Italy Day 8: Wrapping it up

One last post about our fabulous time in Florence!

We had so many great meals in Italy, including excellent pastas and pizzas.  It's really not fair that the food there is so good, we both ate way more than we should have.

Relaxing in a park near the Fortezza de Basso.  Originally we wanted to go into the Fort, but it was either closed, or we couldn't find the right entrance so we hung out in a nearby park for awhile (and I took a nap).

They had really cool light fixtures in the park.

There were scads of ducklings motoring around the pond too.  These guys were seriously quick and hard to photograph.

After relaxing in the park, we walked down this nearby stream headed for a few last sights.

We passed a Russian Orthodox church. 

Finally we ended up at

Liberty Plaza

where there are two arches and a big fountain in the middle.

We couldn't get very close to this arch because it was roped off with caution tape, apparently bits and pieces tend to fall off of it.

Our Travels

In November we spent eight days in Cairo, Egypt: here is a full recap of our trip.

Italy Day 8: Market, daVinci Museum, Duomo

We are quickly drawing to a close with our posts about Italy (about time right?) but we've still got one or two left.

While wandering around looking for a site we had apparently already been to (Santa Maria Novella) we found the Mercato Centrale and decided to explore inside.  They had all sorts of stalls selling a really wide variety of food stuffs including many meat stalls.  There was also a huge outdoor tent set up outside where a lot of the produce was sold.

A stall inside selling dried fruit!  We both love dried fruit, especially pineapple so we got a few different types.  Coconut and pineapple were great, while kiwi and strawberry were kind of strange.  In the outdoor tent, we managed to buy a few nutmeg nuts to take back with us because it isn't sold anywhere (that we can find it) in Saudi.  This was quite an adventure since we didn't speak italian and the little old lady didn't speak english, but it worked out in the end.

After exploring the market and eating tasty snacks, we walked to the Macchine di Leonardo, a great little museum all about Leonardo da Vinci.  They were playing a History Channel documentary about him and the museum attendant started it at the beginning just for us.  We watched for over an hour before we got tired and wanted to see all the cool displays.  It turns out he had a pretty interesting life.

Water wheels and cool triangle spheres were only some of the awesome displays.

This clock is cool because it uses swinging weights to turn the gears for the clock.  The weight wraps around the two poles at the top and the back and forth motion moves the clock.  Check out this youtube video for a better idea of how it works.

Water wheels to move water.  Everything was assembled using these ropes or big metal staples, but I'm not sure if those are accurate or if it just looks cool.

This was cool because as you crank the handle (not shown) the tube spins and moves water from the bottom basin and deposits it into the top basin.  This was used a lot to move river water apparently.

Robot drum player!  By cranking the handle at the waist, the pulleys moved the string so that the sticks beat against the drum head.

After many hours at the museum, we decided to walk back to the Duomo and go inside, since we only went inside the Campanile before. 

I totally want this 24 hour clock.  I can just snatch that up right?  Plus, did you notice that it ticks just like a backwards clock! Double bonus.

Interior of the Duomo.

Italy Day 7: Pretty Pretty Pisa

One of the great parts about our trip to Pisa was the weather.  It was a beautiful, cloudless day that was neither too hot nor too cold.  I even got to partake in one of my favorite Italy activities, public napping.  In almost every park or large grassy area we visited, we spent time just relaxing in the grass, usually with a large number of other tourists and locals.  Warm sun, soft grass, and my ability to sleep darn near anywhere led to so many fantastic naps in Italy.

Another view of the

Baptistery

.  I really like this one because it shows the two different materials they used for the roof.  The left half is a metal roof, while the right side is clay shingles.  We read many different stories about why this was done, but none were conclusive.  It was either to save money on the cost of the metal roof, to prevent corrosion on the roof from the salty sea breezes, or some other unspecified reason.  Either way, it gives a unique patchwork appearance.

This is the front of the Pisa Duomo.  Of all three Duomos we saw in Italy (

Milan

,

Florence

) I liked the exterior of this one best, although the dome of the Florence Duomo was super stylish.

