Jade.

We awoke to a cloudy cool Saturday with a forecast of showers to come. Left the apartment about 8:15 headed to the metro which whisked us the two stops to Termini, Rome’s main station. We were there before 8:45 so we probably could have enjoyed a few more zzzzzzs, but it did give us time to have a cappachinno and split a ham and cheese sandwich and a very tasty breakfast roll of almonds and nutella. We then headed up to the platform to find out which binnaro (platform) would be the one for our train to Cittavechia, Rome’s port. In Italy, they don’t post the binnario until 10 or 15 minutes before the trains arrival, so you end up with a crowd of people standing around looking up at the board waiting for their platform number to appear.

Mike jokes that we have never gotten aboard a ship before someone comes up to me and says, “aren’t you Clay from Cruise Critic?” (Cruise Critic is the cruising forum I am very active on to plan our excursions, meet others on “our” cruise, etc.). Well today was a first, while standing waiting for the binnario number, someone I have been chatting on Cruise Critic, came up sand said……well you can figure it out!

Train was uneventful, albeit a little full and a few minutes late. We made the easy walk from the station to the port gate, took the port provided shuttle bus to the cruise terminal, checked in without waiting at all, walked aboard at 11:15, about 30 minutes after we got off the train. All in all the easiest embarkation ever.

Had a bottle of bubbly from Mike’s college friend Tommy waiting in the room, along with the free bottle of house wine that was included in the cruise deal we got from Costco. We are saving the bubbly to have at the official birthday dinner for Yost and Mike on Tuesday along with the bottle of Red that Ken bought in Rome for us to bring aboard…speaking of which, my theory holds, you can usually carry aboard just about any wine you want in a European port….no corkage fee was charged or asked about for that bottle, nor the one I bought for 1.97€ at the super market in Rome.

Got into the room about 1:30. I had kept the fact that I had upgraded us during a sale last fall from our inside cabin to a balcony. He looked at me funny when I said you missed our room as we walked down the hall and pointed to our door. He almost said (but then caught himself when he realized what I had done) how did the but an inside cabin on the outside of the ship.LOL

Had a very nice dinner in the main diNing room, little steak and a very nice sized lobster tail, not the usual big shrimps they serve.

Seas are a little rough but it should make for great sleep, which is where I am headed.

Tomorrow, Napoli, Almalfi Coast and Pompeii!

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Bochelli, Salvatore, e KC ( and his sunshine band)

After wonderful rest to the sound of the bow wake, we met the little group of seven I put together for our tour. Salvatore, a wonderfully gregarious friendly Napolitano who now lives above Amalfi was waiting as promised just outside the cruise terminal. We set off for the Amalfi coast to the tunes of Anreas Bochelli with Salvatore singing along. I had read about Salvatore and the tour company run by he and his wife Katherine, on both Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. All reviews were positive and some mentioned Salvatore’s beautiful singing and a few said that he had cooked lunch for me at his house. Our trip was to include the ride down the coast to Sorrento, around the end of the peninsula, with quick stops in Postano and Alamlfi, then lunch at a restaurant overlooking Raffallo, the a return towards Napoli with a two hour visit to the ruins at Pompeii.

The entire drive once we were out of Naples proper was beautiful, hairpin turns, steep cliffs, beautiful views of hillside towns and little beaches, way down there! Salvatore’s English was pretty good but he seemed to enjoy me trying to speak my broken Italian, and truth be told, so did I. He was very good at trying to teach all of us some Italiano. About the time we reached Sorrento, he asked if we would like to have lunch at his house rather than a restaurant. (yay, he likes us!). “Si, Si, Mille grazie”, I say. He calls someone and gives them a grocery list and continues singing.

