Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Firenze (Florence) Day 2

Piazza di Santa Croce

Home of Basilica di Santa Croce, it's a major tourist spot. We were swarmed by one tour group or another at every turn. The church is the burial place of the famous Italians Michelangelo,Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. Drake was the only one dressed appropriately to enter the church. Cass and I were dressed for the 90 degree weather we had been subjected to during our trip. Yet another place to revisit on our next trip to Firenze.

Behind the church is the Leather School. We walked the wrong way around and took the long way. If you're trying to visit, it's to the left of the church. Not the right.

Scuola del Cuoio
Via S. Giuseppe 5R
50122 Florence

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence. To the right is the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open gallery of sculptures. My favorite was one of Perseus with Medusa's head.

In the piazza we found a small free museum dedicated to Italy's soccer team.

In the end, we decided to skip Pisa and go back home a day early. It's not that we couldn't afford to go, it's that we didn't want to have to pinch pennies until payday. Our short trip to Florence had fulfilled our need to travel for the moment.

Golden View Open Bar
Via dei Bardi, 58r
50125 Firenze

Firenze (Florence) Day 1

Our visit to Firenze was absolutely amazing! As soon as we found out the guys had a three day weekend we decided to take an impromptu trip with our friend, Drake. It took half the day to travel by a bus and two train rides. Once we got there we booked a room at Hotel Machiavelli, dropped our bags off, and hit the streets.

We wandered around town following signs to various sights. Most times we'd turn the corner and see a big building in the distance and just head toward it to see what it was. Surprisingly, we ended up seeing most of the major sights this way.

Basilica di San Lorenzo

This is the oldest church in Firenze. We didn't want to pay to go in, so we walked around the courtyard beside the church. I didn't know until later that Donatello is buried in the chapel. I definitely would have gone in if I'd known that at the time.

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

The statue in the courtyard is Giambologna's last statue finished by his student Pietro Tacca: Ferdinando I de' Medici. He was the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1587 to 1609.

At the corner of the piazza we found Museo Archeologico Nationale di Firenze (The National Archaeological Museum of Florence). There were pieces found from the Egyptian, Etruscan, Roman, and Greek periods. I couldn't believe how details some of the works were and how much of it survived. A few of the exhibits had English descriptions which made it more interesting for us. But most of it was only in Italian so we had to guess as to what we were looking at.

Duomo (The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore)

We saw the massive structure of the Duomo peaking out between buildings at us. As soon as we saw it we were drawn to find out what it was. It was one of the few sights I had specifically wanted to see while we were there. It cost 8 euro to climb the dome and there was a line to get in. We were just as happy to stand in its shadow and gaze up at it. The baptistery next to it had massively beautiful doors that drew just as many photographers as the church itself. Horse drawn carriages lined the bottom of the stairs leading to the main entrance. I would have loved to ride in one, but we didn't have a set destination.

Ponte Vecchio

When I read about Ponte Vecchio I just knew I had to see it in person. Not just because it was the only bridge to survive the bombings of World War II, but because it now holds jewelry shops. Originally butcher shops lined the bridge, but they were infamous for tossing leftovers into the river so Grand Duke Ferdinando I de' Medici banned them and gold merchants took their place.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Benvenuti Tour

Today we went on the Benvenuti Tour. It's the last day of Right Start and we're basically getting a tour of the area surrounding the base.

First, our tour bus stopped a the Gorgazzo Spring in Polcenigo. One of our guides, Sergio, brough bread to feed to the ducks, goose, and fish. It's a freshwater spring, but the origins are unknown. Some divers were sent to measure the depth, but died trying.

Next, we visited Porcia for its town market. There were a lot of vendors with fresh vegetables, fruits, plants, cheese, and meats. There were also clothes, house goods, and knick knacks. Pierce sniffed out a gelato shop so we all got cones since we weren't planning on buying anything from the market.

