Sunday, October 15, 2006

It's 6AM in Rome




It's hard to believe that it was one month ago today and we were in Rome preparing for the Vatican tour. I remember the exciting taxi ride to the vatican, seeing the mile long line and thinking "do we have to wait in that line?" We had reservations which were arranged by Italy Source, our fabulous travel agent. We took our reservation number to a guard at the designated entrance and were very happy to hear that we did not need to wait in that long line.

Once inside the vatican museum lobby we had to purchase our tour fee and wait in a small area for our guide to give us the english version of the vatican tour. We all received wireless headsets and off we went to see the museum. The vast amount of art and riches the vatican has amassed over the years is phenomenal. The picture above is of the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum. There were maps covering the walls and many many people. 18,000 people go through the Vatican everyday.

The highlight of this tour was the Sistine Chapel. This is where Michelangelo spent years painting a number of scenes on the ceiling of a relatively small chapel. Upon entering the chapel you are told not to speak and no pictures are allowed. Once inside the chapel we were amazed to see this amazing ceiling that we had only heard about previously. it was an otherworldly experience.

The hard part was that there were lot's of people who did not understand the meaning of "please do not talk while inside the chapel." The guards inside had to "shush" people quite often. We didn't get any pictures, since they were not allowed, but we remember it well.

From the chapel we then went onto St. Peters Basilica. The grandure was again impressive. At this point in our trip, this was the largest and most ornate basilica we had been to and we were impressed. As our trip progressed I think that the most impressive duomo for me was Siena, while I think Jeff was most impressed by the duomo in Milan.

Oh well, it's 6AM on a Monday morning in Rome right now, but it's 9PM on a Sunday night here and I need to get ready for a busy week. Have to get my rest.

Bye for now,
Love,
Annette

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ever been stung by a Bee?


Have you ever been stung by a bee and had a reaction? Well, it's been a long time for me - but I did in 8th grade. I stepped on a bee and my foot swelled to more than twice it's size. Today it happened to Nikola.

At about 4:15 he and Ryan came to our house in a slight panic because Nikola was experiencing swelling in his face. We gave him some Benedryl and then the 3 of us hopped into the van and off we went to the Emergency Room at Chapman. I chose that one because it is so close. I made Ryan come with us because I was not sure if I would be able to get Nikola in if he got worse quickly.

The staff there were great. They took him immediately and loaded him up with drugs to counteract the reaction. Now I know that I am showing pictures of me with this blog, but it will give you a general idea of what he was starting to look like.

2 hours later, he was released and we brought him home. The swelling is down and he is very tired and will not need to carry an "epi" pin with him constantly.

Fortunately Nikola will recover and he will enjoy many more years around the pool - I just hope that he avoids bees!

Bye for now.
Annette

Friday, October 06, 2006

How I Miss Tuscany


Can it only be 2 weeks since we were in Tuscany? I guess so. Life has almost gotten back normal. Last night we went to the El Modena High School fottball game - they won!

We both had to work all 5 days this week - ugh.

Jeff went to Philadephia in the middle of the week.

And to finish the week, we had to choose between a surprise birthday party for Edie DeAvila or go to the Reverse Raffle for El M Wrestling. Although we already had our tickets for the Reverse Raffle, we decided to go to the birthday party. Good choice!

We drove with Nick, his son Greg and Greg's girl friend Jackie to the El Torito in Cerritos. Unfortunatley Mary couldn't go because she was not feeing well. We missed her, but were very happy to visit with Edie and Bob. They are both such wonderful people that it was an easy choice to make tonight.

It seems that whenever we are in a room where Bob & Edie are, the people in there are the most interesting people to talk to. Bob & Edie have raised a wonderful daughter, Lisa. Lisa is a pleasure to talk to. Both Jeff and I consider ourselves fortunate to have been included in this celebration.

Anyway, back to Tuscany! The days and nights there were magical and we will forever remember the numerous small hill towns, the winding roads, confusing road signs, and the great food and wines that we sampled.