At some point, Salvatore said he was going to take us someplace special without tourists- by this time the road had started to get pretty busy and at each turn he blew his horn, it apparently had two buttons, one sounded the normal horn, the other sounded a more friendly staccato beep-beep-beep-beep and then he would listen to see if some warned him back that they too were rounding the bend. We wove (and I mean wove) down down down down towards the sea, threw tiny little towns, where sometimes either we or oncoming traffic would have to stop to give the other room to pass. Finally we reached the westernmost point of the Sorrento peninsula where the view lookin both ways was beautiful. We could also see across to the Isle of Capri…another one of the worlds most beautiful places.

On our way back towards the regular route, we approached a valley I guess where because we were up high we could see the Bay of Naples on our left and the Bay of Sorrento on our right. At about the same time, one of Salvatore’s three(????) phones rang and he had an excited conversation and then turned to me to tell me that due to the priest of his town’s death, all the stores and stalls were closed so his helper wasn’t able to find the food to buy for him to cook. So back to plan A, the restaurant. We continued our amazing, edge of the cliff, hairpin curve drive towards Amalfi, the actual city, with traffic getting busier and busier. Just before reaching town, one passes through a couple of short tunnels, the last of which is one way, so when we got there and didn’t make it through, Salvatore suggested we walk the rest of the way into town and he would pick us up at the main square. So off we went, threading our way between the cars and the tunnel walls. We probably walked five minutes but it took 15 before the van arrived. Very short stop, really only time for a toilet break and a quick look around. Then we started climbing back up away from the sea and towards lunch. I had envisioned a restaurant on top of the ridge with a view of the sea….that was not to be, we ate at a typical small place in a typical small town. No view or atmosphere what so ever, but very tasty. When we arrived the table had a spread ( unfortunately it was the only picture I remembered to take). It included a chopping block with prosciutto, salami and other similar meats, a plate of fresh sardines in olive oil, a plate of house made pickles, a plate of sliced tomatoes, and another of sliced mozzarella, a couple bottles of water and another couple of house bottled wine ( I suspect it was really pumped from a huge container in the regular sized bottles but who knows….I just know it was tasty). We then were brought a plate with a delicious big ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a tomato sauce and really wonderful pappardelle with fungi ( mushrooms). We then were offered either tiramisu or the local dolce (sweet) which Salvatore highly recommended. Most of us got it. It was a two then pie shaped biscotti layered with sweeter ricotta and pears. It was yummy! Then came lemoncello and Salvatore said he didn’t like lemoncello because it was too sweet, he like grappa instead so he brought us a glass so we each could taste. Very strong!

Then after poking my head in the kitchen to be introduced to Mario, the chef with a physique similar to mine to say Grazie e Molto Buono, it was back to the van and off to Pompeii.

Pompeii was very interesting. Because the ash (not lava) from Vesuvius buried it, and because the buildings walls were of stone, the whole town was protected until it was excavated. Unlike other ruins, you don’t have to use much imagination to recreate it in your head….most of it is there, including beautiful mosaic floors in the rich folks houses and very interesting frescos which served as advertisements in the brothels.

The most interesting thing to me we’re the streets. They were built 18″ or so below sidewalk level but have stepping stones every so often. This allowed them to be flooded with water to clean them but allowed pedestrians to still get around. Guess the Pompeians didn’t like to have to put diapers on their horses?

We then made our way back to the ship with more Italian ballads from Bochelli and Salvatore with a couple of KC and the Sunshine Band ditties thrown in for good measure. All in all it was a wonderful day, but if I had it to do over, I would pick one (two at the most) town on the Almalfi coast and just go enjoy it…..next time!

As I write this we are sailing threw the gap between the toe of the boot and Sicily. (Madison and Jack- can you find it on a map?) on our way to Messina. Included below are a fe pictures I just took of it.