After that, we drove to Pordenone. It's a big town, but not quite a city. They have really good shopping, I even saw a Sephora! We went into St Mark's Cathedral, built in the 14th century. It was shocking how decorated the small church was. Everywhere we looked we saw intricate carvings and vivid paintings.

After the church we walked up the street to a chocolate shop. I was tempted to buy a chocolate animal, but I didn't to ruin it by eating it or risk having it melt on the bus. They gave us lots of samples so we stuffed ourselves with those. Have you ever had spicy chocolate? I was unpleasantly surprised by that one. The rest of the samples were absolutely delicious though.

Via S. Giuseppe 5R
50122 Florence

Our guides, Sergio and Christina, taught us how to ride a train next. We each bought a ticket from Pordenone to Sacile under their supervision. They showed us how to read the timetables and where to validate our tickets. If the tickets aren't validated before boarding the train, it's as if you don't have a ticket. The train was smooth and calming, but I overheard some people saying that it's the luck of the draw if you're going to have a nice train or a clickity clackity one.

The bus met us at the train station in Sacile and we took a short ride to Budoia for lunch at Ciasa de Gahja. It's a 400-year-old hotel and upscale restaurant. When we first heard we were being served a four-course meal, we thought we'd all die of overeating. But the portions were perfectly spaced apart to give us time for a breather between courses. We were served pasta with red sauce, a creamy risotto, and chicken. All were 1,000x better than any version I've tasted. To cleanse our palates they brought us a lemon Sgroppino...sort of crushed lemon ice with a little vodka. It's the perfect meal ender, very cool and refreshing. Lastly, they served 5 different desserts and you know I had to try all of them.

Ciasa de Gahja
Via Anzolet, 13
33070 Budoia (PN)

Our last stop was Podere Gelisi Antonio in Villotte di San Quirino. The owner came out and greeted us at the bus, and walked us over to the vineyard. From there he explained step by step how the grapes were used and even gave us a demonstration of one of the machines used to separate the parts used in grappa. He doesn't make the grappa at his winery, he sends them to other farms. Then he brought us into a warehouse to taste his wines. His wife and oldest daughter poured while his younger daughter played the piano for entertainment. He mingled with everyone telling stories posing for pictures. We ended up buying four bottles of moscato, two white and two red. He told us anytime we want to come back, just give him a call. He'll even set up a free tasting and we can buy straight from him.

Podere Gelisi Antonio
Via Pola, 5
33080 Villotte di San Quirino (Pn)

Friday, August 19, 2011

House Hunting Pt 3

The search is over!

(Read Pt 1 and Pt 2 to catch up)

A landlord picked up Will and Pierce this morning to look at an apartment. They both came back shaking their heads. That afternoon we met with the landlord that the housing woman hooked us up with. We followed him on his moped to a small town not far from base.

It was perfect for us!

Three stories, two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with a tub), a good sized kitchen, spiral staircases, a small living room on the first and third floors, a covered carport, gated lot, AND...get this..a small building next to the carport with a second kitchen, a fireplace/bbq pit, huge dining table, a bathroom, and a small storage room.

The landlord, Albino, and his wife runs the bar/cafe next door and insisted we come over for drinks. The beer was delicious and they were both so friendly and welcoming. Pierce made it clear that if we didn't take the place, he would. Basically Will and I looked at each other gave the nod, and pulled out the papers to sign. I can't tell you how happy we are with the house. It also feels like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

House Hunting Pt 2

First off, let me say that house hunting here is ridiculous. I mean that in the most stressful way possible. Here are a few facts to keep in mind before I tell our tale of house hunting over the last few days:

- Housing does not regularly update their listings
- "Apartments" don't necessarily describe our (American) idea of apartments
- "Houses" are most likely a condo/townhouse/apartment
- Everyone is racing each other to the best houses. It's free for all madness.
- Just because a landlord promises the house to you, doesn't mean they won't give it to someone else. You have to get them to sign a contract in order to secure the house.

