We spent our last night in Venice wandering around (not lost though) and we stopped at an enoteca, which is a wine bar. There are quite a few around. Since people generally don't eat dinner until 8, these enotecas are like a happy hour place. This is where we met Marco the wine guy and tasted a magical wine called Brunello. Some of you winos may have heard of it. They are made in the Tuscany region of Italy. He recommended it and it was one of those things where you take a sip and go, "Damn! What is that?" Of course it is expensive; a bottle of Brunello runs about 30-50 euros, some of the good vintages are much, much more. Also since it was happy hour they had some complimentary appetizers; which Matt polished off quickly. He would ask me, "What's in this?" Then he would smell it. I said, "Just EAT it, Matt!"
It turns out that his favorite thing on the trip would be the prosciutto and buffalo mozarella. I ordered a caprese salad almost everywhere I went and the first time Matt goes, "What's that white stuff?" "Mozarella," I said. "The good stuff." Eventually he tried it and decided he loved it. This is ironic because I have bought buffalo mozarella many times before to put on homemade pizza and he would NEVER eat it!
So at the wine bar, Marco tells us about a restaurant to go to for dinner, so we did. It was excellent; that is another thing I noticed - Italians were very friendly and very helpful and always at the ready to give you some advice.
The other thing I noticed is that they love their dogs here; of course living in a little city most people have little dogs, and many go without a leash, they just follow their masters around. I saw a beautifully glamorous women, wearing a long gray trench coat and celebrity style sunglasses. In her arms she carried not a Fendi purse, but a small baby pug. This pug was wearing a lavender cashmere sweater with chocolate brown rabbit fur trim. In short, the dog was dressed better than me. This women swoops past me and I look straight into the pug's eyes and she looks at me with smug delight as if to say, "Don't you wish you were me?"
About the fashion... Yes, the Italians dress better. They look GOOD! They like to wear scarves and high boots and know how to accessorize. Word to the fashionistas - purple and gray are the colors for fall. They also are thin; this does seem like a paradox but as I paid attention I noticed that they eat, but not huge portions. They don't eat junk food; they don't eat snacks. They walk everywhere. They stand to drink their cappuccino at the bar. They take their time when they do eat. At first I wonder how they could have so many courses. First an appetizer, the pasta dish, then meat/fish dish, then salad, the dessert. The portions are definitely smaller. At one restaurant we decided to do all the courses and the meal lasted 2 hours. At the end I felt okay; I wasn't stuffed, but I certainly wasn't hungry either.
So after 3 days of Venice we left. As we left I heard the flood sirens go off as it started to rain. They have stage risers lined up in the middle of the main streets and I didn't realize what they were for until I asked. It was for the high water, maybe another reason why everyone wears their boots over their jeans. I have seen pictures of people kayaking across Piazza San Marco and it is hard to imagine how they deal with that every year. Weather wise, we lucked out. It only rained (drizzled) 2 days of our trip which happened to be on days we traveled by train, from Venice to Florence, and then from Florence to Rome.
We took the train to Florence (3 hours) and arrived early evening. Again our hotel was easy to find because it was not far from the train station. Our room was much larger this time, but it was near the street so you could hear all the traffic. Florence has a fairly compact city center so it is very easy to walk to all the sites. But now we had to watch out for cars and Vespas. We wandered down to the Ponte Vecchio and walked across the bridge. The whole bridge is one big jewelry shop, tons of gold, most of it very expensive. Needless to say, we didn't buy much on this trip because of the exchange rate; if the dollar and the euro had been even the prices would have been similar to most cities back home. I don't remember where we ate, but some of the best meals we had were in Florence. That is what we spent most of our time doing... walking around looking for things to eat. I have to admit, of the 16 days we spent in Italy, I only went into 1 museum, the Uffizzi gallery in Florence. (Sorry, Mom.) And I wasn't that thrilled either. Sorry again. I can appreciate Michelangelo, Donatello, Caravaggio (I did like the Caravaggio) and Botticelli, but I don't really like museums. Correction, I don't like being crowded into museums with scads of people and herded from room to room. Because the gallery is so famous, there are always tons of people. Crowds wear me out. Also, I can only look at so many baby Jesus's and Marys before I go, "Oh whoopee, another baby Jesus." Ditto with all the portraits of people I've never heard of. The one exception was a portrait of this fat Medici baby holding a sparrow. (The Medicis were the wealthy banking family of Florence that basically owned everything and made sure that all the art they owned and commissioned stayed in the city; which is why about 60% of Renaissance art is here and will never leave.) That painting made me laugh; it was incredibly life like. Many of the paintings were very striking, if not disturbing. I realize people back then didn't have digital cameras, artists had to paint history, so of course a lot of what they painted was commissioned by the church or depicting a historical event, which usually consisted of bloody battles and people's executions. Lovely stuff.
More on Florence and our hike up the mountain later...plus, the best Gelato in the world!