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Arrivederci Roma

Had a wonderful last day of sightseeing in Rome. We started out with a a guided tour of the coliseum that took us to the lower level and to the very top. Pretty amazing building for being 2000+ years old. Afterwards, we made it inside the pantheon during a midday rainstorm…I had never see rain fall through the oculus and then drain, so the rain didn’t bother me. Afterwards, we had another delicious lunch and then headed back to the apartment via St. Peter in Chains. This church has what are purportedly the chains which bound St. Pete and a sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo. While impressive, it is no David, but glad to have finally seen it in person after having seen pictures during art history class. We also stopped to check out Ken’s digs. A 14 room luxury hotel right on the Forum. Very nice place but seemed like we had to walk up hill both ways to get there!

After a short rest, we repacked

the bags…it was a struggle to fit everything in, so that we will be ready to head to the ship in the morning.

Ken found this great restaurant for Yost’s birthday dinner-his birthday is officially tomorrow. It is a salami, cured meats and cheese store by day and a fine dining establishment by night. It was incredible. Pictures and descriptions below.

Since I am not willing to pay Norwegians high prices for lousy Internet, I am not sure when I will post next. I intend to write them each day and hopefully we will find wifi in ports so I can “publish” them. If not, look for a slew when we get back to the US on May 4th. Until then, arriverderci!

Walking onto the floor of the Coliseum.
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The view up
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The view towards the area under where the floor was. Some of the supports are just that,others are e,evaporate shafts, in the second picture you can see the groves where the ropes went….amazing
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Under the floor

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We then climbed back up to the entry level and then up to where the middle class set, here is what they saw

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Then we climbed…and I do mean climbed, all the way to the upper most section where the regular folk and women sat. There view was more like what I am used to seeing at a Canes match at PNC arena, except I think these folks might have had more leg and shoulder room!

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Also some great views of Rome and the Forum

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And the crowds waiting to get in

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Parthenon

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For lunch, Mike had carbonara and I had risotto made with radicchio and Gorgonzola

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And then we had amazing gelato at this little place….I had Armagnac, Mike had basil, someone else had clementine….all were extraordinary

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St Peter's Chains, Moses, and some interiors of the church

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The restaurant for dinner and the cases in the entry

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For our antipasti course we shared a platter of cured meats, a platter of marinated veggies, a platter of truffled mortadella, and a ball of buffalo mozzarella and semi dried cherry tomatoes and a delicious bottle of wine from Tuscany.

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For dinner I had pasta with cheese and pepper and mike had their carbonara, which rather than being made with pancetta, was made with fried pig cheek…it was pretty amazing. For my second plate I had grilled squid and Mike had their meatballs. Both were great. The meatballs had been made with a little bit of smoked cheese which really added to them. We finished with panda cotta for me and chocolate fondue for Mike. So much for our 200o calorie diet today!!!

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Not sure why the pictures aren’t loading in order….and it’s time for bed so not going to fix them…the last picture is of the mozzarella and tomatoes after we had done some damage to it.

And as we finish our too short time in Rome, a few general pictures…..see y’all soon

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Rome in a whirlwind

Arrived in Rome on the “Red Arrow” five minutes late on Wednesday even though we had been traveling around 150 miles per hour the whole non stop trip from Florence. we connected with Yost and Sam and made our way to The Green Apartments. http://www.greenapartments.it/. I found them online through trip advisor I think. Nice two bedroom, two bath with a small kitchen and a beautiful terrace (where I am sitting writing this on a beautiful Thursday night) which it shares with the other three apartments. And if hold your head just right you can see the colisieum! We have been very pleased with the accommodations….phew. I have been like that Travelocity commercial (where the guest(s) are holding their breaths waiting to see what their hotel is like only to open the doors to be relieved) at every stop on this trip.

After relaxing for a bit, we headed out along with Yost and Sam’s friend from DC who is in Rome staying at a boutique hotel but not cruising with us….but doing some touring while we are all here. We first dropped off our dirty clothes at a laundromat for pickup before they close, then had lunch, pictures below of my gnocchi and Mike’s lasagna, then stopped by a supermarket and picked up a few things for the apartment and some to bring home. Unfiltered olive oil (makes the tastiest caprese salad when NC tomatoes are in season, sea salt (it was less than a quarter for a 1/2 kilo box and some basalimic glaze that was something like 2 bucks! Quess we are gonna have to pull out the foldup suitcase.