While the exteriors of all the buildings were quite impressive, the interior of the Baptistery blew us away, although not because of its styling or beauty, but because of it's stellar acoustics.  While we were walking around, a lady walked into the center of the room and started singing.  If you've ever stood in the middle of a circular space, you've probably heard the echos when you talk, but this was the single best example of it that I've ever heard.  She did an amazing job creating chords and other such beauty using only one voice because the sounds reverberated in the room so much.  We found out after the fact, that they do this little demo every 30 minutes or so, so if you ever get the chance to visit the Baptistery, stay until you hear it.  I'm almost certain it's what angels would sound like.  Interestingly, they don't know if it was built to have such perfect acoustics, or if it was just a happy fluke, but either way, it didn't have these acoustics until the cupola was added in the 1300s.  More

here

on how amazing the space really is.

 All of the windows in the Baptistery had wire mesh over them, to prevent accidents I'm sure, but they were kind enough to cut out squares of the mesh in a few choice "Kodak moment" type spots. This was one of those spots, and it does make for a great photo of the Duomo from a higher vantage point.  I especially like the Leaning Tower just peaking up over the Duomo as if to say "don't forget me!"

This is one of the last pictures I took on our way out.  By this time it was pretty busy both on the grassy lawns and in the side streets where vendors were hawking their incredibly funny tourist junk.

Our next stop was the Jewish cemetery just around the corner from the Duomo. (it was a very big corner!)  I have a strange fascination for cemeteries, and we've found one to visit on all of our trips. (

Coptic Cairo

,

Keremeikos

, and Sri Lanka)  I'm drawn to cemeteries because on all of our trips, they've been quiet refuges in the midst of loud crowded streets, and there's something so interesting in thinking about the lives they lived and their experiences.  This was especially true as Jewish cemetery in Italy.

I thought these gravestones were especially interesting because you can see where rain and water have washed it clean and where it hasn't.  If you look at it a certain way, it almost looks like two halves of a heart.

After the cemetery, we wandered through some of the tourist stalls and wandered through the city on our way back to the train station.  We wandered across this old ruined area, but it wasn't on any of our maps, so we have no idea what it is or might have been.

We crossed the same bridge back to the train station and walked by the

Santa Maria della Spina

and it's even more obvious here how small the church is.

Italy Day 7: Day Trip to Pisa!

One of the best parts about spending time in Florence was that we were close enough to take a day train to Pisa.  This was an amazing day and easily my favorite part of our entire trip.  The trip to Pisa was relatively quick at about an hour and cheap enough that it was totally worthwhile.

After a bit of confusion as to which way we needed to go to get to the Leaning Tower, we were on the right path and started wandering towards the Tower.

I swear Italy is filled with beautiful riverside buildings.  It's completely not fair.

Cutest little church sandwiched between the riverfront and the buildings.  It, like many places, was crazy expensive to get into so we just admired the exterior and then continued on our walk to the Leaning Tower.

I can't even begin to describe how much I loved the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the Campanile as it actually is.  There's something so eeire about a building that isn't perpendicular to the ground.  We chose not to climb to the top because of the large expense, but even from the bottom it was a sight to see.

They were doing some work on the tower when we were there, likely to help stabilize it.  They had big signs (right edge) explaining all of the work they were doing, but unfortunately they were far enough behind the gates that we couldn't read them.

Cute photo with the tower.  It was actually crawling with people despite the appearance that it's completely empty behind the tower.  A big portion around it was blocked off because of the work they were doing.  

Requisite holding up the tower photo!

There were several different options for tickets, but we ended up choosing the 2 of 5 building ticket and chose to go into the Duomo and Baptistery.

Inside the Pisa Duomo was absolutely gorgeous, but then again we didn't expect any less.  I especially liked the gold (leaf?) ceiling.

This was one sweet monument/tombstone.

Please excuse all of the artsy-ness. It's the only way to pretend that these indoor, very low light photos weren't complete junk.

Italy Day 6: Ponte Vecchio and Giardino di Boboli

Continuing on our trip down the River Arno, we saw (and I photographed) so many pretty scenes.

This is the famous

Ponte Vecchio

, which is really cool because of the shops built into the side of the bridge.

Love locks, although now illegal, are still found all over the bridge.  The locks all have initials written or carved into them and after locked to the bridge, the keys are chucked into the river, since the lovers will never part.  Although the basic premise of the locks is romantic and 'awww' worthy, the thought of all that extra litter in the name of love is just a bit uncomfortable.

