Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Trip to Italy! Day 2, August 29, 2014 - "A Day in Milano!"

Entry way into our AirBNB apartment
We woke up from our "nap" and left the apartment around 6pm and headed in the direction of magnificent Milan Duomo. We stopped into a cafe about halfway, and I grabbed a toasted sandwich and and Marek got a salad. We both had the wine the hostess/waitress talked us into ordering.

Feeling a bit rejuvenated, we set out to finish our 15min walk and got to the Piazza del Duomo as the sun was making its way behind many of the buildings - shining soft light on the beautiful Duomo and and its plaza. It was for moments like this I was thrilled to have an actual camera on board our trip - along with someone who knew how to do more with a camera than point/click (Marek - basically any quality photo you see throughout this trip was taken by her).
Our view when we turned the corner coming into the Plazza

We walked into the Duomo and found ourselves watching Friday night mass. The smell of the incense filling the world's 4th largest church was all a bit overwhelming. The marble features and high gothic style architecture was an easy sign that we were having a moment we will not soon forget.
Interior, more photos at bottom of blog

Leaving the Duomo and walking across the Plaza we entered the Galleria. This was the covered outdoor shopping center that helps Milano gain its "Fashion Capital of the World" label. All the high end names you've heard (and not heard of) were all represented, including a yet to open new Versace location.

Throughout the Galleria lies a decorated marble floor, and on one section of the floor is a bull where it is said by local legend that good luck will go to those who place the heel of the shoe on the bull's testicles and spin around. So, of course we did it (VIDEO: Marek, Me).

That section of floor was worn down to make a crevice about 3-4 inches deep. The tradition we'd heard about from Rick Steeves was real. We had written on our itinerary to accomplish 3 things the first day/night: visit Duomo (we wanted to take the rooftop tour 300' off the ground, but it was too late in the evening for tickets), walk through the Galleria and then visit a district named Navigli.

Before we headed out though, Marek got to play with rabbid birds!
Marek getting diseases from pigeons

We decided this trip to not have international data service. We would only get on our phones to check emails, etc when we would be resting at our hotels when free wifi was available. It was a grand plan, however, I can't tell you how important it is to have Google Maps available at a moments notice. GPS tells you exactly where in the map you are (and with Italy's thousands of tiny streets that is VERY helpful). It also tells you how far of a walk it is or how long a taxi ride would take and even public transit directions and durations from/to any given point. HAVE A DATA PACKAGE. We wondered into a small info/tourist shop and sort of cheated by looking on their map (that was there for us to purchase for $4) and saw that the Navigli District appeared to be about a 20-25 min walk and was just passed where our apartment was. We were not ready to walk that far. We found a taxi waiting and headed south to the Navigli.

Turns out, it was at the bottom of our street (where our AirBNB apartment was). This was great because we knew it was going to be a short walk back to the room. It was about 8:00pm and restaurants were just now starting to open up for dinner. Clearly we were out too early in comparison to the locals, but we were jet-lagged and fighting unconsciousness in the spirit of an adventurous vacation.

We found a pizzeria and ordered beer and a Quattro Formaggi (4 cheese) pizza. The waiter knew we were American and told us he would have the chef cut it into slices instead of the Italian way of just giving us the whole pie with a knife/fork. I wanted to eat with knife/fork like Italians do, but I was too tired to argue, especially knowing I didn't know how to say in Italian what I wanted to and he didn't know English enough to understand my native tongue...sliced pizza I would receive. After pizza, we tried to stick it out a bit later. We REALLY tried. The "life" of Navigli came to be around 9:30pm but we were no longer in the mood to stay out.

My to-go box in the Navigli District

We found a quaint place off to the side to have one last quiet drink before heading back home (don't worry, we were drinking water each day of our trip in between meals). The beer was had and memories were made, but we knew how much a long sleep was needed to get us on the right track to feel more energized and our legs/feet from giving up on us.

More Photos:
Fun with English
True story: We spent hours trying to come up with this guy's name
- since we didn't have internet to just look it up.
R.I.P. Gary Coleman
Duomo Door

Duomo Floor

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Our Summer Trip to Italy - Day 1.5, Aug. 27/28, 2014

(This is uploaded 3 months after the trip was taken, but written throughout the trip. This first entry is day 1.5 of our 11-ish day trip to Italy. During this trip you will read about and see our adventures to NYC, Milan, Lake Como, all 5 (6) towns of Cinque Terre and finally Florence. The trip began on the evening of Wednesday, August 27. Enjoy!) 

The trip started for me when I walked into the house with arms raised in triumph because I actually left work on time. Tristan (brother) was called ahead of time to ensure a ride through Lyft/Uber would be available for us, and of course it was. Nothing exciting about our flights to Chicago and then on to Newark, but it is always shocking to me how long it takes to get anywhere n NYC when you start from Newark (took about 1.5 hrs to arrive at the destination).

We stayed at our friend (ex-OKCer) Johnny Mac's apartment, which was the first stop across the East River in Brooklyn. Our flight landed around 8:30pm so we headed straight to his apartment where he met us outside with hellos and hugs. We put our bags down (just brought back packs and one shared small bag for mainly chargers, toiletries and the camera). We headed out into his neighborhood and walked around the corner and found a crowded/noisy bar and immediately knew we wanted a quieter place. 100 yards away was another small bar that had an amazing vintage atmosphere with custom curved bar. They specialized in mixed drinks so Marek and JMac both got something I can't pronounce and I stuck with a random local IPA. After one drink and some great conversation and catching up, we headed back to the apartment for some much needed rest.