Time to call it a day. Bye for now.
Love,
Annette

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Public Speaking


Back to School Night was tonight and as I have done for the past 3 years I again got up in front of a whole cafeteria full of parents and talked about Grad Nite. This year I was also plugging the Wrestling Boosters Reverse Raffle and Calendar that were on sale just outside the door. And since Jeff was in Philadelphia I put the Education Foundation hat on and quickly talked about them as well.

I have never been a very good public speaker and that is probably because I don't spend a lot of time planning what I'm going to say and I don't rehearse. I hope that in my rush to get "off the stage" that I get the message across. It feels as though I fit 10-15 minutes of information into 3 minutes.

Today I also had lunch with Nicky. It had been awhile. We went ot Citrus City Grille and Jim joined us. I have missed my weekly lunches with Nicky so it was nice to sit and talk to her today. Then after work she was here working on her homework which involved Excel Spreadsheet functions that I have never used. Together we figured it out.

It was a very full, busy, productive day today, but it is now time to go to bed.
Good night.
Love,
Annette

Monday, October 02, 2006

Penny


Penny, who will soon be turning, ten has been a source of great pleasure throughout the years. She is there everyday when I come home and is always happy to see me. Whether the day was a good one or a not so good one it's always a comfort to know that when I walk through the front door, Penny will be there smiling, wagging her tail and making me smile right back.

Thanks Penny!

Love,
Annette

Thursday, September 28, 2006

We are Back!


Well we made it back yesterday at about 6:30PM. The flight was uneventful, the line for immigration and then customs was fairly quick and after getting our luggage we made our way to the white curb and awaited our ride home in the limo. I have to admit that getting that limo was the way to go. It really helps with the stress level.

There was a 7PM meeting at school that we both chose to not attend for a change - we were just too tired. We both fell asleep early and we were both up and out of the house this morning early. And although we had to work today I know that I was able to get through the day and I have still retained that “vacation glow”.

During the last couple days of our trip we were already talking about the places that we wanted to visit next time and the places we wanted to revisit too. It was one of those vacations that will be remembered fondly in the years to come.

I found out that this blogging thing is not so difficult and I will try to keep it up, although you may get bored with the mundane things that I write about - it’s kind of fun to take a couple of minutes each day and reflect on all of the good things that happen. It helps put a damper on the negatives.

My walking group is getting together tonight for a walk and I am looking forward to walking and telling my friends all about our fun.

Bye for now.
Love,
Annette

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Windows & Doors


Venice is one of those very colorful cities where you can imagine that the saying “as different as night and day” came from. During the day it is bustling with people, smells, activity, noise and energy where as during the evenings after most of the visitors have left there is a calmness, wafting aromas from osterias, and generally relaxed feel. Both are desired and both are necessary when you visit Venice. I took advantage of the many windows decorated with flowers as we strolled the narrow streets during the day.

We are on the train now on our last full day in Italy on our way to Milan. We were picked up at our hotel’s dock and escorted to our seats in first class by Elizabeth. It is the best way to travel - no pressure. The train was waiting as it was one of the first one to go out this morning so the risk of pick-pockets was less.

So here I am on another train, writing about everything that I can remember.
Time to go for now.
Love,
Annette

Sunday, September 24, 2006

We Prepare to Leave Firenze


Here are a few places we visited while in Firenze (Florence). We are in the process of packing and recharging our electrical devices and recalling the great dinner we had last night.

Yesterday was a very full day. We first visited the Galleria dell’Accademia where the David is the prominent piece of art. Much to our disappointment we were unable to take pictures in this museum and therefore the only picture we can take of the David is the one of the copy in the square outside the Palazzo Vecchio. To walk around this amazing piece of art is breathtaking. The detail and the sense of reality is absolutely amazing and it was done in marble! It’s a must see.

From the Accademia we proceeded to the Piazza del Duomo where Jeff, Nick and I climbed the bell tower after which we sat in a nearby cafe and enjoyed a well deserved rest and drinks. After a short rest we moved onto the Uffizi where we spent a few hours be awed by the massive art collections. In this museum of museums we viewed Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, several Michelangelo’s, Leonardo di Vinci’s and Raphael’s. The tour ended with an amazing review of the genius of Leonardo di Vinci where they have a collection of his drawings and writings that covers so many different subjects that it is daunting.

