Rome and Florence, July 14-17
a trip through Italy isn't complete without visiting Rome and Florence;
we'll hit Venice as well. With only two full days in Rome
and one full day in Florence, most of our time was
devoted to the standard major sights. We traveled between the
two cities on the efficient, high-speed Italian Eurostar. (According to Wikipedia, this route deployed the first high-speed train in Europe.)
We were warned of two things visiting Rome and Florence in mid-summer: the sizzling heat, and the sizzling number of tourists. In terms of heat, we got a little lucky -- hot, but not unbearable. In terms of tourists, we tolerated the crowds because we wanted to see the sights too, and they didn't ruin the experience. But the whole family perked up when we walked just a half-mile from the center of Florence to a nice fort and viewpoint (photo 3), and we found ourselves nearly alone.
In Rome we had dinner at the home of Paolo Atzeni, a professor-friend of Jennifer's. After a month of restaurants and makeshift eat-in meals, dining in a family home was a treat, and Paolo's wife Gianna prepared an incredible meal. Paolo delivered the "care package" containing Emily's larger-sized sandals and hiking shoes, along with Tim's french horn mouthpiece (which he's used exactly once since). Paolo's son located a theater showing the just-released Harry Potter movie in its English "versione originale" -- the Italian-dubbed version is prevalent. We saw the movie the following evening, and the kids now eagerly await the upcoming book. Our understanding is that it will be available in many Italian bookstores, in English, on the official release date.
We continue to do well with our lodging. In Rome we experimented by booking a budget bed & breakfast with a shared bathroom (and the unfortunate name "Happy Holidays"), but in a great location with very good reviews. When we arrived, the proprietor farmed us off to an apartment down the street instead. Wow -- a decent-sized apartment in a lovely Rome neighborhood overlooking the courtyard of a monastery for the price of a B&B room; now that's a Happy Holiday. Even more remarkable, the proprietor had all of our laundry done and then refused to charge us for it, perhaps trying to make up for the fact that we had to trek to the B&B when we wanted internet access. In Florence, we again went for a moderate place with a good location (and another unfortunate name: "Hotel California"); it was perfect.
With apologies to any teachers reading this travelog, the schooling situation so far is a bit of a catastrophe. Our plan was to do a small amount of schoolwork continuously throughout the trip, even though several months are outside of the regular school year. We figured a few hours per week for the eleven months we're traveling, plus the time the kids will be in school when we stop back home, would about do it. For the 3½ months comprising Part 1 of the trip, our aspirations weren't very high: cover most of the year's math through the HeyMath program (requiring internet access, which we expect to be more available in Europe than elsewhere), plus small weekly writing assignments.
There have been several obstacles. The primary problem, by far, is that when we leave for our day's activities at 9am and return at 9pm, it seems unreasonable to expect the kids to get much work done. It's the same old "doing too much" story that's permeated the last several travelogs -- we're just no good at sacrificing unique travel experiences for everyday activities like schoolwork. Also, internet access hasn't been quite as convenient as we'd hoped for. Only in Athens did we have internet in our room (unless you count Florence, where we tapped into a hotel neighbor's wireless by sticking our laptops out the window), and sometimes we've had no access anywhere in the hotel. So far we've avoided dragging our battalion of laptops to internet cafes, although there are plenty around. (How can one hang out in an internet cafe when the Colosseum and Roman Forum beckon?) Math is getting sporadic attention, and in over four weeks just two writing assignments have been completed; well, almost completed. In a total departure from our hard-nosed Stanford policy, we've been suckers for "granting an extension." Overall, our strategy for blending schoolwork with travel may require some reconsideration.
With apologies to any Italians reading this travelog, we haven't settled in on excellent food in Italy as quickly as we did in Greece. We know there are exceptional meals to be found (we certainly had one at Paolo's), but we're loathe to spend a fortune on dinner each night. On the other hand, we've embraced two items with gusto: gelato and coffee. The "ice cream only on hiking days" or even "one ice cream a day" guideline that we did manage to maintain for a while is history. The gelato is so good, with so many unusual flavors to try, it would be a crime to skimp. Jennifer is our only coffee drinker, or was -- with just a few sips of the superb Italian coffee, Emily has acquired a taste for it too. Even a 60-cent cappuccino from a vending machine in the subway station has your average American coffee-house beat.
We heard from several friends offering assistance with the cash-flow crisis reported in our previous travelog. Perhaps we sounded too alarmist, although it certainly felt seriously alarming at the time. Shortly after posting the travelog, we blew our last cash to activate the phone and call the bank. They had indeed blocked our ATM card when we moved from Greece to Italy. (Lesson: it's not only the credit card folks who should be notified when traveling abroad.) The card was unblocked right away, we indulged in celebratory gelato and coffee, and the Euros have been flowing rapidly from ATMs ever since.
Incidentally, David connoisseurs will know that photo 5 depicts the replica of David in the Piazza della Signoria, not the original. We were fortunate to be in Florence on a Tuesday, "open evening" at the Galleria dell'Accademia where the original David resides (and no photos are permitted). Perhaps a well-kept secret, it was surprisingly uncrowded, and completely avoided the famed high-season multi-hour ticket line for the regular opening hours.
Next stop: A few days of attempted relaxation in Tuscany