A Long Long Day

A Long Long Day

Not much to report today. We got up and rode the shuttle to the airport, we checked in, our flight was on time, we sat on the plane for 8 hours. Now we are sitting in the O’hare terminal hoping that everything will continue to be on-time for today.

We told the kids this morning that they were essentially getting up at midnight back in Iowa. So by the time we get hope tonight (hopefully by 7pm) they will have been up 19 hours. Josh of course immediately volunteered to stay up until midnight just so he could say he had stayed up 24 hours.

Summary Report:

Favorite City of the Trip:

Zermatt and the Matterhorn - Dad Venice - Mom Rome - Josh Rome - Kaia

Favorite Meal

Casa Masi -- Dad The Pici pasta really did it for me. breakfasts and fruit in Paris -- Kaia Pesto Ravioli at Grampis -- Kaia Barbeque night in Zermatt -- Josh

Worst Meal

The venice meal with Ulrings -- Dad

Souveniers Purchased:


- Totti Shirt
  • Roma baseball hat
  • Italia Sweatshirt
  • Swiss army knife
  • Swatch
  • Mirror
  • New dress
  • Ciao Bella shirt
  • Shirt
  • purse
  • necklace
  • purse
  • necklace
  • swatch
  • Italia warmup suit
  • Capri pants

A Day in Brussels

A Day in Brussels

We got up early this morning so we could have our breakfast and catch a cab to the Leonardo DaVinci airport. We had ordered a cab the night before so it was waiting for us right at 7:30. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time and got our first taste of how they allocate checkin space in a european airport. The trick is that all the checkin desks are common and the airlines are just assigned a desk or two for their flights for the day. After some looking we finally figured this out and found a display board that told us the number of the desk that Brussels Airline was working from.

After some initial difficulties with their computers we finally moved to a new desk and got checked in. Three security checkpoints later we were waiting at our gate for our flight to be called. The Brussels Air plane was an old 737 that was a 3 and 3 configuration with about 6 inches of legroom.

We arrived at the Brussels airport and were reminded how nice and new and clean it seems. After all the initial security in rome we were surprised that we did not need to go through customs or passport control after arriving in Brussels. In order to get our luggage we had to walk a very long way, after getting our luggage it was a very short walk to the hotel shuttles and our holiday inn van had just arrived.

The Holiday Inn was quite nice. The lobby was clean and nice and they had Internet! We were initially disappointed with our non-smoking room that smelled like an all night poker game had just wrapped up, but after opening the window and putting the air conditioner on vent it didn’t take very long to get things aired out to the point where it was OK.

In addition to the swimming pool the pool area also had a hot tub. This was a great way to relax a bit and any thoughts of catching a train to downtown for more site seeing vanished. We ate at the hotel bar for supper as we didn’t really feel like paying 40 euros for the evening buffet. Josh and I had a bacon cheeseburger, Kaia had pureed vegetable soup and pasta, Jane had shrimp skewers. The kids were very excited because they could get chocolate milk! Their first milk in many days. Jane and I had draft beers of the local Leffe variety. I had ‘Leffe brune’ and Jane had ‘Leffe Blonde.’

After dinner we retired to the room for a final night of 500. Josh and I were victorious again! We won two games quite convincingly with Josh carrying me on his back most of the way.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome

We could subtitle today Information Overload. We spent today with our guide Tony and learned so much it is almost impossible to describe.

The major sites on our itinerary for today included: - Church of San Clemente - Flavian Amphitheater (Colloseum) - Roman Forum - Lunch on the Apian Antica - The Catacombes

Things we learned today:
  • Christmas and the Saturnalia. At the temple of Saturn we learned that christmas
  • Spaghetti Westerns
  • San Clemente
  • San Lorenzo (patron saint of cooks)
  • The founding of Rome and the vestal virgins
  • Story of San Sebastian

After our long day of touring we finally walked next door to the hotel to see the pantheon. It was cool but after a full day of interesting stories and explanations from tony it was a bit of a letdown. Kaia really wanted to visit some of the exclusive shops along the street near the Spanish Steps. We had also decided that Kaia needed something to replace the green duffle that had been causing troubles the whole trip. So we found a relatively inexpensive piece that was larger than her carryon size at a shop along the way.

Josh and I were charged with bringing the luggage back to the hotel while Jane and Kaia continued on their shopping quest. I told Jane to buy me a new pen at the Mont Blanc store, but with prices starting at over 300 euros she and Kaia were too intimidated to even go in the store!

After our day of touring and shopping we headed for our dinner reservation at Alfredos Originale. The home of Fettucine Alfredo! Kaia was so excited she could hardly stand it, for her it was like a religious pilgrimage. I was also excited to see how my recipe compared with Alfredo’s. Alfredo’s was good but very different from mine. It was very light on the cream, but heavier on the butter and Parmiagano Reggiano.

Touring the Vatican

Touring the Vatican

The day started out on a bad note when Tony called to tell us that our guide for the day was sick. So, instead of touring the ancient roman ruins we decided to tour the vatican museum on our own. We decided that would be the easiest place to do an audio tour to get the most out of the day without a guide.

Before leaving the hotel we asked the concierge for dinner recommendations for someplace indian or Thai. We are so burned out on pasta that we are delaying our long anticipated trip to Alfredo’s (home of fettucine alfredo) until tomorrow night. We have a recommendation for an Indian restaurant called Maharajah. The concierge will make reservations while we are touring today.

The Vatican and St. Peters are within pretty easy walking distance of our hotel so we have a quick breakfast in the hotel breakfast salon and then head out. Even though it is just 9:00 the crowds are 2/3 of the way around the outer ring of statues at St. Peters when we get there. Not being very prepared we just get in back of the line and prepare ourselves for a wait.

After about 2 minutes in line we hear an english voice asking people near us if they would like to avoid the long lines and get a tour of the vatican in english. The 10:00 tour is just starting he said. We knew this was a bit of a risk, but since we had already committed to pay for a guide today we figured this would be better than standing in line all day and trying to follow an audio tour through the vatican museum.