After our tour of the Uffizi we worked our way back to the Hotel de la Ville where we are staying and rested before going to dinner. Last night we had yet another very good dinner at a restaurant called Sostanza which was recommended by a guest of Montebenichi in Tuscany. We were not disappointed as this was the place where we finally got a Florentine/Tuscan Steak. Needless to say, we enjoyed our dinner - once again. the steaks are so large that we had to split 1 for 2 people. This restaurant required reservations and it only sat 25-30 people and it was served at long tables. Although it was full of English speaking guests I think that was only because it was a Saturday night and Florence is empty of Italians for the weekend.

We leave for Venice in the next couple of hours so I must go for now.
Love,
Annette

Our Arrival to Venice


We have arrived in Venice! We were met at the train station by Alex, our transfer guide to the Hotel. We are staying at the Palazzo Sant’Angelo on the Grand Canal in Venice. Alex walked us to the dock where we caught our personal water taxi which dropped us off at the dock of the hotel. It was great that we did not have to lug our luggage all over the small streets and over the many bridges.

Alex suggested a location to catch a gondola and because the weather is good today we decided that we should go today instead of waiting until tomorrow when the weather might be so nice. The first thing we noticed upon our arrival in Venice was the number of large ships. Boy, those cruise ship people can be so.....

Anyway, we all know about them - right? Needless to say the crowds and vendors reminded Jeff and I of Skagway. The nice thing is that they are all getting back on their ships and we are still here. We did stop at a small pizzeria called Sansovino near Piazza San Marco where we ordered pizza to go. It was good.

The gondola ride started at 5:15 and lasted 40 minutes. Our “driver” was Fabio who described some of the buildings and areas that we passed. It was one of those things that you must do if you ever come to Venice. The views from the gondola are very different than from the small streets. Although I do admit that the views from the small streets are good as well, just different.

We are now resting and recharging things as we wait for dinner. Mostly I am resting my feet. Although I thought that I was prepared for lots of walking prior to this trip that seems to be my one problem. Oh well, the diet starts on Friday!

Bye for now.
Love,
Annette

Florence and the Climb


441 steps to the top, 441 steps back down and Jeff, Nick and I did it! That’s right - I made it too. My thanks to Michele, Leslie and Carmen for their aid in preparing me for all of this walking. Do my feet hurt? Yes. Is it worth it once you get to the top? You bet!

Nap time!
Love,
Annette

There’s Not Enough Time


Thunder and lightening greeted us at Montebenichi upon arrival, but what a fabulous place to stay. Marco met us at the door and directed us to our upgraded rooms on the 3rd floor. Here we found a small sitting area and then as we progressed up the steps (about 7) we came into our bedroom which had a very comfortable king sized bed. I do have to say that we have had king sized beds in all 3 places so far and they seem to be getting softer as we move north. The bed in Rome was pretty hard. Nicky might like to know that the bed in Iowa was by far the hardest I have had to sleep in so far, but Rome was not too far off.

At Montebenichi, because it is so far from everything else, has a cocktail hour every evening beginning at 6:30. It was here that we met other guests. We met people from Hollywood, Napa, New Jersey and New York, but the most interesting person we have met so far was a gentleman from Liverpool named Franco Ingram. This old chap is a veteran of WWII and was a prisoner of war in Italy where he escaped once, was in the process of escaping a 2nd time when the Italians signed the armistist and he was “released”. He spent the next few months being sheltered by the local people in the Montebenichi area. He shared many stories with us of his time here as well as his time as a Consul for the British Consulate.

Our first day in Tuscany started pretty early as we wound our way through the area south to Banfi, which is south of Montalcino. We had a tour of this ultra modern winery which is set in an old castellina. The winery is famous for their Brunello. Although it was very interesting it reminded us of Mondavi in Napa.