View of a bridge from a bridge.  That's got to be some kind of irony right?

After wandering down and then across the Arno we ended up at the

Palazzo Pitti

and the Giardino di Boboli.  The gardens and palace were beautiful, but my two major complaints were that it was really expensive to get in and after you get in, there is no where to sit and relax until you climb all the way up into the gardens, which are built onto a very large hill.  We had been walking around quite a bit by this point, and all I wanted to do was sit down, so the first few "Do not sit on the lawn" did not go over well.

Looking down upon the palace from the gardens.

Super cute little out building in the gardens.

Posing among the garden walls.

The view of Florence from the gardens was great, and it reminded me very much of our view of Cairo from

Al-Azhar Park

, which was much dingier, dirtier and generally less pleasant.  

The gardens were huge and had a lot of themed areas.  This was me posing in front of a tree tunnel!

Better look at the tree tunnel.  I think it would have been more filled out later in the spring.

Italy Day 6: Palazzo Vecchio and the River Arno

These poor pictures have been siting in my computer too long, so we're going back to Italy sharing for a while.

We started our day by walking to the Palazzo Vecchio and the 

piazza della Signoria

 where the David statue copy is located.  Steve liked these metal supported arches, and I thought the statues were a bit creepy.  Several of them were violent/gruesome and there was a lot of awkward hand placement... 

Palazzo Vecchio which was a town hall in old Florence

Hide and seek inside the First Courtyard.

The sky was just lovely the entire trip.  I swear the sky just isn't this blue in Saudi (it really isn't but that's because of all the dust blowing around).

Fake David probably isn't blog-safe, but here he is anyway.  It's culture right?

We then tried to walk towards a nearby bridge to cross the River Arno, and instead ended up at the

Basilica of  Santa Croce

, which is totally the wrong direction for crossing the river.  Alas, things like this happen when you choose to leave the map in your pocket, but we'll chock it up to dumb luck, since we never would have ended up here unless we got lost.

Very beautiful building, despite the sun sitting right behind the building making it hard to even see without that terribly embarrassing squinty face.

Finally on the way to the bridge, we stopped in front of this cool looking building.  We need more buildings like this with huge protruding round rooms!

View from the river Arno.  On the left is the remains of some kind of tower or bridge piece right next to modern buildings and housing.  

Italy Day 5 Trucking on to Florence!

We woke up early and caught a train to Florence.  It took a couple of hours to get there, but had some excellent views, as we had to cross the Apennine mountain range to get to Florence.

One last view of our Milan hotel before we left.

The Milan train station is also where we met an interesting foe, the pay toilet.  Throughout our trip, the public bathrooms ranged from 0.3 – 1 euro per entry.  It might seem ridiculous to have to pay to use the toilet, but if you think about it some more, it might not be that silly.  By paying to use the bathrooms, they have the money to actually maintain and keep them clean, and these were some of the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve been in.  It also takes away the need to go into a restaurant just to use the bathroom.  So you don’t need to feel obligated to buy some fries when you go into McDonalds for the bathroom, because it’s just cheaper to use the paid toilet!

I love the green shutters.

The buildings in Florence in Milan were in a really interesting stage of shabby chic.

After checking into our hotel, we walked to Florence’s Duomo and climbed all 414 steps of the Campanile.  The views from the top were definitely worth the climb.  There was even a couple who climbed to the top to take wedding photos!  I was so impressed that she climbed it in her dress! 

Duomo, now in Florence!

414 steps to the top and we climbed them all.

View of the Duomo from the Campanile.

Steve posing with the Duomo.

One of the great views from the top.

Looking down on the street artists outside the Duomo.

Why aren't there shop buildings that are this pretty back in the US? And look! A carousel!

They climbed all the way to the top to take wedding photos.  I was so impressed!

There were 3 or maybe 4 platforms on the way up where you could stop and take in the view.  No doubt about it, this was definitely a nicer view than Cairo.

Italy Day 4: Part 2

After walking through the Galleria, we wandered towards the Archeological Museum and on the way found a small piece of heaven.

There was an entire street devoted to tents of groups selling chocolates and sweets.  The chocolate molds were tasty looking, and if we hadn’t been stuffed full already, we would have indulged.  We also ran across this cute puppet show.  The mouse was actually dancing to pop music; I think this performance was to some Gaga, but it’s hard to remember.