It turned out to be a reasonably good decision. Our guide was a young women from Canada named Sandra who graduated with an art history degree from Queens college in Canada. The tour only cost 13 euros per person plus entry into the museum. In the end Josh did not cost anything and kaia was reduced price.

We started the tour in front of the Obelisk in St. Peters square. This obelisk came from Egypt as a gift many years ago. The egyptions asked for it back and rome refused. Unfortunately the the obelisk was not centered properly in front of St. Peters and so the pope decided it must be moved. The obelisk weighed 300 metric tons and 500 romans showed up to help move the obelisk. thousands of romans showed up to watch and the pope swore everyone to silence under pain of death so that the workmen could concentrate. (the only time that many romans have ever been quiet) After they had moved the obelisk, but just as they were raising it into its new position the ropes started to fray. everyone was absolutely silent until one man broke his vow to yell out that they should put water on the ropes to lubricate them. This saved the day and the man was not beheaded but was given a yearly salary in gratitude from the pope.

After that short story we walked around and away from St. Peters to the American Bar where we paid our guide and she told us that once we had paid here she would go stand in the security line to hold our places for approximately 40 minutes, after which time we could join her in the line. This was the point where more than one person in the group became a little suspicious that we might never find her in the line once we handed over the cash. 30 gullible tourists at 38 dollars a pop would be a pretty good mornings work!

Nevertheless Sandra was there in line or us 40 minutes later and even a bit longer than that as the security line was moving slowly this morning. After getting into the museum we realized that the really long line we were in this morning was only for the free visit to St. Peters and we could have come over here ourselves. Nevertheless Having Sandra as our guide turned out to be great. We learned a lot from her about the things that we stopped to see. She explained to us right away that this was just going to be the highlights and we would not stop to see everything. In fact to see everything in the museum for 45 seconds would take 10 years.

  • pine cone garden
  • the body statue -- inspiration for Rodin’s The Thinker
  • Nero’s bathtub
  • The Rafael rooms - Michaelangelos rival that painted the scholars
  • The Sistine Chapel

By the time we got out of the Sistine chapel it was 3:30 and our two hour tour had lasted four and a half hours. We came right out of the chapel by the line to take the elevator up to the stairs leading up the cupola. Another 320 stairs to climb to the very top. the view from the top of St. Peter’s was spectacular.

After the climb and the view and the heat we were all more than a little dehydrated and hungry, luckily there was a (rather expensive) snack bar part of the way down. we bought some pop and water and then took some pictures by the statues of the apostles. when we got to the bottom of the stairs we came right out into the basilica so we looked around for a while but decided to pass on the trip through the crypt. We headed back towards our hotel with the idea of getting a snack along the way.

For dinner tonight we had a reservation at Maharajah, an Indian Restaurant. It was such a nice change of pace that everyone thought the food was delicious. Josh and Kaia had Chicken Shahi Korma. I had the Madras chicken curry. I was going to order the vindaloo chicken again but the manager told me that vindaloo was the hottest, 80% chili peppers and 20% tomatoe. The Madras was second hottest and was hot enough for me. Jane had a dish caled ‘Murg Peshwari’ a Kashmiri style curry with oriental herbs, capsicum, onion and tomato. Josh seemed to like that one even more than the chicken Korma. We are making a curry lover out of him yet.

The restaurant was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel so we had time to stop for a gelato on the way home. We had a chance to see the Tivoli fountain just as it was getting dark. We were all very tired after a long hot day of walking so we were ready for bed by 10:00.

Mamma Mia We are in Pompei

Mamma Mia We are in Pompei

This morning dawned bright and sunny. Once again the view of the Bay of Naples from our deck was spectacular. As we were eating breakfast we saw a cruise ship coming into the harboor. it looked like they would be tendering directly into Sorrento.

We got up early so we could meet our guide for a tour of Pompei. We arrived at Pompei right at 8:30, purchased our tickets, and looked for our guide. It turned out that we were looking for her in the wrong place. She was at the Camping Zeus parking lot (where we parked) and we were at the gate.

Our guides name was Patricia (Pah Tree tsee aah). She gave us a very good tour and turned out to be very quotable.

Moma Mia its hot! Moma Mia we must get away from the enemy (the other tourists)

Pompei was hot and busy even though we were some of the first people in line for tickets. But it was still very interesting and a fun tour again. It was even better after having read Harrison’s book about Pompei.

Highlights of Pompei
  • theater
  • the baths
  • houses

After the tour Patricia gave us a lunch recommendation for a restaurant right near the Cameo factory we had visited five years ago. She introduced us as her friends to the Maitre De and told him to take good care of us. We got off to a very good start when Jane asked for a Coke Light and he responded that they had Pepsi! Our first Diet Pepsi in many days! After that the rest of the lunch, Napoli style pizza was really irrelevant.

We walked around a few of the shops and then headed for our car. We knew we were a little ahead of schedule but there really was not time for any additional touring if we wanted to be in Rome by 5:00.

Thankfully I had been able to follow the directions the guy at Renault gave me and programmed in the right location for the drop off. It was in the same area as the airport but was next to a cow pasture! The office seemed to be some kind of cheap warehouse space they had rented with a bit of covered parking for the returned vehicles. After we inspected our car and signed over the lease the attendant drove us to the airport and dropped us off near the taxi line.

We headed for the start of the taxi queue and were met by a driver who told us it would be 90 euros for a ride downtown for all four of us with our luggage. That was much higher than we expected so we went inside to regroup and try to learn about the Rome shuttle service we had read about. We finally gave up and decided to pay the 90 dollars to just get going. On our way to the line we ran into a driver who told us he would take us for 65 euros. He appeared to be wearing a taxi drivers license around his neck, but he took us to the parking lot rather than the taxi line. We were really wondering if this guy was legit but he got us downtown in just 35 minutes for the agreed on price.

