Closing Out the Books For November

The daily journal and spending diary is almost full – we’ll be picking up a new one for Round Two when we’re in Portland.

As of tomorrow we will have been on the road for 102 days, mostly living out of our suitcases, but also taking time to unpack and rest, relax and recharge when possible. In another six days we will begin our journey back to the United States for a month’s visit in Portland, and time with our daughters and friends over the Christmas holiday.

We woke up yesterday morning to a rainy, blustery day, the kind where the wind turns umbrellas inside out every few feet. We had planned to go out and explore around the neighborhood, but instead only made it to a nearby supermarket for a few supplies, and got soaked in the process. We spent the rest of the day, warm and dry, in our cozy apartment doing laundry or with books and computers, and Brett got our travel and spending diary up to date for the month.

Our biggest savings come from fixing our own meals “at home” versus eating out. We found the waffles in the grocery store’s bakery –  just 70¢ each and very delicious!

November turned out to be quite an expensive month because we did so much. We constantly worried that we’d end up over budget, even with being as careful as possible. Besides eating gelato every day in Florence we paid for several admission tickets and a couple of tours; we took side trips to the Cinque Terre and Siena which included train tickets, national park admission, and an overnight hotel stay in Manarola; we ate out six times (lunches in Monterosso as Mare and  Riomaggiore, an expensive (but amazing) Tuscan meal in Siena, dinner in Florence and dinner and lunch in Rome); stopped for coffee or snacks now and again, and we also bought train tickets down to Rome from Florence as well as a taxi ride when we arrived and a driver when we left to come to Lisbon. All of it added up – without regret – so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that we managed to keep our daily spending average for the month to $49.02/day, just under our $50/day limit. Yeah us!

The total for our first grocery run in Lisbon has us thinking we’ll probably spend less here than we did in Italy, and once we’re in Portland we know where to shop and save. Some of our Christmas shopping has already been taken care of (using funds from our Christmas savings), but we have a few more things to get once we’re in Portland. We plan to go out to eat a couple of times with the girls (dim sum!), but budget- and spending-wise next month is looking good, and we’re actually a little ahead of where we want to be!

Travel Days

It doesn’t look like much, but it feels like a lot when we have to move it around.

We have traveled between different locations thirteen times since we left Kaua’i back in August. We have of course picked up a few things along the way about how to best get through travel days, but two of the most important are:

  1. Travel days are like fingerprints – no two are alike. They can go well or not, and attitude is everything.
  2. Travel days are not a good time to be cheap. It’s OK to spend a little more to make the experience easier and less stressful.

We found that traveling by train was our favorite way to get between places in Europe, if possible. There were no long security lines, and we didn’t need to be as careful about the weight of our luggage. Watching the  scenery out the window was delightful. The high-speed trains through France were smooth enough that I could fall asleep, something I’m mostly unable to do on an airplane. Train travel was also usually more economic than flying, but not always – sometimes between destinations train schedules took longer and used up valuable time, or cost more than flying. During our time in Europe we took the train whenever possible, but flew when that made more sense both in time and money.

Although we flew from Rome to Lisbon, we had a good travel day yesterday. A driver picked us up at our apartment in Rome and took us out to the airport. We had a nearly six-hour wait before our flight departed, but the airport was organized and clean, we read our books or played games on our phones, had a nice meal in the airport restaurant, and the time felt like it went by quickly. Our Ryanair flight left on time and chased the most incredible sunset I have ever seen for well over an hour, and a taxi driver in Lisbon got us to our apartment on time so our hosts didn’t have to wait. The total travel time yesterday was 10 1/2 hours, and while we arrived feeling tired we were not exhausted (even though we are both suffering from colds).

The beginnings of an amazing sunset as our plane headed out over the Mediterranean Sea. It went from orange to the deepest red I have ever seen in nature, and everything in between. It also lasted for over an hour.