The Archeological Museum ended up being a flop as they were closing down for the lunch hour (very common in Italy) and we didn’t want to hang around and wait for them to reopen.  We continued our trip by taking the metro down to the canals in the Navigali area.

We also wandered through a nice park, and had a huge battle with a public drinking fountain (it won, not me) in an effort to find the yarn shops of Italy, but then we realized the error of our ways.  It was Sunday, and while this is part of the workweek in Saudi, it is the weekend in Italy, so none of the shops were actually open.

Since we had the metro cards, we headed down to see the Duomo and Galleria again at night.  I really need a tripod that folds up and travels well, because it was fun to shoot at night, but I was limited by where I could prop my camera.

Italy Day 4: Part 1

This was our last full day in Milan, and we definitely made the most of it!  We ended up buying a day pass for the metro so we could hit up a few sights that were farther away.  We did start the day with a sour note, as I realized I had the camera but no memory card after we got to Milan’s Duomo.  In an effort to prevent a very public meltdown, we realized a camera shop was just across the square, so we popped in and got a new card.

They were constructing this dome structure while we were there.

Browsing around the public square was hilarious because the street sellers were on top of their game.  My favorites were the guys handing out handfuls of corn so that tourists could take pictures with pigeons eating from their hand.  On more than one instance, we had guys come up and thrust corn into our uninviting hands.  Steve had a lot of fun messing around with these guys, and if they weren’t so aggressive and bothersome, I might have felt bad.

Next, we wandered over to the Galleria, which I swear I thought was an art gallery.  Turns out it was just a big fancy mall, which was much cooler than art.  It did have a plane made by Piaggio Aero on display.  Steve also had a brief photo shoot with the ever famous knock-off Hello Kitty.

Where We Go Next

After three amazing trips, we are starting to plan our next trip.  In less than two weeks, our semester ends and we have 3 ½ weeks of break before summer classes start.  

There were so many options for us to consider.  We got really close to getting great tickets to Barcelona, but that fell through and then we were leaning towards Budapest and Vienna, but the generally high cost of Europe turned us off.

In the end, we settled on 17 days in Sri Lanka.  We figured that this is probably the cheapest time for us to get to Sri Lanka, as it was less than $500 per ticket, and from the US it would easily be 3-4 times that.  Pretty much everything about Sri Lanka is cheaper than Europe, so that helped us add a few more days to our trip.  Sri Lanka is filled with beautiful landscapes and forests which we hope to spend a decent amount of time wandering/hiking through.

Train travel in Sri Lanka is dirt cheap but slow, so that will give us time to enjoy the sights between cities, because we're thinking that we'll try and visit three or four cities on our trip.

This is near Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka which is one of the areas we hope to visit. (

photo source

)

Address System in Florence

Usually knowing addresses while we travel isn’t that important because we tend to locate sites by approximate location on a map, not by the actual address.

For the first time, we did need to find a couple of places by address and it was surprisingly challenging.  I had addresses of several yarn shops in Milan and Florence in hopes that we would be able to find at least one of them.

Finding stores in Milan was no trouble at all; we just made the mistake of trying to go on Sunday, when most shops are closed.  Florence was another matter.  We set out to find stores on a weekday so store hours weren’t going to be a problem.  But it turned out that Florence has a slightly more complicated system.  We noticed that two of the addresses we were looking for had an R after the street number.  The one that didn’t ended up being the only one could find.

After digging around a bit, I found this article which explained that commercial addresses are often listed as #R.   So the street numbers are actually blue for residences and red (R) for commercial buildings.  That means you can have 28 right next to 100R, and that was our problem.  We thought we were looking for the regular address, but we should have been looking at the commercial addresses.

In the end we were still able to find one of the shops and got some yarn and needles to sustain my hobby until August.

Tragic Losses

Our trip led to two losses one major, the other minor.

The first was the death of Steve’s Kindle.  He accidently dropped it from the bedside table to the floor and the screen is a garbled mess.  This is a big loss because we use our Kindles all the time and getting a new one in Saudi isn’t possible because Amazon won’t ship them here.  For the last couple of weeks we’ve been sharing mine, which seems to be working well for now.

