London Will Not Let Us Go

After a final stop at our gelato place for the epic 8 euro cone we got ready to head home.

The train ride was easy and we (finally) found the exit from the train station by way of Terminal 3 in the Rome airport. And really that is when the travel troubles began. Apparently, taxi drivers at the Rome airport only want to drive you one place. Rome. They will not drive you 15 minutes to the hotel where you will be staying one night before catching your plane home.

So we walked from taxi stand to taxi stand trying to find the local taxis. Eventually, we stopped in the shade and Jim went to ask some questions. When he came out, he said, “According to the directions I just got, the local taxi stand should be right here. Are you at a taxi stand?”

Jim walked the other way to look further. Then I realized we were standing behind a sign. And upon circling to the front discovered that, yes, we actually were standing at the local taxi stand. We didn’t know because there were no taxis. Finally, a local taxi pulled up. Problem 1 solved.

Our hotel was on the banks of the Tiber river in an area that is both a working fishing port and a place where other tourists like us stay before heading to the airport. It was a cool hotel, except the sofa bed for the kids was a single bed. There was no way they were going to get any sleep in that bed. After a walk along the river, including a couple of cool bridges and the Italian version of the dollar store, we decided to let Ethan sleep in the seemingly giant other bed. Problem number 2 sort of solved except somehow only Jeremy really got a good night of sleep that time.

Thursday morning I made the clearly grave error of telling the kids that in 24 hours we would be home. We headed back to the airport, got to our gate and settled in to wait for our 11:45 flight to London. And then Ethan (who is our permanent sign watcher) ran over to tell us that the flight was delayed until 2:00. That would put us at Heathrow as our San Francisco flight was taking off. Damn.

Jim and I spent the next couple of hours calling Expedia, who booked our tickets; British Air, who was making us late; and Virgin Atlantic, who operated the flight we were about to miss. There was not a British Air employee to be found in the Rome airport. We made no progress. A good lesson that sometimes you really do not have any control over your own situation. I am not a fan of that.

We had a good flight and as we taxied to the terminal in Heathrow are pretty sure we saw our SFO flight take off. Really.

I spent some time talking with the experts, the British Air flight attendants, who told us to go to the Connections desk. Those were the people who would fix the problem. We waited in that line for an hour along with everyone else from our flight who had missed connections. There was some yelling. Not by us.

The British Air customer services is really good. In a few minutes we were booked on a United flight out at 10:25 am. We spent the night at the airport Holiday Inn with the new friends we had just met in line. After a British buffet dinner, worse than it sounds, and a good night sleep we woke to find that our new flight was already delayed until 6:00 pm. It was looking bad for us to get home once again.

We headed downstairs and as Jim got off the elevator the doors closed on the rest of us. When we hit the door open button they opened an inch and closed again. And again. So I did the “lift the car off your child adrenal fueled mom thing” and pried the doors open, got the kids out and headed to the airport again.

We waited in line, again. And British Air customer service was fantastic again. They got us on a British Air flight leaving at 2:00 that day. They threw us some pounds for lunch, which we thoroughly enjoyed at Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food, the best airport restaurant we have ever experienced. Even the British Olympic team was eating there.

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Then we had a very easy flight home and finally arrived SFO Friday night around 5:30 — an extra 24 hours from when we started.

The adjustment back is challenging and at the same time we appreciate home. We are ready to get back to work, camp, school and life. Thanks for following our adventures!

Ciao,

Karyn

 

 

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Firenze Nightlife

Restaurants opening at 20:00 (8 pm), cafes open until 3 in the morning, outdoor plays lit by moonlight and gelato lines out the door after midnight – Firenze is a night city.

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Twilight on the Arno River

There’s a play performed in boats on the river, with the audience seated in larger boats, all of which move around each other as characters enter and exit the stage.

The city’s vast array of statues are far more striking when lit by streetlights and many of the bars and clubs emerge from unremarkable garage doors.

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Cafe patrons (left) and the Gelato Line (right) after Midnight

The cafe below our apartment window offers a glass of good house wine (red or white) for 2.50 Euro. The glassware is first class and you can wander around the square with your drink before coming back to pay and return the glass. For a bit more, the gin bar around the corner provides a cocktail with complementary peanuts and potato chips.

 

The crowd is dominated by Italians late at night and it doesn’t break up until 2 in the morning, even on weeknights. Every few days, a group of students showed up in the ally between the cafe and our apartment to play Risk. Couples necked in the square. One night, a big crowd showed up at the cafe and sang drinking songs and chanted incoherently for several hours.

It was great visiting a city in my timezone,

-Jim

Pisa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today Dad, Ethan, and I went to Pisa! The first glimpses of the tower were deceiving because it looked like it wasn’t leaning.

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Then we realized it was leaning toward us! We ate at a nice restaurant with homemade pasta then continued on to the tower. I took a walk around the tower and then posed for many pictures including some of me holding up the tower. 🙂

We then walked around the neighboring Cathedral and got tickets to go inside. The tickets were for a time slot that was a little later so we got some gelato and walked around the area. Once we returned to the tower we took a look inside the cathedral and looked at various items in the cathedral including a sarcophagus. Last, we caught a train back to Florence. We all enjoyed the visit.