Compare yesterday’s experience though with our day traveling from Bordeaux to Florence back in October, another 10 1/2 hour day. We started with a 20-minute walk to the tram station from our apartment, carrying 20+-pound backpacks and pulling 44-pound suitcases through torn-up streets and over gravel paths and cobblestones. We then took a crowded tram to the Bordeaux train station where we boarded a bus for an approximately 40-minute ride to the airport. The Bordeaux airport was, to be generous, a nightmare, and we were already pretty worn out when we arrived. There were no signs for where Ryanair was located, and once we finally found them, after walking back and forth through the airport a couple of times, their desk agents had no idea what was going on, where to send people or when to have them board the plane (one woman actually passed out in the line while we waited like cattle in an overheated room). The flight ended up leaving late, but we eventually arrived in Bologna, picked up our luggage (which we had feared wouldn’t make it) and then boarded another bus for the Bologna central train station. That station was another crowded nightmare and we had no idea what to do. We eventually got in line at the ticket window but thankfully an employee came up to us and sold us tickets on the spot; signs told us to go to Track 19 to catch our train. We ended up descending three long escalators along with our suitcases and backpacks into what felt like the bowels of the earth to find Track 19. Our train arrived a bit late, but we boarded, found our seats and around 35 minutes or so later we were in Florence. We hired a taxi and were soon at our apartment. However, the word exhausted is inadequate to describe how we felt at that point. We’ve since joked that the only forms of transportation we missed that day were a boat and a donkey – neither would have surprised us.

Spending a little more to make things easier can make a big difference in whether we arrive tired or arrive exhausted, or whether we have a good travel day or a miserable one. This does not mean purchasing expensive seats in first or business class (although they were often well within our budget on the trains we took), but using more personalized local transportation whenever possible. Our driver yesterday morning took us by and through areas filled with wonderful ruins that we hadn’t been able to see, and he drove down the old Appian road for a while which was quite amazing. That trip to the airport was worth every extra euro we paid. Our taxi driver in Lisbon was a champion – our apartment is on a very narrow street that only taxis are allowed to enter, but it took him, a seasoned local, several tries to figure it out. He worked hard to speak English with us the whole time and let us know what was going on. We could have taken the Metro and a bus in Rome to get to the airport and saved quite a few euros, and the same upon arrival in Lisbon, although we would have had to walk four blocks up a steep hill wearing our backpacks and pulling our suitcases. Every time we’ve tried to scrimp on travel and tell ourselves we can walk or use public transportation though we’ve ended up paying for it with sore muscles, bad tempers or upset stomachs, and losing a full day to get our strength back. As long as the extra cost for taxis or drivers doesn’t take us over our daily average we’re willing to pay for it.

We have been very fortunate and had wonderful taxi drivers (well, except for that weird old guy in Bordeaux) who have shared great tips about what to see, where to shop, where to eat, and so forth. They have been worth every extra penny we paid to use them.

Everything we’ve learned about travel days will be pulled together for our big return trip to the U.S. from Lisbon – a journey that will actually take place over three days versus one. We fly to Madrid in the late afternoon on Day #1 (meaning a long wait in the Lisbon airport prior to our flight since we have to be out of our apartment in the morning), and will spend the night at a hotel near the Madrid airport. We have an early flight up to London Gatwick where we have a 7 1/2 hour layover before a 7 1/2 hour flight to Boston on Day #2 (Note: we have placed a bid to upgrade our seats to premium on the Gatwick to Boston trip, but chances for that are slim. Seats in economy are exit row though with lots of legroom, so we will be OK if our bid isn’t accepted). WenYu will meet us when we arrive in Boston and will spend the night with us at a hotel there, and then we’ll (finally) meet her boyfriend for breakfast the morning of Day #3 before departing in the afternoon on a six-hour flight to Portland (those seats have already been upgraded).

We’re going to use all we’ve learned to make our upcoming return to the U.S. as good of an experience as possible, keeping the most important thing of all in mind: travel days aren’t permanent, and we always eventually get to our destination. Attitude is everything.

A Lovely Walk in Rome

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This gorgeous sunset view was the perfect end to yesterday’s outing.

Yesterday’s weather was beautiful. After three miserable days of clouds and rain the sun was out and the temperature had warmed up. It was time for Brett and I to climb back out of hibernation and see some more of Rome, and we had planned a great itinerary for the day.

We got up, showered and got dressed and then realized neither of us felt very well. Brett’s head cold was still going strong, and he had spiked a fever again. My head was also stuffy, and my throat hurt. We didn’t feel like going anywhere.

Angels watched over us as we crossed the Ponte Sant’Angelo.

