were at the right place.

After buying the slippers we walked around and after a few turns eventually found Dante’s house, helped in part by the sight of a large tour group (all in rain ponchos) that had gotten there right ahead of us. After admiring the old house for a few minutes we walked a short distance intending to visit the Bargello Museum, but it was getting ready to close so we instead decided to return home. The streets were wet with puddles everywhere (some worse than others), and while the sky occasionally broke through the clouds the rain still was coming and going. We had a lovely walk though filled with beautiful views, and we also stopped at a bakery near our place and bought some apple coffee cake for today’s breakfast.

The Ponte Vecchio at dusk. The rain returned a few minutes after I took this picture.

Today’s weather looked like it was going to be better, and maybe not rain at all! Our host’s mother and father came over in the morning to bring us clean sheets, and they offered to clean the apartment for us (we declined – we clean every day). We were also able to finally get a load of our dirty clothes washed and hung out – the sun was shining! Then we set out to visit both the Basilica di Santa Croce and the Bargello Museum. Santa Croce literally took my breath away when we entered – it was an amazing space filled with amazing art. The tombs of Dante, Michelangelo and Galileo are located inside as well as other tombs for or memorials to famous people, and the cloister area outside was also beautiful. We spent nearly an hour there looking at everything.

The facade of Santa Croce.

Michelangelo’s tomb – I did not know that he had been 90 years old when he died, a very old man. He was supposed to have been interred in Rome, but citizens of Florence wanted their native son buried here and his body was smuggled to Florence. The three women at the bottom of the tomb represent Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.

Before going on to the Bargello we stopped for lunch at a nearby osteria. I ordered a mozzerella, ricotta, and spinach calzone, and was served one that would have fed our entire family. I laughed when I saw it, like “are you kidding me?” but I was actually able to eat most of it (a glass of wine helped). Brett had focaccia with prosciutto, again absolutely huge but he also finished most of it.

This sculpture of a drunken Bacchus was Michelangelo’s first major work. The circular piece to the left, of the Virgin with child, is also by Michelangelo (the Tondo Pitti).

We spent nearly two hours in the Bargello Museum because there was so much to see, from statuary to paintings to pottery to all sorts of Renaissance artifacts of daily life. I was especially interested in the busts – compared to “generic” statuary, the faces on the busts actually looked like people you would see walking down the street today, that all they needed was a spark to reanimate.

When we finally stepped outside it was – sigh – raining again! We figured there was no point in hurrying home because the clothes we had left outside were probably soaked, and neither of us wanted dinner either, so we made stops at the produce market, the grocery store and our neighborhood gelateria before finally going to the apartment. Thankfully the clothes were only slightly wet – apparently it hadn’t rained all that much in our neighborhood.

Special Halloween flavors and designs at our neighborhood gelateria included pumpkin pie, “night” (vanilla colored pitch black), stratiacella with a spider’s web, cinnamon cookie crunch, and other fall favorites.

P.S. Today is Halloween, and we’ve seen a few kids in costumes, and some came into the shops we were in for a “treat” from the shop owner, maybe a cookie or small piece of chocolate. Our neighborhood gelateria had all sorts of Halloween flavors and colors going on! Tomorrow, All Saints Day, is a national holiday so we’ve decided to stay home for the day once again.

Gelato Every Day: Week 1

Day 1: I chose banana and tiramisu flavors (they paired well); Brett had mint chocolate and cookies & cream with chocolate.

We’ve been in Florence now for just over a week. One of our many goals while here was to try to have gelato every day, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of it so far. We missed going out the day before yesterday because of the weather, but otherwise have made a point of indulging ourselves every day.

Day 2: Zuppa Inglese and a scoop of panna with chocolate & orange for me; cherries and cream and peanut butter for Brett.

The availability of different flavors has been frankly astonishing, limited only by the gelato makers’ imaginations. I think too that we’re already becoming “gelato snobs;” that is, we always choose the shop with a wide variety of different flavors versus one that only carries the “standards.”

The persimmon flavor was so amazing we both had to get some. I added green tea, and Brett had honey vanilla with his.

One other great thing we’ve discovered is that you can have two flavors for the same price as one – gelato is sold by the size of the cone or cup, not how many scoops you get. What a concept! We usually opt to have our gelato in a cone, but tried cups the other day. I didn’t think it tasted as good from a cup or was as fun so it will be all cones, all the time for me now. Brett is fine with having his gelato in a cup now and again.

Day 4: I chose ricotta with figs and black sesame. Eating gray gelato was a bit strange but the flavor was fantastic! Brett had mandarin orange and crema, which combined in sort of Dreamsicle. As you can see, the gelato was melting fast that day – it got kind of messy for a while there.

One week down, three more to go! Stay tuned for updates. Also, Brett’s job as a hand model is secure.

We tried out the little gelato shop just down the street yesterday, before the thunderstorms returned. After sampling almost all their interesting flavors I chose pomegranate and bergamot; Brett had stratiacella (crema with chocolate chips) and zabajone al marsala (egg creme with sweet marsala). Man-oh-man was the gelato at this place good – we’ll definitely be going back!