– Jeremy Holl

Mine! All Mine!!

Today I got to choose what we did. We woke up this morning, walked for a couple minutes, and hopped on a bus to a small town in the Tuscan countryside. We soon arrived at a small villa after getting picked up at the bus station. We met up with our instructor and before we knew it, our private cooking class had begun! We made pasta with puttanesca sauce, (a red sauce filled with olives and capers) zucchini Parmesan, and an herbal cream with grilled peaches and caramel sauce. The rest of the day, we read, played video games, and ate a delicious dinner at a great restaurant called Tamero.

(Jim and I apologize for the complete lack of pictures this day. It was too much fun and such good food we forgot to pull out our phones. Ethan is right, it was a fantastic day!)

Touring South Tuscana

 

We got up early here in Firenze to pile into a van and head south.

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Our driver did his best, but we got caught behind an accident on the highway, so we were a little behind schedule. The countryside is littered with castles, towers, vineyards and olive groves. I expected to see more vines, but the number is carefully regulated.

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First stop was Montalcino. We climbed around on the castle.

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Next we visited a nearby winery, Poggio Rubino, where we had lunch and enjoyed their Brunellos. We met the wine maker and toured the cellar. They worry about too much rain near harvest time and keeping the alcohol content in the wine up. Definitely different challenges than California.

Then on to Montepulciano for more wine tasting, shopping and gelato.

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I’m always hoping to find good wine that isn’t expensive. Unfortunately, we didn’t really find any hidden gems. The best Brunellos were everything we expected (in flavor and price) and frankly, most of the Vino Noble di Montepulciano wasn’t as good.

We did find one I think was a pretty good deal. I bought some and will consider ordering more once we’re home.

-Jim

Strada Facendo

We had a wonderful meal at Strada Facendo in Modena. We chose the traditional tasting menu, “del Tortellino.” It was a lunch seating, so the restaurant was quiet and the staff attentive. The kids were great and adventurous.

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Holl Family with Chef Emilio Barbieri

IMG_0929After some delicious bread stuffed with golden raisins, we started with a chicken, pine nut and parmesan salad made with the chicken used to make the broth. The appetizer was a parmesan and mortadella skewer with fried fresh parmesan and a pate cannoli. The wine pairing was an amazing local sparkler.

Next came a skillet with crunchy prosciutto cubes, parmesan cream and a runny egg yolk (only the whites go in the pasta). You break the egg and mix it up. Served with a dry lambrusco. Incredible! Ethan and Karyn’s favorite.

The tortellini in broth is a signature dish for the region. I loved the salty broth with the more mild pasta. One the side, we had more tortellini with a little grated parmesan. We all decided we prefer the tortellini with just the cheese.

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Our favorite of the night

Next, we were served a local red and green tagliatelle with bolognese sauce made with beef from local white cows. A cube of veal shoulder I could eat with a spoon followed. Then a pork dish made with a lightly fried piglet with fig compote, bacon and a sweet egg. It was served with a glass of a super tuscan. We all agreed that pork is an excellent condiment for pork.

For dessert we had “English Ice Cream,” which is like gelato flavored like the filling in a trifle. It was beautifully decorated with dangerous spun sugar.

At the end of the meal, we had espressos and little pastries.

After three hours of eating, we were stuffed and it was time to get a taxi to the train station. But first, we had the sommelier take our picture with the chef.

It was a great meal. The kids were blown away. Jeremy can’t decide which course he loves best. And the price was far less than I expected. Not a meal we will soon forget!

-Jim

Bolonga and Modena

After Venice we all went to Bolonga by train. After we arrived, we checked into our hotel and went to dinner. Ethan and I split tortellini soup. Tortellini in a salty chicken broth is a big thing here.

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The next day dad, Ethan and I went running and made up a song about Italy:

Italy, they’re really good at pasta but not electricity

Italy!

Really good bread is inexpensive but not utilities

Italy!

Every things a church, basilica, or sanctuary

Italy!

Mens’ pants are so short they’re more like capris

Italy!

Open shirt, gold chain, and hair so scruffy

Italy!

Beautiful monuments and alleys sceezy

Italy!

Much of the food I eat is enjoyed by me

Italy!

Middle aged women like to ware bikinis

Italy!

Tourists pay more money for water taxis

Italy!

We only ride trains in Economy

Italy!

We’er the only people running literally

Italy!

After the run we all took a walk and dad, Ethan and I climbed a tall, very old tower.

That’s mom sitting in the shade of the tower far below.

We had dinner off the main square where there was a movie showing on a big screen.  Throughout our stay in Bolonga we shopped and wandered around. The second night in Bolonga was bad because the air conditioning in our room broke. The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and set out for the Bolonga Centrale train station. We left some of the luggage at a luggage storage place and caught a train to Modena. There, we took a cab to Strada Facendo, a restaurant with a Michelin star.🍷😀 After a delicious 9 course meal we took a train back to Bologna where we picked up the rest of our luggage and from there took a train back to Venice.

– Jeremy