From Banfi we worked our way north and west to San Antimo where the Gregorian Monks chant. It was a very tranquil setting and the weather on this day cooperated by providing white fluffy clouds against bright blue skies for amazing backdrops to some wonderful old buildings. From San Antimo we went to Montalcino where we toured an old castle and climbed to the top of a tower.

From Montalcino we went to Pienza, which is famous for pecorino cheese. We did not buy any, but had sampled it in a panini at Montalcino. From Pienza we worked our way back to Montebenichi. At cocktails that evening Franco was sharing more stories with us and then offered to let us read some of the stuff that he had written about his time in Tuscany and his time as a prisoner of war in Italy. We promised to try to read them - they were fairly short. That night we had a fun dinner at a local family restaurant in a restaurant called Antico Portale just north of Capable. A very enjoyable evening. After returning, I read most of one of his stories and he recollection of detail was either very good or he was very good at making up details. The next morning I finished one of the stories and Jeff read part of the longer story about his time in Tuscany.

The next day, after another wonderful breakfast we were able to open a wireless connection and talk to Nicky. It was great to talk to her. Unfortunately we were unable to get a video conference going as the satellite would not support the band width it required. It’s funny that in Rome we could not get wireless, but where we are in a very remote area we could. Once back into the city of Florence - again - no wireless.

On Thursday we were able to go to Siena, San Gimignano and then to RDA before heading back to Montebenichi. Siena was more of a true working city than San Gimignano, but both were very interesting. Again the day cooperated with clear skies and only a few white fluffy clouds. It did get fairly warm that day and the air conditioned car was appreciated. Jeff has always been a very good driver and I do have to say that having him drive was comforting. He handled the Italian style of driving very well.

That night we finally had the opportunity to have dinner at the local restaurant - so we did not need to drive any where. Franco, being a rather fragile older gentleman, did not have a car and was eating there every night. At the cocktail hour I invited him to dine with us if he was able. He accepted. We had another wonderful meal where we ate too much and drank too much, but Franco kept us entertained of more stories. His stories ranged from being a Prisoner of War in Italy to some experiences as a consul where he had to deal with a witch doctor in Nigeria at one time. You know that someone has lived a very full life when he can talk about such a range of experiences.

On our last day at Montebenichi started with our first “chat” with Will. We were only able to chat through instant message - but it worked just fine. I was happy to hear from him. We also spent a little time talking to Nicky via IM. Marco, the hotel owner, gave Mary and I each a small satchel of lavender from their supply that they dry personally on the property. Franco came out and also helped send us off. He was a very nice gentleman and we will treasure the memories he shared with us.

From Montebenichi we are off to Firenze (Florence). The maps that we have do not have a great deal of detail so the closer we got to Firenze, the less I could navigate from the maps. Kind of frustrating for me, but we were able to drop Nick off near the Embassy so that he could get a replacement Passport and then we were also able to find our way to the airport, catch a taxi to our hotel and check in.

It’s pretty late right now and we have had a very full day of travel and a little walking in Florence plus another great dinner, but that is left for tomorrows journal.

Good night for now,
Buona sera,
Annette

Firenze


Last night we had another great dinner at a restaurant called Il Latini where they hang huge hams from the ceiling. There are only 2 seatings - one at 7:30 and the other at 9:30. We opted for the 9:30 seating and as we were waiting out in the crowded alley as the 7:30 crowd left the restaurant much to our surprise were people we know from Orange. Jodi and Vince Ferragamo were there with a good sized group (8-10) people. We haven’t seen them since our early softball days so it was nice to talk to them.

This restaurant sites people at long tables and it is very noisy, but they serve good quantities of food. They also serve a table wine like Macaroni Grill, but they do a very good job of giving you a variety of foods. The one thing we have found is that most of our dinners have been very reasonably priced.

Last night was an experience in new drinks. We started with Belini’s at a restaurant that has been open since 1733 called Gilli - very tasty. Then at il Latini we had a jug of table wine, some very good Vin Santo, and finished off with Asti Spumonti. In addition to that I think we had 4 large bottles of water. I think that we all enjoyed all of the food and drink and that we didn’t over indulge in anything.