However, by early afternoon we felt like the sun was mocking us. We knew we didn’t have the strength or time at this point for our planned itinerary, but we dragged out the map and looked at where we thought would be near enough to walk to, and saw that Piazza Navona and the Pantheon were both just across the river from the Castel San’t Angelo, and we knew that was an easy walk from the apartment. So, off we set.

Giant sycamores lined the Tiber river. On the way back in the evening they were filled with parakeets!
Heading into the Borgo neighborhood where Piazza Navona and the Pantheon are located.
This ancient Roman wall and arch, part of a stadium older than the Colosseum, were discovered when the building was being excavated. It was preserved and a bar was installed underneath.

We are so glad we did! We had a lovely stroll along the Tiber, on a paved sidewalk (versus cobblestones), and then turned into town for the short walk to the Piazza, built over what had been a former games arena in Roman times. We strolled through the piazza and studied the Bernini sculptures of the Four Rivers in the central fountain with its Egyptian obelisk. The piazza wasn’t particularly crowded, and there was a lively band playing at one end while we were there which lifted our spirits (Romany, I think – the guitarists were playing in the style of Django Rhinehardt). We found a great bakery nearby and picked up some pastries for our breakfast this morning and tomorrow.

Piazza Navona
This Egyptian obelisk is actually a recreation – it was made in the 17th century to decorate the Piazza.
One of Bernini’s Four River sculptures in the central fountain – it was magnificent!

The Pantheon was just a short walk away. Once there we were glad again we had made the effort. We marveled at the huge Roman columns and the concrete dome that had survived from the second century, and remembered that the reason the Pantheon had remained in such good condition was that it had been turned into a church and kept up.

The Pantheon, originally a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods.
Looking up to the dome as we entered the Pantheon. The dome was built by the Romans; the central hole is called an occulus. It is still the largest freestanding concrete dome in the world.
Much of the original Roman structure can still be seen inside the Pantheon, including walls and columns.

We walked back along the Tiber just in time to catch the sun setting behind St. Peter’s – those views alone made our afternoon outing worthwhile, no matter how we felt. When we arrived at the Vatican the lights were on, including the Christmas tree.

St. Peter’s at dusk.

Instead of heading back to the apartment we walked over to a small, recommended osteria for dinner. I had wanted to eat fried artichokes and caccio et pepe ever since we arrived in Rome, and my meal did not disappoint. Brett wasn’t particularly hungry, but ordered fish and chips, Italian-style, and was happy with those.

The fried artichokes were divine.

This afternoon we will visit the Vatican Museums, and tomorrow morning we will go to Ciampino airport to fly to Lisbon, our last stop in Europe before heading back to the U.S. Neither of us still feels very well, but we’re very glad we got out yesterday, and will leave Rome with good feelings and yes, a wish to come back some day.

P.S. We woke up to a message that our former landlord had mailed a check for almost all of our deposit (he kept 10%). It was frankly more than we thought he would return, and we’re glad to be finally done with that awful man!

Rome Is Alright

The Tiber River, from about two-thirds of the way up the Castel Sant’Angelo. The Ponte Sant’Angelo is on the left, Ponte Victor Emmanuel is on the right.

Today is Day Five of our six-day stay in Rome. We have tried to feel excited about being here, but both Brett and I currently have mixed feelings about our stay so far.

Overcast, rainy weather has stalked us the past few days making everything feel a bit more gloomy.

Rome was an add-on when we created our itinerary for the Big Adventure – we figured since we were in Italy we really should go and visit for a few days. So, we tacked on a week’s visit at the end of our month in Florence. Also, we knew that it would be easier to get to Lisbon from Rome than it would be from Florence, and cost considerably less, so that factored in as well.

Some of what we don’t like so far is not Rome’s fault. Brett has been miserable with a bad head cold since we arrived. My hip finally decided it had enough of cobblestones. Other than our first day it’s been overcast and rainy. There are crowds everywhere. I have torn two pairs of my pants on hidden sharp objects. Our apartment is almost too big, more than twice the size of our house back on Kaua’i, with a foyer as big as our living room there, and with marble everywhere it feels a bit cold, even with the heat on. There’s been annoying construction going on at times too. The bed is comfortable though, and the apartment is in a good location, especially for visiting the Vatican and getting to the Metro. There’s a nice grocery store and affordable pizza restaurant nearby. Our host has been helpful and responsive.