After dropping off our purchases at the apartment, we took an open topped circulator bus that visited the major sites. It was a beautiful day so it was most enjoyable way to get acclimated to Rome. For dinner last night, Ken had made reservations at the restaurant that is always the number one or number two listings as having the best carbonara…OMG, it was so good. Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture but it was very good. For our secondi, Mike and I split very tasty Osso Bucco….are you seeing a trend?

This morning (Thursday) we had 9:15 tickets for the Vatican Museum. After spending a good deal of time in the Sistine Chapel, we successfully snuck out with a group through the “secret” door that takes you directly to St. Peter’s without having to walk all the way back through the museum, around the building and back through security just to get in the church. When we exited the museum, we noticed the line to go up in the cuppola was only 10-12 people long, so we decided to do that first. You have a choice of paying five euros and climbing all 578 steps or paying 7 euros and taking an elevator to the bottom of the dome…and then taking the 321 stairs the rest of the way.
We took the elevator and boy was I glad we had been doing the elliptical for the last three months. Those are a very tough 321?steps. The first section is a pretty tight spiral that takes you up the height of the base of the drum….probably 35-45 feet? You go round and round and round. Then you start going sideways up the dome it self …the stairs stay flat but the walls curve in on you on one side and away from you on the other, then you reach a point where you do switchbacks for five or six times…and just when you think you cant go any further, you go into another very, very tight spiral section. I had lots of trouble because the steps were so much narrower than my feet and it was so low and tight. Luckily, it was probably only 10-15 feet high so it didn’t last as long as the previous spiral. But it was worth it when you got to the top. Beautiful views of Rome and the sense of doing it! I was especially proud of Mike since he really doesn’t like heights but he was a real trooper….thankfully none of us are claustrophobic since everywhere was so tight and enclosed.

After enjoying the view, we did it all in reverse but on pace down on the roof, partook of my favorite part of St Pete’s, the rooftop snack bar and gift shop. Yes, Mike bought his brother the tackiest pope souvenir and I had an espresso and a papal croissant. We then spent a good bit of time inside the basilica itself. I am always awed by its size, decoration and the crowds!

We left Vatican City and headed to Piazza Navona to meet Ken for lunch. We ended up going over and eating at the Pantheon since it was our after lunch plan…but due to today’s holiday, it was closed. So, we hope to go tomorrow after the Coliseum. We came home via the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps where the crowds were both crazy. We had a relaxing evening, we invited a group from Chicago who are going on our cruise who I have been chatting with on Cruise Critic to stop by for a glass of wine. We had a nice time sitting on the terrace meeting in person. After they left, we went just down the street and had a plate of pasta overlooking the coliseum.

It’s been a busy but fun two days!
Our train

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Mike’s Lasagna and my gnocchi with ragu served on a parmesan cracker – yummy but not as good as that we had with crab in Venice. ( of course that is like saying, that chocolate cake from the bakery isn’t as good as the carrot cake you just made….both are still pretty dean tasty!)

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Pictures from the bus ride

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Ossobucco from dinner and the restaurant where we ate

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St Peter’s
View down from the lower part of the down and around the dome. All the art you see is mosaics…the last picture is a close up to show the tiny stones making up the “painting”
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Photos from the climb up to and from the cuppola and roof

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The last picture is of the dome taken on the roof. If you look closely near the top, you will see a rail, if you looked at the second to last picture, you will see a close up of that rail and can maybe make out some people up there. That is where we climbed to.

Inside St. Peter’s

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Trevi Fountain, pantheon, Spanish Steps and the view of the coliseum tonight during dinner.