Our hotel, Albergo Santa Chiara, is right behind the Pantheon. When we checked in, the two managers were looking at us and their list of customers and speaking angrily as if to say ‘what are we going to do with them?’ I think it worked in our favor as they gave us one of their three apartments. We have a main room with TV and two pull out beds, a middle room with another bed, bathroom, and kitchen. However the porter told us “chicken is locked.” Finally, we have a master bedroom. So we have a great room for our last three nights of touring.

We all agreed that we were really really tired of pasta and heavy italian food. Unfortunately we did not have our Rick Steve’s book nor had we asked at the front desk about alternative food sources. So we settled for walking to Piazza Navonna to see what they had. We found a restaurant that offered hamburgers and chicken along with traditional italian food.

As we were sitting at our table waiting for service Kaia noticed a man drawing caricatures in the middle of the piazza. She went to talk to the guy who told her he would draw both of them for 20 euros. So, while we waited for our food Josh and Kaia each had a caricature drawn. They are both very good. Josh is a soccer player and Kaia is a runner.

Since we were seated on the outside table right next the the main traffic around the Piazza we were inundated with sales people trying to sell us flowers, and all kinds of glowing and buzzing things. In addition we had fun watching the people selling scarves and fake Prada purses playing cat and mouse with the two police officers patrolling the piazza. Everytime they would get their bags arranged on the side walk we would suddenly see a wave of them scooping up bags and heading down the sidewalk. Followed by one of the officers. As quickly as the officer passed they were back putting their wares down again.

Road Trip to Sorrento or Happy Birthday to Dad

Road Trip to Sorrento or Happy Birthday to Dad

Today we had a very long drive. We left Tuscany and headed all the way south bypassing Rome and Naples to Sorrento. This is the small city that we stopped at on our cruise with Brian and Holly five years ago so we were excited to see the city again and try to find a few of the places we remembered.

Our hotel, Settimo Cielo, was nice and clean but not spectacular. The View from the deck off our hotel room WAS spectacular. The hotel is built right into the side of the cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. Looking out at the ships and the lights along the bay was really nice.

The hotel also had a small pool which gave the kids a chance to cool off and burn off some of the energy they had accumulated over the long drive from Tuscany. They had the coolest lounge chairs by the pool. Each chair had its own little adjustable sun shade built into it so if you wanted to read and shade your face you could flip it up and adjust it accordingly.

After we had rested up we walked into the shopping district in search of a nice bottle of Limoncello. We actually found one in the shape of a cello and so we have that as a nice souvenir to bring home. The streets were as narrow as I remembered, but were much more crowded than I remembered from a few years ago.

We thought we had a good general idea of where the restaurant we had eaten at was but it took us a few false starts before we finally found the right place. The restaurant is called La Lanterna and they seemed very happy that we had come back to have dinner with them again after five years. The food was good, but not as good as our memories had created. But we have had some exceptional meals on this trip and I think pasta burnout was starting to set in. I had some really nice Cannelonni which could have and should have been enough. Instead I had some Red Snapper for my secondi which was a bit on the tough and fishy side.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel to get a good night sleep knowing that we had to get going early in the morning.

A Day of Rest

A Day of Rest

Today the sun was out and it looked like it was going to be our first beautiful dry clear day. A good day to hang around the apartment and do laundry. Maybe today we actually had a chance to get everything to dry for us!

After doing laundry and reading, I finished Three Cups of Tea this morning, we headed in to Monteone for some lunch and hoping to find an internet point. We arrived on an extremely slow day the weekly market was just closing down when we arrived but almost everything else in town was closed. No internet point, not public library. We had a small lunch at someplace fairly forgettable.

We had one of the nicest dinners of the trip tonight at Casa Masi just down the road from Il Lebbio. We definitely are getting the hang of european dinners and we had a little something from every course. For our antipasti we had some bruschetti for primi I had pici pasta with a beautiful meat sauce, and kaia and josh had pici with a sheep cheese and basil. Definitely worth trying to find some pici pasta to use at home! For the Secondi We had steak, Jane and I both had fillet with a porcini mushroom on top. Actually the mushroom was the only disappointment as it was a bit mushy. For dolci Kaia and I had an amazingly rich chocolate cake, and josh had a fruit pudding. I also ordered a little Grappa as a digestif. We could have and should have walked home after dinner to work off the calories!

Tonight Josh and I finally recorded our first victory in 500! After days of bad cards we were finally victorious.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

The word for today is ‘Schiapito,’ which in english means strike. The strike I am talking about is a gas strike. Something I had never heard about before. But had the effect of putting damper on what was otherwise an absolutely beautiful day.

We took off by 8:00 this morning toward Cinque Terre which is an italian national park consisting of 5 small villages along the Mediterranean. To get there we drove two hours to La Spezia to take a short 10 minute train ride to Riomaggiore, the first of the cities. As we got into La Spezia it started to rain. We were also down to 1/8 of a tank of gas. As we drove through town I noticed that all the gas stations were closed. This was very curious to me until Jane said rather offhandedly ‘they do have gas strikes in Italy occasionally.’

As usual it was difficult to find parking around the train station, but after driving around for a while we found one relatively close. We got our tickets and hopped the first train to Riomaggiore. When we got there the clouds were at about 500 feet and we heard thunder. In Riomaggiore you walk through a short tunnel and then take an elevator to the top of the town. From the top there is a beautiful view of the ocean, mountains and vineyards surrounding this little town.