The architecture of the Colosseum was astounding.

We’ve been thrilled by what we’ve seen so far. Walking through the Colosseum, Palantine Hill and Roman Forum was a dream come true for me. St. Peter’s Basilica was breathtaking; and we thought the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo was fascinating with its interesting history and incredible views of the city from the top of the castle. Still, it mostly feels like all we’re doing is checking things off a list. We’ve been unable to get any sort of feel for the city unlike we did in Florence.

St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica
Two putti hold a basin of holy water.
Interior of the domes over the Bapistry Chapel.

Hopefully things will go better today. We took the day off yesterday to give both of us time to rest and recover, and because the weather was flat-out miserable. It also gave us time to talk about what we really wanted to see and do before we leave on Wednesday. Today we are heading out to check out the Pyramid of Cestius, the non-Catholic/foreigner’s cemetery where the poets Keats and Shelley are buried, the Aventine Keyhole (fingers crossed for this) and the Mouth of Truth. We’ll take it slow and stop when we need to. After that we’ll walk across the Tiber and stroll around Trastavere for a little bit if we feel up to it. We’d like to enjoy dinner there before taking a taxi back to our apartment.

The stairs and paths through Castel Sant’Angelo were almost like a maze, but offered wonderful views along the way. The wall on the right is part of the Emperor Hadrian’s tomb, from the second century C.E.
The original angel to top Castel Sant’Angelo, with his prosthetic wings, now stands watch over one of the interior courtyards in the castle.

On Tuesday morning we’ll once again pack up our suitcases, and then head over in the afternoon to tour the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. We’ll enjoy pizza one last time for lunch and then finish up our leftovers for dinner. I think we’re going to make it out of Rome without eating any gelato – we’ve stopped and looked at it several times, but the flavors don’t excite us like they did in Florence, and the cold, rainy weather has been a deterrent as well.

Overall we’re glad we came to Rome but the city hasn’t won us over yet. It’s still just alright. Both Brett and I have remarked that we’re seeing things here we only dreamed of seeing in our lifetimes, but we’re missing a connection that we’ve experienced in other places. Hopefully the next couple of days will change that.

Take It To the Limit

We all have our limits. While several things we’ve run across on our adventure have been annoying at times there are other things that have passed beyond merely annoying to outright frustrating or “avoid if at all possible.”

While this path may look somewhat smooth I can assure you it’s not. I have to be careful with every step I take so I don’t fall, creating extra work and strain on my muscles and joints. Smaller cobblestones are even worse.

For example, I have reached my limit with walking on stones or cobblestones, or at least my right hip has. Our wonderful Thanksgiving Day tour of the Colosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Roman Forum had us walking on ancient stone roads for nearly five hours, and the bursitis in my right hip has finally screamed “enough!”

Stones or smaller cobblestones have become the one thing I have come to dread. Because of a past left knee fracture I have to be especially careful about falling again, and in being careful on stone streets I’ve ended up putting lots of extra strain on my right hip. I did fall while I was in Florence because of a cobblestone (thankfully without injury), and while stone streets couldn’t be avoided there I learned which streets or sidewalks were the smoothest, and had the time to rest between outings so as not to aggravate my hip. I left Florence in good shape. All that went out the window on our Colosseum tour, and the bursitis is now at a near-crippling level. We have another two weeks to go in Europe too, so I see a big, fat cortisone shot in my future upon our return to the U.S., but in the meantime it is affecting how much and how long I can walk and what we can see and do in Rome. If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I am not suffering from arthritis, and won’t need a hip replacement. Bursitis is pretty awful though.

A huge tour group of more than 50 in Strasbourg (from a Viking cruise).

Both Brett and I have reached our limit with large tour groups. We have met many wonderful travelers from all over on our adventure and had some great conversations as well as picked up some good tips, and for the most part people from all over are considerate and accommodating, but tour groups have been something else to behold at times no matter their nationality. We’ve run into some with up to 50 people who can fill a square or take over a prime viewing spot in a matter of moments. Since a tour group’s time in any one location is usually quite limited, some members feel no compunction about pushing others out of their way or going in front of even though other visitors have been patiently waiting their turn to view a painting or take in a view. Brett has had his fill with some of the leaders of these large groups too, who are usually polite but then make sure to position their group right where he’s been waiting to take a photo or view something up close. According to him, it’s happened one too many times, most recently yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica. Mostly though our experience with other tourists and visitors has been very positive, but these big groups have been another thing entirely. (Full disclosure: we were in one big group ourselves, on the wine tour to St. Emilion in France. There were around 40 in our group and while the guide was delightful we were miserable being part of a crowd, and were happiest when the guide let us wander off on our own and gave us a time to meet back at the bus.)