Okay, so the very first place we looked at was a very American style second floor apartment. It had a good sized living room/dining room/kitchen combination of a room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers (no tubs), a garage, and a separate storage room next to the garage. There was a locked gate just to get onto the property and a locked door to get into the stairway. It made me feel like I would be perfectly safe while Will is at work or if he is on TDY/deployed. We felt very good about the place, but of course we couldn't sign on the first place we looked at. We made an appointment with the landlord to meet again at the end of the week in case we still felt good after looking at other places.

We teamed up with one of the guys from Will's squadron (Pierce) who got here at the same time as us and is staying a floor above us at Residence Posta. We all went out to look at a house out in the country. It was very cute and very Italian but Will got a bad vibe off the place and it was a little too secluded for my taste. We also looked at a duplex that liked. Will and I would take the bottom apartment and Pierce and his wife would take the top. There was a big shared attic on the third floor that the guys joked about turning into a man cave or party room. We all liked that it was owned by someone who works on base and speaks perfect English, but we didn't really like that he had a garden in the yard and a wine cellar in the basement. It meant he would be dropping by and coming into the building on a regular basis.

Pierce found a great 3rd floor apartment. Will and I were secretly hoping he'd pass it up, but he ended up making an appointment with the landlord to sign a contract after he talks to his wife. At this point we were thinking we'd go back and take the first apartment we looked at. As a last ditch effort, we went to the housing office and asked for help since the people there are Italian. The woman helping us recognized the landlord's name on one of the houses and showed us the listing. She made an appointment for us to see the house tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime Pierce had made arrangements for him and Will to look at an apartment nearby in the morning.

Like I said, this is the most stressful house hunt ever. There's also a time crunch before our TLA (temporary living allowance) runs up and we have to pray an extension is approved. But we have to prove that we're making an honest effort to look for a house. The housing office will reject an extension application if they think we're being too picky or wait too long to sign a housing contract.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

First Day of Right Start

Today was our first day of Right Start. It's a week long string of briefings designed to introduce us to the base and help get us in-processed. They highly recommend spouses attend, so I went along. Good thing, because it's not like Will takes great notes or pays attention to the things I would care about. Since it was Blues Monday, Will was looking really good. I guess blues weren't mandatory for Right Start because most of the people were in their ABU's. Oh well, I rarely get to see my husband in his blues so I was happy.

Since Will is a maintainer (crew chief) he doesn't have to wear blues on Mondays like the rest of the base.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Dan and his kids picked us up around lunchtime and we headed through the mountains...literally. To get to the lake at a town on the other side of the mountains (Barcis), you have to drive through about 4/5 tunnels. One of the tunnels takes 10-15 minutes to pass through. They have huge industrial fan so to create circulation throughout the tunnel so we didn't pass out from lack of oxygen. It's a straight shot except at the entrance and exit. My eyes were adjusted to the dark and BAM! bright light slaps me in the face at the exit.

According to Dan, it's usually pretty easy to find a good spot along the lake or the river feeding it. But it was a nice day, the weekend, and Monday is an Italian holiday so it was jam packed. Cars were wedged into each other along every possible turnoff, even the small stretches of grass. We passed by a hiking trail and we all agreed it would be fun to check it out.

We paid a 2€ entrance fee which got us a hair net and a hard hat to wear. The path winds through tunnels and hugs the side of a mountain/cliff so it's a good idea to wear the dorky headgear.

The hike was actually really nice. It was paved the whole way with railings guarding curious hikers from the immediate drop off into the canyon below. A river cuts through the bottom of the canyon so throughout the hike we'd lean over to see the gorgeous scenes below us. The canyon, the river, the mountain ranges all around us...it was all so pretty. The tunnels were conveniently spaced apart and cooled us off.

Old Road Valcellina

After our hike, we went down to the lake to relax and cool off. It was such a fun day with our new friends.