Our plan for the day was to hike the trails between the first 4 of the five cities and then take the train to the last city to avoid the most difficult part of the hike. Unfortunately it started to POUR as we were walking down main street. So, rather than stand in the middle of the road under our umbrellas we got a covered seat and bought some hot chocolate. While sitting at the table we heard a couple of guys from Virginia talking. They said they left Rome a day early to avoid the gas strike. When I asked them about the strike they said ‘didn’t you hear!?’ ‘You can’t buy any gas until tomorrow morning at 7AM.’ This didn’t do my worry gene any good at all so we started looking into getting a hotel room right there in Riomaggiore. No pajamas, no clean clothes, no toothbrush or anything. A real adventure. The first two places we checked were completely booked, but the third place had a small apartment available. When I inquired about the gas strike she told me that stations on the autostrada and some 24 hour stations would be open after 7:00 that night. So after some thought we decided to postpone our confirmation of the apartment. We confirmed her information about the gas strike and availability of gas at the national park office.

So, feeling as relieved as I could in a country where we don’t understand the news we set out on our hike in a very light drizzle. The first part of the hike, between Riomaggiore and Manarola is a very easy and short walk on a well paved trail. The best news was as we were hiking along we could see blue sky offshore headed our direction! There was not much to see in Manarola so we continued our hike toward Corniglia. This leg of the hike was only slightly more difficult and a little longer, until we arrived at the Corniglia train station. To get from the train station to the main part of town you could either walk a winding road or take 500 stairs!

Having hoped, but missing, the shuttle bus We opted for the road over the stairs. At the top of the stairs we found the pretty town square and the restaurant Cecio! Pesto was invented here in Cinque Terre so of course there were lots of pesto options on the menu. It was very good! Josh and Kaia had pesto spagetti; Jane and I had linguine with pesto. We ate outside under an awning and had a beautiful view down the valley to the ocean.

One of the most remarkable things is the walls in this area. There are literally thousands of walls built to make it possible to grow grapes and other fruits and vegetables. It would take Shane and his crew a hundred years to build all those walls. We also saw some cute little ‘roller coaster’ vehicles, single rail electric powered cars for getting the crops up and down the sides of the hills. We saw oranges and lemons and lots of other vegetation.

After lunch and some wine we headed off toward city number four, Vernazza. This was definitely the longest and most difficult part of the hike for the day. And the sun came out in full force just in time to get us all hot and steamy along the way. The hike was even slower and more difficult than usual because of the mud and slippery rocks. However, along the way we had some spectacular views!

The hike to Vernazza took us an hour and forty five minutes and we were all very glad to get to town to find some drinks and gelato. We also found two other fun items for purchase. At a gastronome we bought some pesto in a jar, along with some special noodles produced in Cinque Terre. These noodles resemble communion wafers more than anything else so it will be fun to cook them when we get home. Across the street in a clothing store I found a pair of Capri pants, so now I can look ‘tres european.’

Vernazza also has a small beach, so Jane and I sat on the bench while the kids waded in the water. We had fun watching the kids and a golden retriever who raced around the beach with the same enthusiasm as Alley races around the backyard. The golden seemed to think its job was to keep the beach free of Pigeons! It was great fun watching him chase from one side to the other leaping at the Pigeons just as they took off to get out of his way. Eventually the Pigeons gave up and found a quieter beach somewhere else. Kaia adopted the dog as her new friend and spent some time petting and talking to him.

Finally, we decided to catch the 6:28 train to Monterosso al Mare, the most touristy of the five cities. We only spent about 45 minutes in town walking around and looking at the beaches before we caught the 7:24 train back to La Spezia and our ¼ tank of gas.

We headed out straight out of town for the Autostrasse hoping that the information we had received was correct. I was worried that La Spezia would not be a very nice place to spend the night. As we approached the entrance area to the highway the sign still showed that there was a strike and no gas was available on the way to Pisa. We kept going, hoping that maybe we would find something. The first station we saw did indeed look closed but the second station was an Agip and we saw cars by the pumps! We pulled in and saw two attendents standing out by the pumps. When the first asked if we wanted a fill up I answered ‘YES FULL’ the kids say it is difficult to capture the depth of the emotion and relief in my voice when I said that and dubbed that the quote of the day. I was indeed happy and very relieved to have a full tank of gas.

It was a good lesson. It is amazing how much we take the availability of gasoline for granted. I don’t think anything like a gas strike could happen in the USA and I’m interested to read more when we get home to understand the motivation and background behind these periodic strikes here in Italy.

Unfortunately the gas station did not have any snacks and everyone was looking forward to a bit of junk food at this point. We noticed along the way that several gas stations looked like the pumps were working even though the station houses themselves were closed up tight. So, we continued to our apartment and had a junk food supper of chips, salsa, cheese and crackers. Parmigiano Reggiano is very good on crackers and flat bread!

Lunch in Sienna

Lunch in Sienna

Today we planned to be a light day. We did not get up too early and our only goal was to drive to another hill town called Siena. Jane and I had watched a video about the town so we were excited to see the square in person. The square in Siena is the sight of an annual horse race where they clear out all the restaurant tables and fill the outer ring of the square with dirt for the race.

We arrived in time for a late lunch in the square. Rather than picking a more expensive restaurant somewhere in town we opted for sitting along the square and watching the people. It was fun, although the lunch was not all that exciting. Jane and I had Lasagne al Forno and Josh and Kaia each had a Salami and Fontina Panini.

After lunch it started to rain, so we lost our desire to wander around the hill towns of Tuscany. We wandered by a few shops on our way out of town but our hearts just were not in the shopping or sight seeing today.

We headed for our apartment hoping that maybe the weather there had been better. Unfortunately the puddles and gutters of rain told us differently. So we stayed around the apartment and read, Josh tried a Sudoku, then got Kaia to play Cribbage with him.

While we were waiting around, the gardener showed up with some Italian guy that we can only guess was the plumber, come to fix the hot water heater. neither of them spoke any english so there was really nothing to do but show them to the bathroom and see what happened. They left abut 10 minutes later, and miraculously the water heater seems to work 100% better.

For dinner tonight we wanted to try Casa Masi again. We arrived at a little before 7:30 but it was full so we made a reservation for friday night. We decided to give Il Lago a try. Il Lago means the lake and Il Lago was a restaurant built around a small lake. We quickly realized that this was not so much a restaurant as it was a place to hold a wedding and wedding reception if you come to Tuscany for that sort of thing. We were seated in a large glassed in room with many tables and only one overworked italian grandmother to wait on us.