We woke up/got up pretty late (around 10am) and headed to a breakfast place JMac recommended. It was a small hipster/organic place about 15 min walk south from his apartment called "5 Leaves." The food was tremendous, but I stuck with the basics only ordering 3 different sides: thick bacon, over-medium (cage free) eggs and some hash brown bricks. Marek got some sort of egg-scrambled sandwich with sage...I think she was jealous of my bacon. That's one of those "we were meant for each other" things as her favorite part about bacon is the fat (mine is the meat so we split it) and she doesn't like the yolk in eggs and that's my favorite part. Anyway.

After breakfast, we took the subway to downtown Manhattan to go see the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial. The last time we were here, the tower was still being built. The museum had a really long wait, and the $25 entry fee to the museum was the turning point into us saying, "We'll do it some other time." No sense in going over our budget on the first day.

We left downtown and headed up to Central Park East to see the Guggenheim (which I had never seen) - FYI, the museum is closed every Thursday. Today is Thursday. Well, the building looks pretty.

Crossing over a couple blocks to Central Park and beginning at the lake. It's always incredible thinking about how much space and real estate on Manhattan was dedicated for this park. We began our walk around the track clockwise. No reason - probably looked to have the most shade. Turns out that we were heading in the wrong direction as one disgruntled senior citizen out for her afternoon stroll strongly pointed out to us. At this point it was kind of too late. We were already halfway around to our destination (West side) and there really wasn't a place to exit the track as it is elevated about 20 feet with a steep ropes off hill down to another track. Sorry 'bout you old lady. We're going to finish our walk.

Arriving to the other side we begin looking for a place to grab a beer (our theme throughout the trip) as well as looking for a spot to eat lunch - first stop however, find a place to buy band-aids. Marek's new shoes worn without socks were not made for walking.

Band-aids found. Using Yelp we see a place with a high rating in our price range (we try to stick in the $10-15 per meal range, but if you're in NYC/Europe and you're not eating out of a food cart it can be difficult. Turns out the place is incredible, "Jacob's Pickles." I ordered the Fried Chicken and Bacon Pancakes. They were as delicious as it sounds. Two enormous pancakes with bacon chunks cooked in and a piece of boneless fried chicken atop each pancake. I only managed to eat half a pancake but took down both pieces of chicken. Marek had Biscuits and Fixings, which consisted of homemade biscuits with multiple amazing jams/butters. These two entrees along with our two beers meant this restaurant was well deserving of the 4.5 stats it had on Yelp.

We decide to go ahead and make plans with JMac to see if he will have time to eat dinner with us before we head to the airport later on. We decide on a pizza place near his house named Paulie Gee's (inside view). Of course we're good for pizza. But we aren't finished with Manhattan yet. Considering we were pretty close to the Hudson River at this point (71st and Amsterdam area), Marek wanted to go check out Riverside Drive. We headed over there and quickly realize that we are already sort of tired from walking/standing (about 4 hours on our feet so far) and with a ten-day walking day ahead of us we decide not to push it too much more.

After we found Riverside Drive and took a 15min break by sitting on an enormous boulder in the park that seemed seldom used by anyone other than homeless people and those looking to break beer bottles, we started to head back.

We stopped after a 15min walk and stumbled into an Irish Pub on Broadway for a beer and then headed on the subway back to JMacs. I took a very needed shower/changed and we took a small nap.

We headed out around 6:00 to meet JMac knowing we were going to be a few minutes early (he estimated he would be in around 6:30). We needed to be on a bus to the airport around 7:30-7:35 to begin the 45min journey to JFK to be there plenty of time before our 10:20pm flight to Milan. JMac texted me and told me that because it was a holiday weekend (Labor Day) that it may take up to an hour to get there, so we adjusted our departure from Paulie Gee's up to 7:15, which meant ordering the pizza before JMac got there - just to be safe. Turns out it took him awhile longer to reach us due to traffic (he got his first NYC car today from his client- Mercedes. He's such a baller). Anyway, JMac didn't get to Paulie Gee's until 7:05, which meant we had 10 min to chat and head out. The pizza was incredible, and since JMac is a vegetarian, we ordered his pizza'a Soppresata (spicy salami) on the side and put it on our pizza - we win!

Got to the airport and boarded our flight with airliner Emirates. Let me tell you, this airline knows what it's doing. This was my 8th overseas flight and none was more pleasant than this. I did start out 0-2 on choosing movies to watch our personal touch TV screens (this is after the stewardess handed out warm moist hand towels and offered free alcoholic drinks to the passengers - along with dinner...which I didn't eat because I wasn't hungry but it looked good). The two movies I started out with were Transcendence with Johnny Depp. It was terrible. I turned it off after 20 min. Then I put on Captain America. It was nearly worse and I turned it off after 15 min. My third movie was a winner - The Dallas Buyer's Club. The acting by Matthew McConaughey and Jarred Leto was absolutely incredible. I watched the whole thing then passed out for the remainder of the flight (about 3 hours). That's pretty rare. Marek did not sleep much and we were both pretty cranky when we landed (noon), while trying to be excited.

We eventually found the airport train we needed to get us into Milan central. We arrived and went straight to meet our AirBNB hosts. They were an extremely nice couple - trying their very best to use the English they knew to carry on a conversation. I don't think they realized how tired we were. I didn't really have energy to carry on polite conversation for very long. I needed sleep, pronto. They left, we slept. Grazie.