We entered the “time for a haircut” stage soon after we left Switzerland.

Finally, both Brett and I are in desperate need of a haircut, and are way past our limit of where we like to be with this. Brett’s hair is downright shaggy now, and I once again am sporting what I call my “old lady pouf” and want to scream every time I look in the mirror or try to do something with it especially since I am also down to my last drops of styling cream. We both regret not getting our hair cut when we were in Florence, but neither of us could pull the trigger – there was something a bit frightening about not being able to communicate with a barber or stylist in English.

All in all though everything is continuing to go well and we are having a good time, hip pain, head colds and all. But we do have our limits and in a few cases we have reached them. It feels like it’s time to go “home” for a while and we will be doing just that in another two weeks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I spotted this big guy back on one of the wine estates we visited when we were in Bordeaux. Wonder if he is still strutting his stuff, or if life had other plans for him?

Happy Thanksgiving from Rome!

Although today is not a holiday in Italy, we have been blasted with Black Friday ads, from big electric signs in Roma Termini, on the radio in the taxi on our way over to our apartment, and on billboards down the street. Yes, they apparently celebrate Black Friday in Rome, crowds, sales and all. All I can think is we didn’t send our best.

This afternoon, we’re visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palantine Hill. We signed up to take a small group tour, with no more than 18 people allowed in the group. We had a wonderful welcome yesterday from our host when we arrived at our HUGE apartment (after an easy train journey from Florence and quick taxi ride with a charming driver). We chatted for nearly an hour while he went over a map of Rome with us and suggested places we should visit and what times we should go to miss the lines. We made French toast this morning with panettone for a special breakfast – we used the traditional version of panettone, with dried fruit, but discovered there were over a dozen different varieties to choose from in the market including chocolate chip, chocolate marble, tiramisu and zuppa inglese flavors. Instead of going out to dinner like we thought, I’m going to fix chicken cordon bleu, roasted mixed vegetables, and pasta with olive oil, garlic and cheese for our Thanksgiving dinner, and instead of pie we’ll probably just enjoy another slice of panettone along with coffee for our dessert.

How thankful we are this year! While we are missing our family, we are feeling exceptionally blessed, and are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given, for the things we’ve been able to see and do, for our continuing good health, and for our family and friends who have supported us along the way. I’m also grateful for all of my readers, for your sticking with me through it all, and I wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings!

Arrivederci, Florence

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We’ll miss Florence’s sense of humor, and searching for these creative No Entry signs all over town. There are more than 40 different creative designs, and this past weekend we discovered a shop where you can buy them as stickers!

Our suitcases are packed, we’ve finished up all the food in the refrigerator, and tomorrow morning we will turn over the keys to our wonderful apartment and walk over to the train station to depart for Rome. When we arrived in Florence a month ago it was fall, with the leaves just beginning to turn, and we barely needed a sweater, but the weather now is cold, the leaves are gone, and we bundle up every time we leave the house.

Il Campo, Sienna
We loved exploring the street of Siena. Florence is an old city, but it’s a baby compared to Siena.

Our month here has proved to be everything we hoped for and more. We’ve seen and done almost everything on our list, made some discoveries, and we ended our stay on a high note, with a wonderful day trip out to Siena last week, and a fun, informative and absolutely delicious pizza class on Sunday evening. Best of all, in spite of all the things we’ve seen, done and eaten we’ve stayed under-budget for our time here, with a daily average of $46.85.

Brett and I are ready to enjoy a slice of the maestro’s Napoli-style pizza before making our own custom pies.