Dinner was mostly forgettable. Kaia only ordered tagliatelli basilica which was pretty good. Josh ordered a steak, Jane ordered Gnudi, which was good, and misto of rabbit, chicken, lamb and vegetables. It all came deep fried which made it hard to figure out what was what. I ordered crostini to start followed by tagliatelli with mushroom pan sauce followed by steak. By the time I got my steak everyone else had finished all their courses. Maybe the best thing we had was an order of pommes frittes which we saw another table order. Thinking they would be good with steak I asked for some but they came before I even got my pasta so they were long gone by the time my steak showed up. We arrived home at 10:00 tired and ready for a day of hiking tomorrow.

Climbing Around Firenze

Climbing Around Firenze

Since cars are not allowed in or around the central part of Firenzi the best way for us to go was to drive to a commuter town and take the train. So we got up and drove to the town of Empoli. It is definitely a commuter town as we had a heck of a time finding a parking spot since we got there about 9am. We got our ticket and took a slow roller into Firenze Santa Maria Novella station. This is the station where all the books warn you about pick pockets. Luckily we made it in and out unscathed.

When we got off the train we made straight for The science museum. Since it was Tuesday the museum was only open until 13:00. It was great, this will definitely be one of the highlights of the trip for me. Anyone who is interested in Physics would love this museum. There are exhibits of real early scientific instruments including astrolabes, Sextants, early batteries, Galileo’s first and second telescopes, early microscopes, the list goes on. Every one of them is a great example of early science and many of them are really illustrative of important discoveries in Physics.

We finished our tour of the science museum just in time for lunch. So we took another Rick Steve’s recommendation and went for a late lunch at the Golden Wall -- Open Bar. It was great. They gave us a table right on a corner window where we could look out at the Arno river and the Ponte Veccio. We watched several groups of rowers out for their daily exercise and enjoyed a good lunch. Kaia had a pear and cheese salad followed by Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta and Basil, I had Bruschetta con quattro formagio e Truffles for my first course followed by Gnocchi with Sausage and mushrooms. Josh had a Mezzaluna (part pizza part Calzone), and Jane had fresh Mozzarela with Basil and Tomatoes followed by a foccacia of Mozzarella and Tomatoes. It was a bit much of the same for Jane between the first and second courses. Overall a good meal.

After we were fortified with a good lunch we decided to find the Duomo. We lucked out and caught a relatively short line for climbing to the top. The line was much shorter than the climb to the top. 463 Stairs! The first part of the climb was pretty standard fair, some spiral staircases... We had a nice break in the middle where we could view the dome from the inside and look down into the sanctuary. As we got closer to the top the stairs got steeper and steeper and we lost the spiral approach and started spiraling around the dome itself. The rise was almost one foot by the time we got to the very where we were climbing along the very top of the dome itself.

Much of the climb followed the stairs between the two layers of the dome. The inner layer is very thick, and the outer layer is only 82 cm thick. You could see the herringbone pattern that the bricklayers used in laying the bricks for the dome itself. By the time we got to the top we were all hot and sweaty. Unfortunately Jane got stuck behind a very hot and sweaty German guy who forgot to use his deodorant!! Nobody was happier to get to the top and out into the fresh air than Jane.

The view from the top was amazing. We could see every direction, and looking down on the top of this ancient city was really beautiful.

After three days without internet contact, which seemed like much longer to all of us, we found a small Internet Cafe so we could check our email before we headed back to the train station and our journey back to our apartment.

Unfortunately we were sidetracked along the way by more shopping. Jane found a winter scarf, Kaia found T shirts for her friends back home, and Josh found a pair of Italian Nikes. Unfortunately for Josh they did not have the shoes in his size. In the meantime I found a soccer warmup set that seemed like it would make nice lounge wear.

The rain at Il Lebbio continued while we were gone and when we returned everything just felt damp. Jane made the comment that this was like camping. All of our clothes just had a damp feeling to them. It would be nice to have forced air heat or even air conditioning just to dry things out in our apartment.

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

The Leaning Tower of Pizza

This morning we got up early to head in to Pisa. We had tickets to climb the leaning tower at 9:00, so we had to get under way in good time. That meant getting up at 6:30 to be on the road in time to get to Pisa.

Parking in Pisa is difficult. Even at our early hour we had to drive around for a while to find a parking spot.

The leaning tower really does lean. Quite a bit.

Climbing the tower was very interesting. At times it felt like we were going up a really steep hill but at other times it felt like we were almost going down hill while climbing the stairs. It was a very strange feeling. The spiral stairways started out wide and got continually more narrow as we ascended. By the time we got to the top the staircase was barely wide enough for my shoulders.

Sine we finished our sight seeing pretty early we decided to find a place to pick up some of the additional supplies we needed for our apartment, such as beach towels and toilet paper. So I took a guess with the GPS and we found a mall with a great big coop. This seems to be the equivalent of a Target store matched with a Lunds. Lots of good fresh food in the deli and meat areas and lots of fresh cheeses. In addition to the usual stuff you find in Target. I was also able to find a new pair of reading glasses for just 18 euros. I think its a much better pair than I have found at home so maybe its not wasted effort.

Since we are in Tuscany here is a bit about our ‘Villa.’ We have a living room, a small eating area and a small kitchen. The kitchen has a range and a toaster oven along with an assortment of small pots and pans. If this is the size pan that most everyone uses over here it is no wonder that the small french tops work just fine. The floors are all red tile and the ceilings and columns are all brick. It feels very Tuscan and it is quite charming.

We have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kids have a bedroom with three single beds. Their bathroom is down the hall. Jane and I have a king size bed along with our own bathroom. The water heater is located in our bathroom and is an ‘on demand’ kind of heater. That is whenever you turn on hot water the water heater springs into action. The only problem with this is it takes quite a while to get warm water, and our water heater is a little finicky. Sometimes it heats and sometimes it does not.

