Monday, June 30, 2008

Florence/Firenze: Not My Favorite

On June 21, we departed lovely Positano with a collective wistful sigh. We spent six hours on the mini-bus with two stops at foul Autogrill locations along the way to arrive in Florence.

Our first stop was to check into the Jolly Hotel Carlton. Our awesome tour guide told us that the hotel was a four-star establishment, and that due to a fashion week event in Florence, it was the only semi-nice hotel with available rooms. Unfortunately, we caught the hotel in the midst of a major renovation. Chad and I were the only people out of the six-room-booking for the group that had both a functional air conditioner and hot water. However, our room was not yet renovated and still retained the old stained carpet, peeling wallpaper and leaking shower door. We opted to keep the room despite the flaws since there weren't any better options. Our awesome tour guide apologized profusely and swore that she'll never book rooms there again. The staff at the hotel did their best to hide from guests. When we could find them, they were reluctant to help us with anything from buying museum tickets, to giving directions, to taking our order in the restaurant for lunch. I'd be demoralized too if I worked there.

Anyway, after an hour to drop bags, grab a bite and take care of business, we met a local tour guide to see Florence. I'm sad to opine that Florence is overrun with mouth-breathing tourists. I don't think of Chad and myself as mouth-breathers, unless we're having bad allergies, but we were adding ourselves to the hot, sweaty, shuffling, teeming mass of tourists.

Florence feels like the wannabe, tacky cousin to Rome. Frankly I was disappointed when I saw all the "great art of Florence" in person. The scale on the various parts of the David statue are all wrong. I know that the figure of David is meant to be viewed from below with the statue up on a high pedestal, and that Michelangelo was reportedly trying to trick the eye with the weird proportions of David, but it just doesn't work. Yo, David, what's up with your giant hands and little body? Botticelli's Venus looked faded and crackly in person. I thought that the colors would be breathtakingly vibrant in this Venus painting, and maybe they once were, but have faded with time. The Duomo, with three different colors of marble on the overly wrought exterior looks a tad tacky and filthy from Florence's polluted air.

If Florence was a movie based on a book, I'd warn you to read the book, but to save your time and money, and skip the movie. By all means, study the art history and look at the lovely renditions in the history books, but skip the trip to Florence. The city is dirty, crowded and sad.

BUT, the Tuscan countryside outside of Florence was enchanting. More on that in the next post.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Positano - Positively Gorgeous

On June 18, we bid farewell to Rome, taking advantage of one last yummy, free hotel breakfast with the great cappuccino. The three-hour bus ride from Rome to Positano featured a stop at Autogrill. Autogrill, Europe's answer to Stuckey's (minus the charm), delivers dirty bathrooms with no seats on the toilets and $4.00 (in American money) Coca-Cola Lights (also known as Diet Cokes in America). Flat stretches of highway between Rome and Naples were punctuated by occasional hilly villages with pretty old buildings and one modern shopping mall. Naples (the city of Chad's birth) spilled over with many tall apartment buildings for as far as the eye could see. Then the terrain took on a hilly, curvy nature with narrow lanes and switchbacks. Hello, motion sickness! We started to see the Tyrrhenian Sea and lovely, ancient cottages stacked into the hillsides, blanketed by Bougainvilleas and other lush flowers and greenery. I forgot about my motion sickness, distracted by the beauty.

Hello Positano! Hello great hotel on the beach with lovely views and a private balcony for each room. Hello free welcome drink. Hello beach. Hello yummy pizza and gelato just downstairs. Yes, let's stay a few days.

On June 19 we ventured out on the tour bus to see a few sites: La Basilica del Crocisisso of Amalfi - a grandly adorned church, Gardens of Villa Cimbrone in Ravello - breathtaking views well worth the steep hike, and Pompeii. Honestly, I could have skipped Pompeii. It was hot and dusty. The same lava dust that buried everything, and possibly contributed to the suffocation of Pompeii's former residents, left a fine layer on me that day. Our tour guide (not our beloved Elsa, but a local guy) was a pompous jerk. The presence of lead pipes carrying water around Pompeii and the keystone arch architecture were impressive feats of technology for that time in history, but the "art" featured advertisements and bawdy scenes of erotica -- kind of like media today. Yes, very advanced civilization. Did I mention the heat and dust? We ran straight to the beach after our field trip to dunk in the cool sea water.