Here are some of the things we’ve seen and done in Florence this past month:

  • Walked all over the city, and through its enchanting streets and alleyways. We loved hearing the various church bells ring every day.
  • Visited the Uffizi, Accademia, Palazzo Pitti, and Bargello museums and viewed an amazing amount of beautiful art.
  • Viewed the Brancacci Chapel frescoes.
  • Visited Santa Croce, Spirito Santo and the Florence Duomo. Brett climbed to the top of the Brunelleschi dome at the Duomo while I toured the Interior.
  • Walked through the Mercado Centrale and enjoyed a roast beef sandwich at da Nerbone.
  • Enjoyed gelato in a variety of flavors every day (I think we might have missed one day).
  • Drank some great Tuscan wines (both red and white) as well as some tasty limoncello.
  • Took a day trip to Siena where we walked through the city, toured the Siena Duomo, and enjoyed a wonderful four-course traditional Tuscan meal.
  • Took an overnight trip to the Cinque Terre and ate delicious Ligurian cuisine in Riomaggiore.
  • Learned to make authentic Napoli-style pizza and ate a couple of good pizzas out in town as well.
  • Bought beautiful leather gloves at Madova, a stovetop espresso maker in my favorite color, and a marbled paper phone case.
  • And, we’re finishing our stay tonight with bistecca fiorentina at Trattoria I’raddy, located just around the corner and recommended by our host.
Bistecca Fiorentina

We’ve also been able to rest and relax as needed, and bought ourselves some souvenirs. We’ve never felt like our time here was speeding by, nor that it was dragging either – the pace has been perfect. The only thing we especially wanted to do that didn’t happen was a visit to the Piazzale Michelangelo. We had wanted to do it this past week, but time and weather have not cooperated.

However, all good things must come to an end, and it’s time for the Occasional Nomads to move on to our next destination: the Eternal City of Rome. Our stay there will be short compared to our time here, just seven nights, and I think we’re going to probably feel a bit rushed after the luxury of time we’ve enjoyed in Florence. We’ve already booked a small-group tour through the Colosseum, the Forum and Palantine Hill, but other than enjoying a special dinner out for Thanksgiving the only “must do’s” are walks through a couple of neighborhoods (i.e. Trastavere) and a visit to the Vatican and its museums and cathedral.

Grazie mille, Flrenze, for a fabulous time and more memories than we can count.

Gelato Every Day: Week 4

Our first stop this past week was Gelateria dei Neri. Both Brett and I chose the Sacher torte flavor which was filled with actual pieces of cake and apricot jam, and he added a scoop of cherry cheesecake while I tried the rice pudding flavor (which was amazing!).

I have good news and bad news this week about our daily gelato tastings.

Back for a second time at Perche no? I ordered the offbeat but wonderfully delicious curry with mango and pear gelato along with a scoop of honey sesame crunch. Brett chose coffee and chestnut flavors.

Bad news first: Winter has arrived in Florence and it has gotten quite cold, especially for us former tropical island dwellers. Because of the cold our desire for gelato has dropped way, way down on the scale of enjoyable pastimes. We’ve had a couple of days where almost didn’t stop for our daily treat, but in the end we got out there and did – yeah us (and, of course it was wonderful)!

We had spotted the La Strega Nocciola gelateria on an earlier walk but had already had gelato that day so we went back this week to give it a try. I chose Azteca (white chocolate & cinnamon) and lavender flavors, and Brett had buontalenti (vanilla custard made with mascarpone cheese) and orange cream gelatos. Although our cones were kind of sloppy, the gelato was very, very good.

The good news is that in spite of the cold we were able to experience some very exciting flavors of gelato this week, up to and including curry! Who would have guessed that one? It has been a genuine taster’s market this week, so we feel like we’re leaving Florence on a high note when it comes to gelato.

At our first stop at Sbrinno for the week I chose quince and red grape flavors, and Brett decided on mulberry and walnut.
We made a second stop at Sbrinno the next day for some of their chocolate flavors: Brett enjoyed chocolate hazelnut with raspberry and chestnut cake while I tried white chocolate and Sbrinno’s Sacher torte (which I preferred to dei Neri’s).

After four weeks, both Brett and I unanimously agree that our neighborhood gelateria, Sbrinno Gelatifacio Contadino, is our hands down favorite in Florence. Other places have been very good but Sbrinno has always had interesting and on-point flavors, their gelato is made by hand in the shop (we’ve gotten to watch them make it) and they use natural ingredients sourced from local farms. It hasn’t hurt either that they’re also conveniently located near to our apartment and are open every day, making it easy to stop by the shop on our way home.