The manager is not here all the time so getting someone to fix the water heater could be a bit tricky. Since I am complaining a bit I will say that the weather has been rainy and damp, and our apartment is just as damp as the outside. All our clothes feel damp, and we have been trying to wash clothes for a couple of days and it is impossible to get them to line dry in this weather. Finally I decided to light a fire in our fireplace to help the clothes dry!

Tonight I cooked dinner in the apartment. After our interesting shopping trip at the coop in Pisa I had the ingredients to make a nice Risotto. Of course since we could not find chicken broth (brodo e pollo) I had to make some stock from scratch. With no decent size frying pan I decided to just throw the chicken into the sofrito and let it cook along with the rice. That worked out fine, and of course everything came together perfectly at the end when I added some of the nice Parmigianno Reggiano. Along with some nice tuscan wine it was a very good meal. Josh seemed to really like it as he had about four helpings. Maybe it was just nice for him to get something he liked besides pizza!

The Hill Towns of Tuscany

The Hill Towns of Tuscany

For our first full day in Tuscany we decided to check out some of the hill towns. We went to Volterra and San Giamanginino, two of the ancient Etruscan hill towns in Tuscany. The etruscans predated the Greeks and were equally as advanced in art and science. It is really interesting to look out at the horizon and you can see many little towns, each perched on the top of one hill or another. The valleys are all full and planted with vines and other crops.

The fact that the towns are all on tops of hills makes driving challenging. You don’t follow a nice straight road through the valleys, but rather you go up one hill then down then up again, winding in and around farms, villas, and the occasional castle.

Volterra is a beautiful city. It is much like what you would find in other large european cities but has a much smaller feel. Although on sunday afternoon it was still pretty crowded with tourists. We checked out the Etruscan museum which had some interesting artifacts from etruscan life along with hundreds of urns to hold the cremated ashes of ancient etruscans.

We had a late lunch at one of Rick Steve’s recommended restaurants. When we walked in there was hardly anyone there but it was full when we left.

After Volterra we drove to San Gimiangno which is another etruscan hill town. It was also interesting but it was even more full of tourists than Volterra. It was in SG that I realized that shopping appears to be a very large part of the european vacation experience.

After our trip to the hill towns we decided to try dinner at one of the restaurants recommended by the manager of Il Lebbio. We drove into town and Tried Casa Masi, but it was full, so we continued on to Carpe Diem. This was a restaurant that was attached to one of the hotels in Montaione. They have a large outdoor seating area and and inside area with a great view. We did not have a reservation so we ended up sitting back from the view. The menu was nice and had several good looking wines as well. We were all a bit tired of Pasta tonight so we tried a little different menu. Crepes, Beef Chunks, Dory and Pork chunks.

The service was extremely slow even by Italian restaurant standards. But at the conclusion of our meal the manager apologized and gave us a free bottle of wine.

On to Tuscany

On to Tuscany

Our goal was to leave Venice about 1:00pm. So, we got up, had our breakfast and headed over to visit the Doge’s Palace.

After the palace we wandered back to our hotel and tried out one of the recommended restaurants. The pizzeria around the corner in the Piazza. Since they didn’t start serving pizza until noon we found ourselves with an extra 20 minutes for sipping pop and water. We made the mistake of each ordering a pizza. I had the proscuitto, Josh had Margheritta, and Jane and Kaia each had a cheese and basil combo. Josh and I only at about half of ours, but Kaia ate her whole pizza!

It was a pretty drive to Tuscany. Many tunnels and in and out of rain.

For dinner tonight we took one of our managers recommendations and dined at Il Cammieneto. While we were there we had a short conversation with a group of Germans. When we told them we were from Iowa they smiled brightly and said Ahhh, “Big Potatoes!”

A Random Walk through Venice

A Random Walk through Venice

In Venice you can get lost very easily, but not for long. There are signs everywhere point you toward to major landmarks, the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Square.

After a small breakfast in our hotel we set out to take the tour of the Grand Canal. From the St. Romana Vaporetto stop we listened to the National Geographic tour of the canal as we headed around the S curve toward St. Marks. It is hard to follow as all the buildings along the canal are similar in many ways.

After we finished to tour we walked around St. Marks for a while. Josh wanted to spend one euro to buy some corn to get the pigeons to perch on his arms. I would not let him as they are so dirty and gross. We were supposed to meet up with Ulring’s outside their hotel we waited for a while before leaving a note that we were headed to lunch. We just missed them by a couple minutes.

We had a delicious lunch at one of the places recommended by our hotel manager. Jane had ravioli, I had gnocchi, Josh had tortellini soup and Kaia had spaghetti and meatballs. Jane and I also had a small pitcher of prosecco, which turned out to be a sparkling wine. It was all very good, but the cost was a surprising 63 euros. Each of our lunches on the menu listed for about 7 euros but they charged more since we were having them as our only course.

About halfway through lunch the Ulrings caught up with us and sat down to eat as well. So we added dessert, which was very good. We split an order of Tirimisu and an icream truffle. The truffle tasted like a layer of angel food cake wrapped around a core of mocha ice cream.

After lunch we just started walking around parts of venice we had not explored yet. We didn’t know where we were going or what we were headed toward but it was fun and we saw a lot of interesting shops and lots of interesting people.

We made two stops for snacks during the afternoon. One for gelato and one for pizza and a sit down. The pizza place was good and it was fairly close to our hotel. It looked like rain so we stopped to pick up umbrellas and rain gear. We asked if we could sit in the lobby of our hotel and play cards but we were told that the tables were for breakfast only and playing cards there was not possible. So we decided to walk toward the Londra Palace. About halfway there it started to rain pretty hard. But with our Umbrellas in hand we kept going.