I’m so disappointed that the Kindle broke so easily because it’s a very easy accident to have.  Amazon has a video of a drop test, but I don’t think it’s very accurate if they are really so easily broken.

Loss number two was my fault as I accidently left my hat on the train from Milan to Malpensa.  In the end, it’s not a huge loss because I probably won’t need a hat again until fall and by that time we should be settled into the US.

Rocking my long lost hat at the Cairo Airport while waiting for our flight to Athens.

Not all was perfect in Italy, but these losses certainly didn't ruin our trip.

I bet you all thought this was going to be about William being single no more...

Italy Day 3: Sforzesco Museums

With one ticket, we got access to all of the museums in Castle Sforzesco, which ended up taking most of the day to wander through the ones we wanted.

Our favorite was by far the Musical Instrument Museum.  The not only had a lot of old instruments, but many that were either stylistically or tonally experimental.  That means there were many strange looking instruments, but they were a unique addition to the museum.

An intricately carved scroll on an old violin

This Giovanni Grancino viola has a fascinating history.  Since it's smaller than other violas of the time (1660s) it didn't get modified when the baroque instruments, which tuned an A to 415 hertz, were re-tooled in a sense to withstand the greater tension and pressure associated with transforming an A to 440 Hz.  So if you played an A on this instrument, it wouldn't sound like a modern A.  

Facinating!

A violin from 1778, basically as old at the United States!

A violino sordino with a very unique body shape.

Bassoons, near to my heart as I played this in middle school for a few years.

Some of the other museums were the Egyptian Museum, Ancient Art, China and Furniture, and a special exhibit all about Michelangelo.  The Egyptian Museum was a touch of a letdown because they didn’t have that many artifacts, but as opposed to the British Museum, which might actually have half of Egypt in its museum, it was nice to see a country that didn’t wander away with all of the Egyptian artifacts.

Despite the limited number of artifacts, they did have a mummy on display.

Very interesting Egyptian writing, which isn't exactly the hieroglyphics that are most commonly thought of.

China and Furniture was moderately interesting, but not really something we were very interested in, so we didn’t spend much time there.

Ornate chest in the Furniture museum

I'm not quite sure which museum this guy was in, but he was some kind of mechanical goblin.  Creepy.

The Ancient Art museum had many interesting pieces spread throughout the Castle rooms, and my favorite were some of the tapestries they had on display.  It’s fascinating to see how the different colors have faded or held up over time.  Yellows and reds were very faded and the blues and purples were still surprisingly vivid.

The Michelangelo exhibit was huge and filled with his sketches, sculptures, and architectural work.  Steve and I both liked the architectural portion of the exhibit the best.  I never realized how much work he did throughout his life and how much of it was never carried out.  He designed some beautiful buildings and facades, and we even stumbled upon one of the buildings he redesigned, but his plans were never carried to fruition.

One of Michelangelo's famous unfinished sculpture

s, 

Rondanini Pietà

.

One of the many buildings that he designed during his life.

Pack and Move

From when we left Saudi Arabia until we got back, we packed and moved five times in nine days.  Part of this was because we chose to visit both Milan and Florence, and part was because our hotel reservation got lost, so we had to move an additional two times.

All of this extra packing and moving was a huge hassle for our hotel switch because we had to check out of Hotel A early, but couldn’t check into Hotel B until later in the day.   That meant we also had to store our luggage at the hotel twice.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t any way to avoid this in future travels, since all of the extra effort was a result of the lost reservation.  I hope that our next trip will give us enough time in each city to not have to fuss too much over packing.  Cairo was nice because we spent nine days in the same spot, so there wasn't any extra fussing.  This could have been a lot worse if we had more luggage with us, but we only had one rolling carry on, my purse, and Steve’s backpack.  I was so grateful that we chose to travel light!



Follow our journey:

Or check out our Italy tag!

Italy: Day 3 Part 2

Gobs of people hanging out having fun on an Italian weekend.

After touring the museums we went to the Parco Sempione, a park just NW of the castle. There were tons of people out and about just relaxing and having fun (it was a Saturday, which is part of the weekend in Italy). We visited a free aquarium located in the park. It was small, but nice and new, with a cool walk through aquarium tunnel. There was a pretty tropical coral reef, but it was mostly focused on Mediterranean fishes. The aquarium also served as an art gallery, which is a pretty cool combo.