We were not particularly hungry following our pizza class on Sunday evening, but we noticed Cantina di Gelato was open on our walk home so we stopped in for a small cone: I had a scoop of peanut butter, and Brett again chose creamy buontalenti.

While we are not exactly tired of gelato and have had a lot of fun searching out different gelateria, both Brett and I feel like we need a break, so are not sure how much gelato we will eat while we’re in Rome. We’ve been warned though that the gelato there is quite delicious, so we may not be able to resist! Brett may not be ready to give up his hand model gig either.

We went back today to La Carraia today but none of their flavors appealed to us, so we walked back once more to Sbrinno where I discovered they had licorice gelato (and licorice is one of my favorite things)! After some discussion with the server and a few tastings I paired it fresh pear, which contrasted nicely with the strong licorice flavor. Brett chose dark Sicilian chocolate and added a scoop of strawberry. We will miss this gelateria – their gelato and flavors have never disappointed!

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

I need to vent a little.

As many of you might remember, last summer when we moved out of our house on Kaua’i, our landlord stood us up for the move-out inspection. And, although he had 14 days from the day we turned over the keys (July 29) to return our security deposit, either by mail or in person, along with written evidence if necessary for why he was keeping some or all of it, we have never received anything from him.

Up until a few days ago we hadn’t communicated with our former landlord since August, when he claimed he had mailed a check to us, but refused to say how much or if there was other paperwork. We had given him our mailing address (Brett’s sister) but whatever he sent turned out to be addressed to a completely different city in Texas. When we informed him and again gave him the correct address, the landlord claimed he would have the mis-addressed mail forwarded to the correct address but of course nothing ever showed up. That was the last we heard from him before heading to Buenos Aires.

Our former landlord is incapable of opening his mouth without lying. And once he starts he can’t stop, and the stories get bigger and better each time he tells them. Over the nearly three years we rented from him, for example, Brett listened to numerous tales of the landlord’s two years of military service. Brett still doesn’t know whether he served in the marines or the navy because his story changed every single time about what branch of the service he was in and what he did. And, his experiences in the military grew every time as well to the point where he apparently did every job short of commanding an aircraft carrier, and he was promoted at least four times over a period of six months because of his amazing skills and leadership ability (the last time was to the highest enlisted rank, E-9, at age 19)! We were always a bit weirded out that he would tell Brett these whoppers because the landlord knew Brett was a career sailor and had been in the service at the same time and knew a few things. Brett tried to call him on his tall tales a few times, but that never slowed him down.

Our landlord lied and exaggerated about everything. Constantly. We knew when we moved in that along with maintaining a good relationship with him we were going to have to keep track of him and keep records to protect ourselves. We stayed friendly, paid our rent on time every month, took good care of the house, and worried when he was diagnosed with cancer. In return he treated us fairly for the most part. But, the lies, crazy stories, excuses, etc. never stopped or let up, so Brett saved every message from him, a good thing because it turns out the man incriminated himself almost every time he wrote something to Brett concerning the house.

When we messaged him the morning of the inspection to ask if and when he intended to come, his first reply was he had forgotten. From there we started getting excuse after excuse after excuse for why he failed to show up until it finally got to the point it was our fault he didn’t come. This was in spite of him telling us at the same time we were his best tenants ever and he had planned to give us back our entire deposit (without ever making any arrangements to do so). Of course, in the next couple of days we were informed that following HIS solo inspection we had actually trashed his property and it was going to cost him a small fortune to fix everything we had damaged. He also made several flat-out crazy claims with no relation to reality. For example, at one point he wanted to know if we had we forgotten about our arrangement to swap our house in Texas with his on Kaua’i – ????? It was exhausting dealing with all the lies and stories over and over.

Last week Brett accidentally dialed the landlord’s number. Much to our surprise, the landlord actually messaged Brett back to say the check he sent last August had been returned to him in October (but of course he never contacted us about it). He asked for our mailing address for the third time and said he was going to resend the check and would send Brett the tracking number. That was a week ago and as expected we’ve heard nothing further from him. We still believe he has no intention whatsoever of giving us any of our deposit, and it would be the shock of a lifetime for us at this point if he follows through on his latest claim. We’re sure he’s convinced himself that we’re never coming back to Kaua’i so who’s going to care if he doesn’t return our deposit? What are we going to do about it?