When we arrived at Londra Palace we were all wet, but just minutes after we sat down in the lobby the skies opened up and it POURED. So we ordered a couple bottles of wine and played some five hundred. Jim and I soundly beat the women three games to one, even though I had really crappy cards again.

Over cards we looked at the really expensive menu for the hotel and decided to go elsewhere unless it was really raining. Since it was clearing up we headed out to find something. We ended up at what turned out to be a really bad restaurant. Everything was very forgettable and my crab must have come from a can. As we say, every vacation must have a worst restaurant. We thought it was L’Arche (the french version of an Oasis on the tollway) but I think this was worse.

Road Trip to Venice

Road Trip to Venice

This was a long day of driving. First we went back down the mountain, and then we moved a ways to the east and went back up and over the mountain. The drive through the mountains was pretty. Lots of great long bridges and many many tunnels. The nicest tunnels were not really tunnels but rather covered roadways. This protects the cars from landslides as well as snowfall.

Once we got into Italy we drove around the outside of Milano. The traffic was “intenso” and the going was rather slow. About 1:00 we were hungry enough that we decided to check out the next town for some food. We saw a mall off to the side of the road so we checked it out. We decided to have some pizza at a restaurant called “Pizza Pause.” This was fine except that the young man waiting on us did not speak a word of english. We nearly ended up with twice as much pizza as we wanted. In the end it worked out fine and the pizza was pretty good.

It was pretty confusing getting into the parking lot in Venice called Tronchetto. And once we got there we had to figure out where we were going to get to the Vaporetto and where we were going to get our tickets etc. It all worked out just fine and we ended up on the right Vaporetto to our stop and San Ste. From there it was a tricky but short walk to our hotel, the Hotel San Angelo.

The room is not too big, but it has two nice beds and a couch to sit on. The bathroom has a toilet and Duvet along with the tub/shower. All the lights in the room go out if you take the key out of the slot next to the door. The Internet service does not work like it should. there is some problem getting it to accept the security password for the wireless.

After getting settled we decided to take a walk before we headed down to meet Ulring’s at their hotel. Venice has thousands and thousands of little shops to look at and walk through. Of course now that we were in Italy Josh was on full alert for a Totti soccer shirt. We saw a couple of stalls selling soccer shirts and we managed to get by the first couple. But, once we got to the Rialto bridge they had a store that was selling genuine Soccer shirts and that was pretty much the end of it. 69 euros later Josh had a genuine italian soccer shirt. They print the name and number on the shirt once it is chosen, so we had 20 minutes to kill.

We found a restaurant at the base of the Rialto bridge that had a nice view of the water, so we sat down there for a beer, wine and soda. After watching the people for 20 minutes Josh and I walked back to pick up his shirt. As promised the shirt was ready and waiting for us and Josh was one happy boy.

Just as we were crossing the top of the Rialto, we saw the Ulrings! Who would have thought that we would just randomly find them here in the city. They joined us for a little refreshment while we planned our move for supper.

In addition to the recommendations from our hotel manager Jim and Nancy had found an Indian restaurant and a Thai restaurant not too far from our hotel. After some walking around we decided on the Indian restaurant called - - We had an excellent meal. The kids all had Lashkis (sweet yoghurt drinks) along with Naan (bread) and several different curries. I had the chicken Vinaloo, Jane had Chicken Curry, Jim had a shrimp dish and Nancy had Chicken Khorma. The chicken Khorma proved to be very popular with the kids as well. Josh even said he liked the sauce on his rice. We also had a variety of tandoori food as part of an appetizer plate. It was all good, and the total for all nine of us was 190 euros.

After dinner we walked some more until we all decided to split up and head for our hotels for the night. The plan is to meet the next day at noon at the statue in front of Ulring’s hotel, the Londra Palace.

Klein Matterhorn

Klein Matterhorn

This morning we were greeted by a perfectly blue sky, without a single cloud. We had two main choices for our main activity today: Take a gondola up to the highest point where we could see the mountains of Switzerland, France, and Italy, or take a train ride up the valley. We decided on the first option.

The trip was actually composed of three gondola rides to get to the top. And we were really truly at the top. We walked through a tunnel in the paradise glacier and then took an elevator up a little bit to a platform that was at 13,300 feet. From there we had a panoramic view of three countries! There are not enough adjectives to describe the view from this place. Not only could we see that Matterhorn but we had a crystal clear view of Mont Blanc in France.

The Paradise glacier also features a set of tunnels that have been constructed to display various kinds of ice sculpture. From the lift area we had to hike down through the snow a bit to get to the entrance. After the entrance we continued down on a path until we reached an area where the tunnels leveled out. There were a few interesting sculptures and some history on the glacier itself. Josh was a bit nervous about going inside a glacier so he did not enjoy it as much as others.

This day’s sights are really more about pictures than words. We all agreed that it was cool to visit the Matterhorn and see the great sights.

Back down in the village we dropped off our gear and extra layers back at the hotel and then went to walk around the city of Zermatt. Josh had been in search of sunglasses since the beginning of the trip so we hoped to find something cheap for him. In the end we couldn’t find any sunglasses for less than 39 swiss francs so Josh got Jane’s and Jane got a new pair

We had a mid-afternoon snack of bratwurst (6sf) and ice cream (3 sf for a single scoop). Along the way we ran across a couple of interesting looking restaurants including an asian fusion restaurant and one that Jane had read about called GramPi’s. So we made a reservation for 8:00pm. After a bit more walking and looking we decided to head back to the hotel to enjoy a rest in the pool.

We thought the pool had a jacuzzi but when we got there we found a permanently attached sign that indicated that the jacuzzi was out of order. So we just had to swim around and play frisbee for a while. The water was not hot tub temperature but it was warm enough for swimming and playing in comfortably.

We had a delicious dinner at GramPi’s. Josh had a Hawaiian pizza, I had Lasagne, Kaia had tortellini stuffed with cheese and basil in a basil cream sauce. Jane had a pepperoni pizza. Cost was about 75 swiss francs. We think Kaia had the best meal. Jane described the tortellini as heavenly.