Fish pond outside the museum.

I love this photo.  I read about

shooting waterfalls

before we left, but didn't think I'd actually get to try out the technique until we got somewhere more forest less desert.

I loved this painting.  It was done by a street artist named Mambo, which doesn't yield the greatest hope for an independent website.  But regardless of having his own website, his art was awesome.

Steve found this outside the aquarium, and we couldn't believe that Italy had

floating head problems

too!

Reading and hoola-hooping makes this girl just about the most awesome park goer we saw in Italy.  Plus the creepy/angry guy on the left was worth a good laugh.

I loved how many people were outside hanging out in the park.  At any given time you could easily count 10 soccer balls up in the air at a time.  I do not however love big construction cranes that insist on sitting in front of my shot.

We had spotted a cool looking triumphal arch from the castle, so we headed over to see it. It was the Arco della Pace (Arch of Peace) which was built in the first half of the 19th century. We walked over to it, and got some great views across the park back towards the castle.

Ode to Napoleon.

That night we had to pack up and move to a different hotel due to our reservation being lost. The new hotel was a little bit more expensive (the hotel that messed up the reservation paid the difference) but way worse. The whole place smelled like old fish, and the room was really dark and gasp there was no internet!

We went to a brick oven pizza place for dinner, and the pizza was amazing. In Italy, restaurants often have a service charge called cuperto, which they add to the bill. The funny thing is that they translated it as "forks, knives, tablecloth, glasses". It kind of sucks, because that fee doesn't go to the server, and it really discouraged us from leaving a tip.

Follow our journey:

Travel Plans are Never Final

Different Ways to Travel

How We Get Ready To Travel

Italy Day 1

Italy Day 2

Shopping in Italy 

Keeping it Alive by Trying New Things

Italy Day 3: Part 1

Italy Day 3: Part 2

Pack and Move

Or check out our 

Italy

 tag!

Italy: Day 3 Part 1

"Good Luck Africa!" is Italy's version of "Welcome Cairo!": it is what the street vendors use as their opening remark. This was how the conversation went when we first encountered one of them while we were trying to take pictures at the fountain:

Man: "Good luck Africa! Gift to you from Africa." as he approaches and attempts to forcibly tie a rainbow dyed string around my wrist.

Me: "No thank you, no grazie, non merci, hakuna" Lion King proves its worth yet again (the previous time being when I removed one of my rivals by way of a wildebeest stampede).

Man: "Is free gift from Africa to you, for good luck" as he succeeds in tying a string on Abby's wrist, and clipping off the loose ends with nail clippers

Abby: "Thank you" as she tries to get on with taking pictures

Man: "Make a donation for Africa." as he turns back to me

Me: "No, it is free gift, we did not ask for it"

Man: "Just two euro, for coffee" (does Africa really need coffee?)

Me: I give him one euro, which seems way more than fair for an unwanted bit of string.

Man: "Come on man, one more euro"

...and so on, until he spots more tourists to harass.

In Athens most of the street vendors looked Pakistani or Indian, but here they almost all looked African. Street vendors were probably the worst parts of our vacations so far, and at some points we were reduced to simply yelling at them to leave us alone, and we definitely weren't the only ones doing this.

Once we got past the African gauntlet we started to visit Castle Sforzesco. This was a beautiful brick covered fortress, which now houses several museums. We bought one ticket that got us into all the museums. We went to the museums of porcelain, ancient art, ancient Egypt, furniture, and musical instruments. We also visited a special exhibit all about Michaelangelo, including his art and architecture. The museum of musical instruments was our definite favorite, they had a whole bunch or really unique instruments. Tune in later in the week for more pictures from these museums! There are just too many to share in one post.

All of the bricks had worn down, but the mortar was still holding up a lot better than the bricks.

Inner courtyard of the castle.  There was a couple here doing wedding photos while we were here.  It was a great choice of background!

Enjoying a delicious mozz and tomato sandwich in the park behind the castle.

The castle grounds were free to the public, and you were allowed to come and go from the museums all day.  This was a great idea as it allowed us to leave, get lunch, and then go back to the museums.

This gate is all that is left of an older wall that used to surround the castle.

