15 December - Over It

Despite going to sleep after midnight, we were up at 07:00, probably because of the bells.  Whilst packing, we were listening to a podcast about Nintendo and its rise to fame when the NES was released in the 1980s.  When we walked out to check out, Dewey and Clarita were already with their luggage downstairs.  Apparently we’d messed up our communication the night before, and they went out 15 minutes prior to when we expected them to.  The hotel was nice, but the entire time we were there, there was no functioning elevator, as they were putting in a newer, larger one.  It was fine with us, but Clarita definitely would’ve preferred not having to go up/down two flights of stairs every time coming or going to the hotel.

Our walk to the train station was pretty straightforward, to the northwest, going right past the Central Market (which we never had/made time to visit).  At the train station, we knew what we wanted to do, as we’d gone over the schedule the night before, plus run it by Dewey and Clarita at dinner (before all the wine).  The plan was to go Florence to Pisa, Pisa to Florence, Florence to Rome.  We thought Pisa was on the way to Rome, but it was more of a lateral move.  We had screenshots of the three trains we wanted to take, just to be able to show to the ticket agent.  There weren’t many people in line at the ticket office, but there weren’t many agents, either, so we started to get a bit concerned about how long this was taking.  Crystal looked for a bag check location whilst Justin waited in the ticket line.  We got our tickets just fine, but it was time consuming since we had 3 sets of 4 tickets, so during the process Crystal took her parents to the bag check-in location whilst Justin wrapped up purchasing the tickets.

Once Justin finished paying for the tickets, he went searching for Crystal and her parents, but couldn’t find them at first.  Eventually he saw Dewey and Clarita and walked down there to check his bag as well.  From there it was a long walk to platform 4 for our train to Pisa.  There was another train to Pisa on platform 3.  We wondered if maybe the westbound trains leave from the westernmost platforms (1-4)?  It would make sense.  Aboard the train, Justin’s phone fell out (the pocket lining on his jacket gave out), but he was very lucky that his phone fell only onto his fleece - maybe his camera bag worked as a table?  Whatever the case, this was the best-case scenario for his phone falling out of a pocket on his jacket.  It was one hell of a close call, as his phone, ID, credit card, and ATM card were in his phone case.

The ride to Pisa was an easy one.  Not surprisingly, most of the passengers got off at Pisa.  We knew generally where we were going, but we were also pretty sure most everyone was going to the same place as us, so we followed the masses to the North.  We stopped briefly at the Keith Haring mural of Tuttomondo, painted in 1989.  From there we continued north, across the river.  There was a small church or chapel right next to the river, Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina.  Everyone was taking the same route, and there were lots of people doing the same walk, including a large group of Indians or Pakistanis that were a chore for us to get around, but we finally managed.  There was a botanic garden or park or something on our right, but it didn't appear to be open.  The street we were on got progressively less busy (with cars) the closer we got to the Leaning Tower.

At the Leaning Tower, it was exactly as expected, but also very cool.  There is a huge lawn surrounding the complex on multiple sides, presumably so that there is an unimpeded view as well as a flat surface for reference.  Justin noticed as he was taking up-close pictures of the tower that he kept wanting to turn the camera such that the tower was straight, only to remember that the tower is not straight.  Interestingly, the flagpole atop the tower is straight, so once Justin noticed that, his zoomed in photos had a reference point.

The inside of the cathedral was much nicer than expected.  The tower gets attention because of its lean, but frankly, without the lean, it would be one of dozens or hundreds of bell towers dotting the landscape across Italy.  The inside of the cathedral was filled with matching rows of arches on either side, a nice wooden ceiling with square panels, and some nice artwork at the front portion of the church [sorry we don’t know the correct terminology].  We also went into the baptistery (where people are baptized) and the cemetery.  Inside the baptistery there was a stained glass window with a person that looked like 2020s Mel Gibson to us.

It was a short walk to Cantina Vasari, where we’d made 12:30 reservations for lunch.  When we went through our planned train itinerary at dinner the night before with Dewey and Clarita, we figured how long we’d be at certain places, how long walks would take, how long lunch would be, how much time we’d need to drop off and retrieve bags, etc., such that we didn’t miss any trains by 1 minute again.  In this process we realized that we needed to leave lunch by 14:00 to have a sufficient cushion to get back to the train station in time.  Because of this, we determined that we could/should go to lunch a little early, just to make certain we’d be done by our deadline.  But when we got to the restaurant a little after noon, they told us that the kitchen wasn’t open yet.  On the plus side, they could seat us, and they sat us outside in a covered section that had heaters.  So we were eating outdoors in Tuscany‚Ķtechnically.  

The first bottle of wine was a Valpolicella, by Giovanni Ederle.  It wasn’t our favorite, as it wasn’t as full-bodied as the reds we normally enjoy.  There was also a weird issue with our order.  Clarita wanted only a starter, and both of us and Dewey wanted a starter and a main.  Between the 4 of us, we had picked 4 different starters.  After the waiter took our order, he came back a minute later and told us that the restaurant policy was to cook only 3 different firsts per table.  In other words, if there was a group of 8, they wouldn’t make 8 different things, just 3, although of course there could be many orders of the same thing.  So we told them just to make Clarita’s starter a main, and then we’d have only 3 starters.  We’re not sure he totally understood, or perhaps he did understand and just thought we were being a bit too crafty, but he said he’d check and let us know.