The Amalfi Coast region is known for its lemons, which vary in size from softball-sized to cantaloupe-sized. With this abundance of lemons, the locals cook up a strongly potent alcoholic beverage called limoncello. They package it in cute bottles and sell it as souvenirs. We tried limoncello one evening after dinner. Syrup-sweetness, tartness and high alcohol content yielded involuntary pucker-faces from both of us.

June 20, our last full day in Positano, Chad and I skipped the planned ferry trip to Capri in favor of enjoying the beach and the beauty that Positano offered. Aaaahhh... relaxing and refreshing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Io amo Roma! (I love Rome!)

Rome radiates busy, beautiful, happy city vibes. The residents are, for the most part, very well dressed and stylish as they weave in and out of traffic on their scooters or in their tiny hatchback cars. The only thing about Rome that detracted from the ambient loveliness was the presence of way too many pushy street-vendors. As we stood at the Trevi Fountain, vendors buzzed about like aggressive bees trying to sell me roses, plastic dolls, fake Prada bags, photo-taking services, weird flying toys, cheap scarves and tacky posters. My mantra was, "no grazie" along with a shake of the head. These vendors sent their cousins over to the Coliseum and the Spanish Steps too. I wanted to soak in the beauty and history of these sites, but was distracted.

On Monday, June 16, Chad and I woke from a long night of good sleep for yummy, free hotel breakfast of rolls, cheese, fruit and the best cappuccino I've ever had the pleasure of drinking. Then we were off to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Guess what? No vendors! The Pope does not allow that foolishness! The Vatican Museum is like a crazy hodge-podge of antiquities with no clear rhyme or reason to the collections. The Sistine Chapel lives up to its reputation for sheer volume of painted surfaces and beauty. (If you've never seen the movie The Agony and the Ecstasy, I urge you to view it.) But my favorite thing in the Vatican City was St. Peter's Basilica. My description of the architecture, sculptures, mosaics and awe-inspiring aura simply can't do it justice, so I won't try.

Chad & I were both battling sensory overload after Vatican City, so we scurried back out the gates to Rome-proper and found a little sidewalk cafe for lunch. My margherita pizza was fine, but I expected big basil leaves and freshly sliced tomatoes, what I got was more like a school cafeteria pizza. Maybe lunch-lady Doris studied her pizza skills in Rome?

On Tuesday, June 17, we had a free day and chose to go to the Capuchin Crypt. We read about this place is Esquire magazine, and as luck would have it, the crypt was half a block from our hotel. When the Cappuccini monks ran out room in the burial chambers, they took the old skeletons and made elaborate decorations all over the walls and ceilings with bone fragments. The effect was both beautiful and chilling. The inscription on the floor in the last chamber reads "What you are, we were. What we are, you will be." After the Capuchin Crypt, the visit to the catacombs later in the day was anti-climatic.

Like all good tourists, Chad and I went to the Mouth of Truth and snapped photos of each other sticking our hands in the mouth. We both still have our hands, so I guess we're pretty honest.

Tune in tomorrow for tales from Positano and the Amalfi Coast region.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Roman Holiday Starts

June 14 and 15 marked my first trans-Atlantic flight. We flew through the night on Lufthansa to get to Italy. The sun was up the whole time, but the flight attendants had passengers close the window shades to create darkness for those who wanted to sleep. I think I got about 45 minutes of fitful sleep over the nine hours it took to get to Munich. The Munich airport had nice, modern architecture. The German passport control agents were very friendly. One joked that we should skip our flight to Italy and vacation in Germany instead. Next time, maybe.

On the flight from Munich to Rome, as I walked through the first-class section of the plane on my way to the cattle pen, I mean economy section, I saw Kristen Bell (star of Veronica Mars - one of my favorite TV shows and recent co-star of the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Dax Shepard on our flight. They were arguing about Kristen's need for salad and Dax's insensitivity to her need for salad. Apparently, Kristen and Dax were on their way to Rome to shoot a movie titled "When in Rome". After our flight landed in Rome, Chad and I stood right by Kristen and Dax on the shuttle bus from the plane to the airport. Kristen and Dax were very quiet and clinging to each other, probably scared that someone would recognize them and try to chat. I played it cool and only talked to Chad, barely looking their way at all.

Chad and I spotted lots of errant luggage on the ground in Rome. The Rome airport was chaotic. No one asked to see our passport. No one checked our bags. When Chad and I were in the Cancun airport three years ago, they had better security than the Rome airport.

Rome itself was lovely and amazing though. After twenty hours with little sleep, we barely had time to check into the hotel before we had to meet a tour guide to see the Monuments of Rome: The Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and other historic spots.