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David, Medici, Mercato e Cingale

Awoke Tuesday morning to glorious weather, sunny, not a cloud in the sky and wonderfully cool in the shade, slightly warm in the sun…my idea of perfection. We left the hotel and headed for the Academy where I had pre purchased tickets as suggested by every guide book I saw. Apparently only a few other folks have read them since there had to be 200 or more in line at 9am. I can only imagine what it is like in summer with hordes of people and hot weather. We entered the hall after about a 10 minute wait right on time per our tickets and Mike was suitably impressed with David. We had discussed coming since he isn’t a huge sculpture fan and after seeing the reproduction standing outside Palazzo Vecchio (where the real David originally stood for 400 years the night before), I was afraid we might have wasted the entrance fee. That wasn’t the case. Mike later said, if we come back to Florence I will probably want to come visit him again. It is really that awe inspiring of a sculpture. The proximity of Michaelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, the prisoners adds to the realization of how incredible an artist he was, able to carve something so beautiful from a hunk of raw rock…and according to Rick Steves without any guidelines, he did it all freehand.

After leaving David we walked to San Lorenzo, which was the Medici’s family church. If you aren’t familiar with them, they were the Kennedy’s, Bushes, And Clintons of their day…a huge political family/dynasty who controlled Florence and much of Italy for years. I had intended to pre purchase tickets for the Laurentian Library which is located off the cloister beside the church but apparently my early onset of Alheizmers kicked in and I bought tickets to the Medici chapels whichever this incredibly ornate octagonal space designed as a memorial to the Medici by the Medici. No worries, we will just see both. We did the chapel with apparently every Italian high school student- the guard went horse repeating “SILENZIO” and then headed next door to the cloister where to purchase our ticket for the library. I was out of cash, so I left Mike at the ticket window, he bought two tickets and around the cloister and upstairs we went. When we got to the door, the nice guard told us they were closing. Apparently we had bight tickets to go in the church….Mike was perturbed that I had left him at the ticket window since I do have a little (very little I have come to realize :-(. ) Italian left in me. But it all turned out well as we enjoyed another church and it is do different from the Duomo. Additionally, we saw a video of what Michelangelo had intended for the facade redo but the Pope ended up canceling it, much to BigMike’s dismay.

After leaving San Lorenzo and walked a block or two to Florence’s bustling market. I love walking threw them and seeing the variety of food, flowers, and of course people. We wandered trying to decide whether to have lunch from one of the hot food vendors or by making a picnic. We finally decided on the picnic. We picked a stall with a friendly lady and we pointed and ordered several kinds of salami, prosciutto, cheeses, marinated artichokes. We were preparing to take it away and intended to go outside but she had a better idea. She shooed away one of what appeared to be her regular customers from the small counter with two stools on the side of her counter and told us to sit down. She asked if we wanted wine and of curse we said, Si, Gratzie! When it came time to pay, we were concerned we might have to make an ATM run…it could have easily been a $40 lunch given the quantity and quality of the cold cuts, the wine and bread….but the total bill was €18. So slightly twenty bucks. amazing!

After lunch we went to the DaVinci Museum that Mike had discovered in his reading. This private museum has built working models of the Master’s inventions; the tank, the parachute, etc. some of them you actually get to put hands on and manipulate. Pretty cool.

We then headed back to rest our feet. Thank goodness we have been on our new exercise program or there is no way we could have done what we have done, but my feet still need a rest After being on them for hours.

We headed out to dinner which was at the Cingale Bianco ( white boar) an osteria I had enjoyed with my Mom on my last visit to Florence. I had the most amazing steak that time. Our dinner last night while tasty, did not live up to my memory of my first visit. Of course the dinner from the night bedsore may have set the bar too high. We did have some amazing fresh mozzarella with fresh shaved truffles. Of course I forgot to take a picture of that. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel but stopped by the Square in front of the church near our hotel. Apparently they are having a local farm to table sort of festival and there were all these booths with amazing food. I was so mad that we hadn’t discovered it for dinner instead of the less than satisfying meal at the white boar. We stopped to look at one stall and ended up buying several cheeses to take with us to Rome to have with wine on the terrace of our apartment. We also bought Mike’s brother a salami that was very tasty. They vacuum packed it for us so hopefully it will make it home and not end up in a bin at customs. We also tasty the local specialty, cow stomach that had been braised in a pressure cooker. It was tasty and glad we tried, but doubt I would order it.