Eventually it did work out, and we were able to order what we wanted.  Crystal ordered egg yolk ravioli (we discussed how this must be nearly impossible to make) and then steak with arugula and parmesan.  Dewey ordered tagliolini and then duck.  Justin ordered meat ravioli and then duck.  Clarita ordered tagliatelle with wild boar ragout.  Our second bottle of wine, Ai Confini del Bosco Bolgheri Rosso, by Mulini di Segalari, was more to our liking.  It was a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.  The duck was particularly tasty - it was wrapped in bacon, and very easy to cut.  Dewey surmised they aged the duck, which either doesn’t happen or isn’t allowed to happen in the US.

As we ate our meal, it started raining.  Both of us, but especially Justin, were completely done with the rain.  It had rained at some point in the day every day since we’d arrived in Italy, and it made things miserable because it was near-impossible to take photos, look at maps on the phone, and/or walk around with other tourists without constantly avoiding umbrellas.  When Crystal and Dewey got their coffees after lunch, the sugar packet had a saying “la farfalla: un biglietto amoroso piegato in due che cerca l'indirizzo di un fiore”, which, as best we can translate, means “the butterfly: a love note folded in two seeking the address of a flower”.  We all found that interesting.  Also interesting was the enormous restroom at the restaurant - it was literally almost as big as the hotel room we had in Florence.

Because it had started to rain harder, we asked the restaurant to call a taxi for us, such that we wouldn’t be soaked by the time we got to the train station.  We ended up at the train station a little earlier than we originally planned, and we might have been able to get an earlier train to Florence (the earlier train was running a bit late), but we didn’t really try to make it.  Instead we took in all of the amenities of the Pisa train station, including a vending machine full of condoms, scotch tape, usb cables, pantyhose, and first aid kits.  On the train ride back to Florence, everyone but Crystal fell asleep.

As planned, and hoped, once back in Florence, picking up our bags and finding our train platform to Rome was not an issue.  What was difficult, however, was finding the men’s room - Justin at first couldn’t find it at all, but then found it and determined it wouldn’t give change for a 2 Euro coin.  The train to Rome was pretty relaxed.  It was the same train line that we’d taken from Venice to Florence a few days prior.  There are fast trains that go down the middle of Italy, through all the hot spots, from Venice to Florence to Rome to Naples.  The same line might also connect Milan and Venice, but we’re not positive.  As we approached the Termini Station in Rome, everyone got up early, before we had “authorization” to enter the station, whatever that is.  Several of the trains in Italy had this same announcement, and we have no idea what they were actually checking for.

Outside in Rome, it was immediately clear to us that this was a bigger city, with lots of noise, traffic, etc.  Our walk also had more uphills and downhills.  We kept trading off with Clarita’s roller bag, with Crystal taking it the majority of the time so that Justin could navigate.  At first there was no rain on our walk, then a tiny bit, but then it started pouring rain with about 3-5 minutes left to our hotel.  Justin just stopped us under an eave, waiting for it to let up a bit before the last couple of minutes.  We could literally see the hotel at this point, so there was no point in getting a taxi, but there was also no point in walking in the middle of a downpour.  Again, we were totally over the rain.

At the hotel, we had to go up two flights of stairs again, as in Florence.  Our hotel, Maison Tritone, didn’t seem to have a 24/7 front desk, and the guy at the desk when we checked in seemed to have been waiting for us, so that he could go home afterwards.  He showed us what was what, and then went on his way.  The rooms were thankfully much bigger than in Florence.  Our room was quite warm, so we opened the window to the street to cool things down.  While the room did cool off, we heard lots of horns honking, tires on wet pavement, and it was like nails on a chalkboard.  [We realize that anyone much younger than us has, and probably never will have, any idea what that phrase means.]

Justin started to get antsy - he had been waiting for Italy, and Rome specifically, for years now - he first planned an itinerary for 2019 (basically a longer version of what we actually did that would have ended in Italy) and other years since then, only for our plans to change.  Now we were finally here, but nothing was accessible, at least in a practical manner.  Eventually he told Crystal he wanted to go out, rain or no rain.  So we walked over to Trevi fountain, and it was raining.  Then we walked to the Spanish Steps, where it was still raining.  We tried to find a place where at least we could eat and/or drink, and that’s when the rain intensified.  We were completely and utterly 100% over this shit.

Eventually we made our way to Pinsitaly Trevi, an inexpensive pizza place that had rave reviews, not far from our hotel.  There were no empty tables, but before we turned around and walked out, the proprietor told us someone was about to leave, and that it would be only 2-3 minutes.  So we waited, and then gleefully sat down and took off our wet coats and hats.  Crystal ordered fried squash blossoms and a diavola pizza; Justin ordered a pepperoni and salsiccia pizza.  Interestingly, pepperoni meant bell peppers, not the meat that is commonplace in the US.  We split a bottle of Montepulciano.  It stopped raining halfway through dinner.  Music was playing on the speakers, and we heard the Credence song “Have you ever seen the rain?”  We muttered “yes, way too [ ] much.”  

The owner was very nice, originally from Cuba.  We found this out because Justin thought he might be latinx based on his accent, and sure enough he was.  So many things on the menu looked great, so we considered that we might want to come back, but we knew there had to be a dozen other places that we wanted to try as well.  After getting back to the hotel, Crystal crashed, and Justin went out again, to take advantage of the light/no rain.  Who knew if that would be the “best” weather we’d have in Rome.  So he briskly walked to/through the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori, along the river and circus maximus, by the Colosseum, and back to the hotel, lastly through a traffic tunnel that was very loud but also mercifully dry.  He got back right around 00:00.

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