Click here to check out our Italy photos on

Check back tomorrow for tales from the next two days of our trip.


Yesterday one of my friends and fellow-actors passed away at his day-job workplace from a massive heart attack. Phil K. played my husband in two shows during the 2007 dinner theater season. I've been in many other shows with him since 2002. He was a talented actor, a creative writer and an accomplished director. He was too young for this ending. In my jet-lagged and sleep-deprived state, I am stunned at this news.

Friends, do something for me this week: I want all of you to eat healthy, get plenty of rest and exercise. Take care of yourselves, because I want you around for a long time.

On a happier note, Italy news and photos coming this evening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

No Place Like Home

After ten crazy days touring Italy, we are home. I'll be sharing much more about the trip soon, but after twenty-six sleepless hours of travel, I'm just so thankful and glad to be home!

Top 10 Things I Missed Most While Away:
our three funny cats, now clinging to me & Chad like purring Velcro
our sweet dog, now freshly bathed and home from Camp Four Paws
100% cotton bedding that is starch-free
the giant tankards of iced tea from the drive-thru
my own fridge full of cold drinks
my full-size bottles of grooming products
our washer and dryer (which I'll be spending much time with in the coming days)
our friends (who I can't wait to see)
my friends' blogs (of which I can't wait to catch up on the reading)
my gym, because stomping around cobblestone streets and lava road just isn't the same

More about the trip soon...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Friend-Making Machine

I got the following email with the subject line "Friend-Making Machine" from Chad this morning:

"I went through the Emerald City Press drive-though to check it out today. The girl that came out to take my order was happy to see Janie. And then when I paid for my order, I got a complementary doggy snack for "the puppy." They squealed with glee when she ate her treat, then we drove off."

Our dog, Janie, is a sweet, mellow girl. She's very popular at Chad's work. (He works at a place that allows employees to bring their well-mannered dogs to work.)

Later today I talked to Chad on the phone. A coworker sent a note out mid-morning that some dog left a oops-poop behind a plant under the stairwell. Chad went to investigate. He figured out that Janie was the only dog in that area at that time, so by process of elimination (pun intended) the poop must be hers. Chad cleaned up the mess. This is the first time that Janie pooped inside since we adopted her. It was probably an emergency, and with no thumbs to open the door for herself to go outside, the plant looked like the next best option.

Even popular kids mess up sometimes. Luckily Janie has forgiving parents (and coworkers) willing to clean up her messes.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bought Swimsuits, Didn't Cry!

Men may not be able to relate to this post.

Ladies, I know you can relate/commiserate/empathize. Swimsuit shopping is hard. Bad lighting, partial nudity and full length mirrors can dent even the sturdiest of self-esteems. Typically, swimsuit shopping leaves me wanting to curl up into fetal position and cry for a few days in a quiet, dark corner. Okay, I exaggerate, but I usually leave without a new swimsuit, but with some new body image issues.

After losing thirty pounds and doing lots of regular exercise, I happily picked out two new swimsuits today. Yay! I am at peace with my shape and weight. The great selection and nice sales associate at Everything But Water helped the process for sure. And I wore cute three-inch-high heels while I tried on the suits. Hey, if it works for thousands of beauty pageant contestants, who am I to knock it?

I won't be posting any photos of myself in my new swimsuits. While I am at peace with my body, I'm not an exhibitionist or very good at Photoshop.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Haiku for My Phone

email, web access
full keypad, love your features;
clouds are kryptonite

If there is cloud cover, my T-Mobile Sidekick 3 doesn't make or receive calls. The text feature never worked. I can get texts, but I can not send, or reply to, texts. I'm not a big texter, but some of my friends are, and they get offended when I don't reply in kind. Sorry, it's not me, or you, it's my phone. The camera takes lousy photos. But I love the Sidekick's full keypad, email and web access.

During a recent visit to the T-Mobile store to look at the newer, cheaper and more useful Sidekick ID, the salesguy tried to convince me to upgrade to a much more expensive Blackberry/Crackberry. He said, "you and I are old enough that we don't need the silly looking Sidekick. That's what mom & dad buy for college kids. At our age, having a Sidekick is silly, like wearing a Hello Kitty backpack." I guess he didn't notice the Hello Kitty bandage on my hand. He went on to say that, "most mobile phones are only durable enough for eight to ten months of use." If this is true, why would I spend the money on a Blackberry?

It's almost enough to make me get a landline again.