Kitties were all around outside the castle.  This one was just crawling out of this hole in the moat wall.

More kitties lounging in the castle moat.

View from inside the main wall.

Lounging on the grass and soaking up some sunshine.  My favorite part of Italy was my afternoon nap in the sun.  I napped on so many different green spaces it was awesome!

Tune in to find out more about day 3!

Follow our journey:

Travel Plans are Never Final

Different Ways to Travel

How We Get Ready To Travel

Italy Day 1

Italy Day 2

Shopping in Italy 

Keeping it Alive by Trying New Things

Italy Day 3: Part 1

Italy Day 3: Part 2

Pack and Move

Or check out our 

Italy

 tag!

Keeping it Alive by Trying New Things

Repetition leads to routine and this easily slips into a comfortable rut, which is hard to break out of.  Having routines and being comfortable with life isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend to act as a barrier to new and unknown activities.  Our trip to Italy was filled with chances for us to break out of being comfortable and try new things.

On our trip we:
Rode buses around Florence
Visited more than one city in a single trip
Bought train tickets five minutes before the train left
Learned a few key phrases in Italian
Visited a city with no metro
The only reasons we didn't do things like this in Athens or Cairo are because it made us (mostly me) uncomfortable and seemed too hard to do.

In almost every case we were wrong; they were relatively easy and added a lot to our trip.

Riding buses in Florence really made getting around easier and saved our tired feet on more  than one occasion.  It was pretty easy to figure out where to get off the buses and finding bus stops was doable, although a bit harder.

Splitting our time between multiple cities ended up being a great idea. While we easily could have spent the full nine days in Milan or Florence, seeing both provided a more well rounded experience of Italy.  Milan was much less touristy and was much more big city feeling whereas Florence was probably prettier than Milan, but the tourism was obvious and everywhere.

The train tickets ended up being a bit of a funny story too.  I was trying to navigate the ticket machine while Steve bought stamps from the train's newspaper stand, when the machine just froze.  At that point I figured we were stuck waiting for the next train, when the machine kicked back into gear and acted like nothing was wrong. By the time the tickets printed we had less than five minutes to make our way to the train.  All of the trains between Pisa and Florence do not have assigned seating, but the machines do sell 1st and 2nd class tickets.  Since we'd spent all day walking around Pisa, we decided to get the 1st class tickets so we'd have more space to spread out.  So not only did we have to rush to the train, we also had to rush to find the first class car.

Basic logic tells me that if first class tickets are sold, there must obviously be first class seating.  Not true.  We ended up hopping on almost at the last minute perterbed that we weren't able to find the first class seating.  After we got back to Florence, Steve walked the length of the train and realized there wasn't any to begin with!  For future Florence to Pisa travelers beware of the first class tickets!

Picking up on words like ciao, buona sera, grazie, and other simple phrases made it just a bit easier to talk to people and it made it more fun.  It didn't take much to get the hang of it, although this was much easier to do because we have experience with French and Spanish, which seemed to help a lot.  This would have been (and still is) much harder in Cairo for example with Arabic.

Finally, visiting a city with no metro had me in knots.  I had no idea if it would affect the quality of our trip, resulting in seeing fewer sites because we'd have to walk more, but in the end this was great.  Florence was small enough that it really didn't take long to get from one place to another, and it inspired us to try out the buses.

Not every trip can be packed full of new and exciting things to do, but adding a couple in definitely spiced up our trip!  We (I) got over some silly travel worries and realized that almost anything isn't actually that hard to do.

I don't know what kind of new adventures we'll strive to have on our next trip (in May!) but I know that we'll try and fit in some new and some old travel activities.


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Italy: Day 2

Day 2 started with eating a strange breakfast and shopping for new shoes.  Breakfast was strange and funny because we couldn’t easily communicate with the café owner where we stopped.  We were trying to figure out if they served breakfast foods beyond croissants and coffee, and he insisted that we sit and eat.  Turns out, they didn’t really serve “normal” breakfast and they brought us a sandwich menu.  Therefore, our first breakfast in Milan was delicious lunch sandwiches.  Milanians didn’t speak much if any English, so we had a ton of comedic moments like this during our trip.