Well, for one, we care. And, there is plenty we can do. We are fine with one of us (me) going back to Kaua’i to collect our deposit through small claims – it’s a considerable amount and worth making the trip. And, we know our former landlord does not want to appear in court – we saw last summer that the mere mention of a court appearance completely unnerved him, especially since there’s a very good chance he’s a tax cheat. Hawai’i places very strict limits on how long and for what reasons a landlord can retain some or all of a security deposit. They are required to provide loads of documentation to back up any claims they make for keeping any part of the deposit, and can be required to pay as much as three times the original deposit to their former renter if they fail to do so or make false claims.

The next time our landlord hears from us it will be with a summons. We have a full calendar year from our move-out date to file in small claims, and we plan to do so as soon as we return to Portland next May. We are going to sue for a full return of our security deposit along with the cost of my travel to Kaua’i. I will be bringing along the many photos we took of the very clean house, all the receipts and incriminating messaging from him. We also have witnesses ready to show that the house was well-cared for and left in spotless and move-in-ready condition, and that the landlord has never made any genuine effort to return the deposit or any part of it at all.

Tick tock, Mr. Landlord.

Art Overload: The Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is perhaps the most famous painting in the Uffizi. It is exquisitely beautiful, and has been expertly restored.

We spent the last two days immersed in art, almost to the point of being overloaded. We spent nearly two hours touring the Uffizi, and the following day we finally got around to visiting the Pitti Palace (which is just a few minutes from our apartment – we’ve passed it more times than I can count). Because we timed both the visits to the late afternoon there were no lines and no crowds, and we were able to take our time viewing the art in both places.

Our time in the Uffizi was almost overwhelming though. There were of course many wonderful and famous pieces to see, from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Michelangelo’s Holy Family to Rembrandt’s and Rubens’ self portraits, but just as many lesser-known works that caught our attention and interest as well. One of the biggest thrills for me was coming around a corner to find Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes. I had just been reading about her and the painting a couple of days earlier, and hadn’t realized it was in the Uffizi. Gentileschi was one of the very few female painters of the Baroque era, and this painting is now considered one of the premier feminist paintings of all time: to get back at a man who had assaulted her she painted his face on Holofernes’ body. Her own fury can be seen in her visualization of Judith.

Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes. Gentileschi specialized in painting strong, suffering women from myths, legends and the Bible.
That face!

I also fell in love with a small bust of a satyr’s head, carved in the 3rd century. Although the piece is nearly two thousand years old, the little head has a very contemporary feel to it. He reminded me of someone I’ve met or know, although I can’t remember who, and I’ve heard the same from a friend after I posted the picture on Facebook. The detail in the little lambskin hanging around his shoulders is also exquisite.

After our nearly two hours in the museum though we felt exhausted and completely overwhelmed, like we had been eating rich food and hadn’t known when to stop.

A view of the Boboli Gardens seen from the Pitti Palace. The Gardens were created on the land left after stone was quarried to build the palace.

The visit to Palazzo Pitti the next day turned out to be an entirely different experience, and in the end one we enjoyed more. I grew up in the same town as the Huntington Library & Art Gallery (San Marino, California) and visited there many, many times, and our time in the Pitti reminded me of my visits to the Huntington, although the Pitti is like the Huntington on steroids times 100. The Pitti experience felt like an intensive art history course (but without an exam), where we viewed numerous pieces by Rubens, Raphael, Caravaggio, Bartolomeo, Botticelli, Titian, Tintoretto, VanDyck, Vasquez, and many other luminaries of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The only artists that seemed to be missing were Michelangelo and DaVinci. In comparison to the Uffizi, there was no explicit organization of the works or artists in the Pitti, so walking through the rooms of the palace was like a treasure hunt – we never knew what we would find to admire. Each room of the palace was almost a work of art as well, filled with frescoes and other amazing decoration. We left the Palazzo Pitti feeling relaxed and excited by what we had seen, versus overwhelmed.

Madonna and Child by Raphael. Look at those sweet chubby legs! The paintings’ frames throughout the museum were almost works of art in themselves.
Sleeping Cupid by Caravaggio.
A ceiling fresco in the Palazzo Pitti showing the Roman god Juno with all the other gods and goddesses gathered at his feet.

Two different museums, two very different experiences. I’m thrilled we had the opportunity to visit both.