Currently on the train to Rome on Wednesday morning. Just before boarding we got a text from Yost (Mike’s fraternity brother and father to Mike’s godchild) and Sam that they had landed in Rome. We are meeting them at the train station and then to our apartment for the next three nights.
The tiny elevator:

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Scenes from the market

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Our incredible lunch

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The lady who fixed it and her stall

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Scenes around Florence

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Dinner
Tomato and Bread soup and pasta del pesto our starters

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Our steak

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Delicious panda cotta with mixed berries

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The late night market including huge salami and really interesting pork roast where it appeared that they had deboned almost the whole pig, rolled it in its skin, tied together and then Rotissied it. OMG so tasty

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Duomo & Vivi e Vecchi Sapori

Sprinkling and chilly when we arrived in Florence. Made our way without too much trouble to our hotel. It is on the fourth floor but thankfully they have an elevator of sorts. When Mike and I get in it together, we literally fill it wall to wall!

After settling in we headed out with no particular plan. It began to rain a bit so we went into the Duomo, Florence’s incredible cathedral. Apparently others had the same thought, it was packed.

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For dinner, I had our hotel make reservations at this tiny place I had read about. It is a family run place. Mom cooks, Dad is at a bar in the center of the room and hand cuts salmi, cheese, etc for antipasti and son Thomas greets and takes everyone’s order. The menu is handwritten and there are four or five copies they hand around. Everything is fresh, simple and wonderful. They recently expanded from 16 seats to 28 so reservations are a must. We watched Thomas turn away at least four or five parties. You sit where he finds you room. We shared the first half of our meal with a couple from NJ who were dining for the second time before heading home. The second half was with an Italian mom, dad, and their college grad aged son. It was great, not just the food but the attmosphere…it’s what you think of when you hear, “the little Italian place”

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The last picture was of Poppa and Thomas when they were younger and was hanging on the wall at our table.

We started with anti pasta which I forgot to photograph, hand cut prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and a salad of shaved artichokes and arugula. Then we has two pastas, papelledelle with duck sauce and a rigatoni but larger shape with zucchini blossoms and saffron. Both where good but the duck was incredible. For ny seconds, I had Osso Bucco with wonderful peas and Mike had chicken cacciatore with black olives and the best roasted potatoes. Both ere very tasty but I think mine was better. For s we split a meringue cake-layers of dried meringue and cream. We also had some pecorino to finish up our liter of chianti.

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A bordo del treno

It’s 1:19 pm and we are on board the frecciargento (fast train) from Venice to Florence, using the all but free wifi (it cost one cent). Just finished sharing a mortadella sandwich and a prosciutto sandwich with Mike. We also finished some delicious macaroons we bought our first night in Venice. One was passonfruit, another Mexican spicy(not really) chocolate, and one vanilla. We are to arrive in Florence at 2:30. No real plans for today, have tickets for David and the medici chapel for tomorrow morning.

This morning, before we checked out of Gio & Gio, we took the vaporetto over to San Giorgio, it’s the island just across from San Marco. It has a beautiful church designed by Pallidio. It was great because there were only about six people in the church with us, so different than at San Marco. We went up in the campanile (bell tower) for a great view of all of Venice. We were the only ones up there once the French grandfather and grandson left. It was pretty amazing when the bells started tolling 10 am!

The Grand Canal last night

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San Giorgio

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San Marco from San Giorgio

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Dome of San Giorgio

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The statue that fell off the dome!

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Shoes for Kimberly or Sandie

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A purse for Joyce?

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Mike on his way to Florence

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