Next we went shopping for some new shoes for me, because mine were totally worn out, and my feet were already starting to hurt. We had meant to go to Jeddah for shoes before we left for Italy, but never had the time or the desire to make it. After being shocked by the ridiculous prices for impractical shoes for walking, we went to a Merrell store (Steve suggested it). We paid a lot, but the shoes are fantastic.

After we took care of breakfast and shoes, we went to a public park for almost the entire day.  The park was very pretty, with nice gravel paths and little ponds.  It was so nice to see so many people out enjoying the wonderful spring weather.  The natural history museum was right inside the park, so we went through that.  They had some amazing minerals, and great fossils.  There was a whole floor of dioramas of different environments, complete with stuffed animals, and most of them looked very realistic.

Napping in the park.

Beautiful arched ceilings in a nearby building.

Donkey on exhibit in the museum.

Pretty minerals on display

We debated going to a nearby art gallery, but neither of us have a strong love of art so we actually ended up seeing very little of it throughout our trip.

We also saw these awesome bike rental areas on our walk back to the hotel.  They were all over Milan and we saw a lot of people out riding the bikes.  We both wanted to ride them, but never got a chance.  I think it’s great that the city is willing to encourage alternative transportation methods, because the traffic in Milan was loud!

Shopping in Italy

It’s interesting to see how being devoid of non-food shopping has affected us.  When we do go to Jeddah, it’s usually for many items; on our last trip, we got printer ink, a duffle bag for Steve, a mini Leatherman, and a root canal.  (Ok, that last one was free, but it was the reason we were in Jeddah)  As a whole though, we don’t buy very much.  I didn’t consider how appealing shopping would be in Italy after being deprived of genuine shopping for the last few months.

Our first purchase was a new pair of shoes for me, because my old shoes were absolutely uncomfortable when standing or walking for extended periods of time, which is the opposite of what you want when traveling.  We started looking for cheap shoes, but after visiting three or four stores, we realized that nothing worth wearing for eight or more hours a day was going to be cheap.  So on Steve’s recommendation we wandered into Merrell , which was shockingly expensive.  I ended up trying on the Men’s WaterPro Manistee shoes, and they felt amazing on my feet.  They are, at 90 euro, the most expensive piece of clothing or accessory that I have ever owned.  However, after wearing them all week in Italy, they are by far the best shoes I’ve ever owned.

My favorite part is that they are super lightweight, coming in at only 1.4 pounds!  It really does feel like I’m not wearing shoes at all.  It’s generally a pretty dumb idea to start a trip off with a new pair of shoes, but thankfully, I didn’t have any problems with blisters or foot pain from these dreamy shoes.

We also did a lot of window shopping while searching for shoes, and oh the envy!  Clothes were definitely more expensive, but Milan is hands down the most fashionable and beautiful place ever.  Had I realized how nice the clothes were going to be, I might have packed fewer clothes and more money!  While I didn’t end up buying any clothes, I did get a few cute accessories before we left Milan for Florence.

Shopping in Florence was less planned and more a result of wants not needs.  We ended up buying a new SD card our first day because I had left my 8GB card in the laptop back in the hotel.  Steve also decided to get a new wallet in Florence, since his, which I got him two years ago, is falling apart.

In Athens, we got

two beautiful pieces of art

, and we decided that we might get another if we found something we both liked.  Instead of traditional art, we found a beautiful series of postcards.  If I can find the right kind of frame, I’ll frame and hang them here, otherwise I’ll have to wait and frame them when we get back home.

Our finale to our buying extravaganza was a trip to a yarn shop in Florence.  I ended up getting three different kinds of yarn, two for me and one to make something for Steve as well as two pairs of needles.  The pink yarn was originally one large hank, but Steve helped me ball it into more manageable sizes while we were sitting in the Cairo airport, flight delayed.  All of the knitting needles we found in Italy were crazy long.  I'm not sure how Italians manage to knit with such long needles; they seem clumsy and awkward to me.

We certainly did more shopping than expected in Italy, but it was so much fun, and we found some things we most likely wouldn’t have found in Jeddah.

Follow our journey:

Travel Plans are Never Final

Different Ways to Travel

How We Get Ready To Travel

Italy Day 1

Italy Day 2

Shopping in Italy 

Keeping it Alive by Trying New Things

Italy Day 3: Part 1

Italy Day 3: Part 2

Pack and Move

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Italy

 tag!