Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A View From the Piazza #3 - Our First Field Trip

We took our first family field trip this weekend....and on purpose this time!!  (See first entry of this series regarding our first unexpected field trip.)  But before I tell you what we did, I want to tell you what I'm eating....right now.  It's not Italian, but it is so good and really, just what my heart needs.

Salsa and Chips.

It's not Chuy's creamy jalapeno, but after a month, I just needed a little taste of home.  Even in the land of prosciutto, vino (which is not on my beverage menu currently), formaggio, ribollita and caprese...sometimes, you just need a little Tex Mex soul food.

Onto this past weekend's adventures....

We started our journey towards Florence, with a little detour through the town where I will be seeing my OB.  We drove through the mountains, which is no doubt much more picturesque in the spring, summer and fall - but the scenery was still moving nonetheless.  It stayed above freezing, which was an immense relief to my husband who didn't want to deal with ice on a two-lane road peppered with bridges.

We then headed up to Florence and there is where our real lessons began.  Here they are, in order....

1.  Don't drive into the city.
Italian cities are, sadly, not built on a grid.  If you don't live in the city, navigating which roads are open, much less one-way, is just about impossible.  The Garmin was at a loss without good satellite reception and we didn't have a good map of the city (we do now).  Plus, our hotel wasn't obvious either.  So now we know - stay/park outside the city and take the bus in, a principle we plan to apply on all future trips to any other big Italian cities, along with taking the train from home.  Renting a car is great, but expensive and if we'd taken the bus around town, we might have actually seen more of the city, come to think of it.

2.  Be Prepared. 
We thought we could figure out, when we got there, what we wanted to see.  Like it would be obvious.  In a way, it was, but frankly, there is SO MUCH to see and do in Florence, not to mention planning for the cost of everything, we should have had a plan.  Rookie mistake that will not be repeated.

3. Plan for the weather and season. (If Possible)
Winter is not an easy time to travel anywhere and here in Italy - it mostly rains.  The strange thing about this past Saturday though is that it would rain hard for 2 minutes, gradually lighten and eventually stop.  Only to have the cycle start all over again 3-4 minutes later.  We were prepared with umbrellas and coats - but it didn't make walking around fun.  We ended up covering nearly the same distance Sunday morning in an hour that we did in 4 hours Saturday afternoon/night.  I did find the Italian leather purse I so desperately wanted, at the price I wanted.  With that, we also learned that unless you are a true chocoholic, the hot chocolates in Florence are not for you. 

4. Expect your kids (or pregnant wife) to complain.
Poor Dave.  It turned out to be a case of the latter for him.  The girls were really, really, really good - especially given the weather and how much we were walking.  But I started cramping and feeling unhappy.  Then my mouth popped open and all these complaints started pouring out.  I also employed passive-aggressive behavior by walking to slow.  It was a case of "If Mama ain't happy...ain't nobody happy."  I think that was why he let me shop for a purse, despite his warning not to take forever.  I did and he only griped mildly.  Then we got dinner and everyone was happy again.

5. Even if you speak Italian perfectly, people will still look at you funny when you talk.
This isn't really a lesson we learned so much this weekend, but more of a gradual realization we've come to over the last four weeks.  No matter how well we speak the words, people still look at us like we are from Mars.  The good thing is, in the big cities, the majority of people speak English passably, so we don't HAVE to speak Italian.  I think people just can't get around how AMERICAN we look in the smaller cities so they just expect not being able to understand us.  Maybe that will go away, but if it doesn't, there is always Rosetta Stone.

Our trip concluded Sunday with a visit to Pisa, which was a HUGE hit.  We don't feel like we got much out of Florence, but being able to experience the leaning tower of Pisa saved the weekend.  (Not much to prepare there, just show up...so we were in the clear.)  Then the long trip home and if it has been light outside, we would have soaked in the mountain views.

We plan to visit Venice the weekend after Christmas, which will still be in full swing because they celebrate it here through Epiphany (January 6th).  Santa Claus is a fairly new occurrence, their age-old tradition is La Befana delivering gifts because supposedly she didn't make it in time to give the Baby Jesus her gifts with the Wisemen.  Rest assured, we will take all of our recently acquired lessons to heart.  We do have a leg up because Dave has already been there.

We have lots of pictures, which I hope to share with you soon (when I get them organized).  Perhaps I will put the best ones up for a vote as to which ones should have printed to add to our walls!!

For now - Buon Natale!!!

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