Today we are going to the Academia and then to the Ufisi for tours. The picture of David above is only a copy and we should be able to see the real thing today.

Well it’s time to go. Bye for now.
Love,
Annette

Arrivederci Roma!


9:15 AM and we are on the train to Chiusi on the edge of Tuscany. We had an early breakfast, checked out and rushed to the train station only to wait for about an hour before the train arrived for boarding. We now know not to set our clocks by the arrival of the trains. It’s amazing that when you are the foreigner in another country you find the other foreigners rather easily. They have the same dazed and confused look on their faces that we do. We met a nice couple from Philly - Steve and Marci - and they were at the end of their Perrilli tour. After talking to them about the schedule that they had to maintain and the variety of the cities they visited, we were even more happy with our tour arrangements. I think that they were “seeing” 7 or 8 cities in 10 days.

Rome was a great city to visit on our first trip to Italy, but I don’t think that we will need to spend as much time on our next trip. We saw quite a bit in the time we had.

On the train we were reserved in first class. The cabin is very nice, the windows large and comfortable. It’s now 9:25 and we are in the countryside already. For a country that shows as many towns on their maps as Italy, it is amazing that there is so much open space between towns. And that there is so much open space just outside one of their largest (if not the largest) cities.

Hopefully by the time we get to our castella in Tuscany they will have a wireless connection that I will be able to download all of this blogging into.

Bye for now!
Love,
Annette

Ah! Roma!

It’s been a couple wonderful days in Rome. It is the end of the 2nd day here and we have seen a bit of rain, but that hasn’t stopped us from touring around the City. Yesterday we walked and walked and spent a bit of time at the ruins. The size and scale of that area was impressive. Last night we had a very nice dinner at a small restaurant just down the street from out hotel called Hosteria Roma. Most of the patrons were Italian and our waiter Carlo was a character, but very good. He basically told us what we should eat - individually - and he was right. The food was very good. We finished the evening with what appeared to be homemade lemoncello.

Today we were up and out the door by 8:30 am with Barbara, our personal tour guide for the city. Again it rained off and on all day. Although we did revisit some of the areas we saw yesterday, Barbara was able to tell us what we actually saw! Her knowledge of the history of Rome really helped us understand the significance of the artifacts, churches, and monuments we were seeing. We toured the interior of the Capitoline Museum for about 4 hours in the morning while it rained outside. Rome has done a very good job of retaining their history. We were able to view the ruins from above during this tour. After the museum we went into the Jewish Ghetto area for lunch. The restaurant we went to had a good selection of Roman and Jewish foods. We all ate very well. From there we worked our way back to our hotel stopping in several small churches, Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona. This took another 4 hours and yes my feet are sore as well as my legs, lower back, etc. After returning from our 8 hour tour Jeff and I almost immediately fell asleep for about an hour until we received a call that our tickets for the Vatican tour came through.

It ended up that our timing couldn’t have been better as it rained constantly for the rest of the afternoon. After such a great and filling lunch we are happy to have a simple dinner, close to the hotel. Time to go find out if Nick and Mary want to go upstairs for refreshments. Bye for now.

We’ve made it to Switzerland

16:25 Swiss time; 1:25AM Orange Time - we have arrived in Switzerland and are now awaiting our flight to Rome. We should only have to wait for another 20 minutes or so. Hey a big thanks to Ivana - the drug worked - I slept very well. Jeff had to wake me up for breakfast. Another big thanks to Nicky for the IPOD - a life saver from boring movies and bag music on the plane. I had my own and that worked great! Oh yeah - and thanks Chip for all of your blogging and to Jim for showing me the easy way! Well enough ignoring those people I’m traveling with - talk to you soon! Arrivederci! Annette

9/14/06 We are at the airport...

So the limo ride was AWESOME! Here are Nick & Mary. Harold picked us up promptly at 3PM and then we went to the Stavros’ and picked them up. Here they are in the limo.

We got to LAX in record time and are now sitting at Gate 101, it’s 4:35 and we leave at 8PM. Not bad for all the hype about long security lines. The good news is that we are that much closer to really going on vacation.