After dinner we went back to the hotel. The cheese fondue smell in the lobby was really good. We decided to give Josh and Jane another chance to beat Kaia and I at 500 but it was not to be. The score for vacation so far is B,K 3 J,J 0!

We all went to bed about 10:00 hoping that we would get a good night sleep, with a plan to have breakfast at 8 and leave for the banhoff at 9:00.

Driving to Zermat

Driving to Zermat

Breakfast this morning was continental style in the chateaux. Cereal, cheese, bread, tea, yogurt. It was good. We could have ordered some Saucisson or Jambon but we didn’t. It was 14 euros each for breakfast. After breakfast I called Dwight on Skype to let him know we were on our way to Geneve. The plan is to meet him at the departures bridge at the airport.

This morning it is still quite cool (7 C) but the sun is shining and the clouds look like they might be breaking up. We are on the road at 8:30 headed for Geneve to have lunch with Dwight.

We met Dwight at the airport as planned and let him take over the driving. Laurance was not able to join us as she was not feeling well. Dwight said she had been having some bad morning sickness. He took us to downtown Geneve and we walked around the old walled city and past the giant fountain out in the lake. The fountain shoots a hundred feet into the air and the wind makes it look like the sail on a boat as it comes back down.

We had a wonderful lunch at a small restaurant in the old part of town called Brasserie du Bourg-de-Four. Jane and I had Roesti with Jambon, Ouefs (eggs), and fromage. It was delicious!! Kaia had some bowtie pasta with parmesan cheese basil and ham. Josh had a ham and cheese omlette. We were stuffed. Cost for lunch for 5 of us was 123.70 Swiss Francs. Dwight reminded me that I did not need to leave a tip, that throughout europe gratuities were built into the price. For exceptional service you might round up and leave a couple extra euros. This means that a couple of people have really gotten good tips from me along the way! While we were eating lunch Laurance called to see if we wanted to stop by their house for some dessert.

We had a very short visit and some desert with Dwight and Laurance and then took off toward Zermatt. The drive was very scenic, especially the last 30km. There were lots of waterfalls along the way and we began to suspect that they had had snow here recently. We drove the car to Tasch and parked it in the lot. Then we took a 20 minute train ride into the town of Zermat. There are only electric carts in the town. A porter from the hotel met us at the train station and drove us to the hotel.

The Park Hotel Beausite is spectacular, really, really spectacular! We have the center suite with a little cupola that sticks above the rest of the hotel with a 360 degree view of the mountains surrounding us. For all the clouds and bad weather we have had the last two days we are in luck today. All the clouds have dissipated and left us with a spectacular view of the Matterhorn! We are all really excited about the room and the wonderful views. I wish we could stay here several days just to relax.

At dinner we learned that while we were visiting castles in the Loire Valley, Zermatt was getting 15cm of fresh snow! In fact we learned that many of the roads leading to Tasch were closed the day before, so we were lucky we didn’t try to come a day earlier! Today there is still snow on many of the rooftops and in their gardens. Everything has greened up and so the snow looks very clean and white against the spring green.

Dinner at the hotel was a five course feast! It was barbecue night so the menu went as follows:

  1. Cream of vegetable soup
  2. Fish course, they had a wide assortment of fresh fish to choose and then they grill it for you. (Josh: John Dorry, Jane: Red Mullet, Brad: Blue Marlin)
  3. Salad course
  4. meat course, again they had a huge assortment of meats beef, veal, ostrich, wild boar, rabbit, pork, turkey, chicken, etc. to choose.
  5. Cheese course
  6. Desert course including Creme Caramel, A Citrus ice cream with vodka, a fuit plate, or a banana split.

Dinner took from 8:45 until almost 11:00. So we went back to the room, and looked at the mountains some more. We played a round of 500 and then took some long exposure pictures of the matterhorn. I think they turned out pretty nice.



This morning we left Paris for the Loire Valley. Our agenda includes two castles to visit (Chambord and Chenenceaux) and an overnight stay at the Chateau Malmont. Unlike Versailles, these castles are all considered to be pleasure palaces, not palaces of governance. They were designed as hunting lodges and entertainment centers for the royalty. Chambord was absolutely huge. Construction was started by Francios I and continued by Louis XIV (the Sun King) and was finished by the people of France for Henri, the grandson of Charles X who never actually assumed the throne or lived in the restored castle.

After touring the castle we bought some supplies that were locally made and grown. This included some farmers cheese, Saucisson, and two loaves of bread. I would have bought the Chevre but I was not sure what to do with the moldy crust! I made sandwiches for everyone with my trusty swiss army knife.

Chenenceaux was much smaller, it was built for the mistress of Henri but taken back by his wife Catherine Medici when Henri died. It is built out over the river Cher and has wonderful views. The best thing about Chenenceaux was the kitchens!

After visiting the two castles we had another 3 hours to drive to Chateaux Malmont where we stayed the night. We were really glad to have the GPS this afternoon. From the freeway the Chateaux is really in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t believe the little roads we were on were even part of the map database! We were actually a little paniced when the GPS ran out of batteries just after we got off the freeway. Luckily josh had a partially used pair from his gameboy that had enough juice to get us to the castle.

Malmont was also a hunting lodge and was much smaller than either castle we visited earlier. It was realy nice inside and they had an indoor and outdoor pool. Since the weather was quite cold (8 C) Josh took full advantage of the indoor pool which was in a barrel vaulted room that used to be the guard room. While Josh was in the pool, Kaia went for a 4 mile run and Jane rented a bike to follow behind her. The bike wasn’t very good so Jane got a tougher workout than Kaia!

Our suite was two bed rooms with big high ceilings, a WC and a bathroom. Jane and I had a double bed and the kids had single beds.

The chateaux had a restaurant and a tavern. The restaurant was closed on monday nights so we ate in the tavern, which was still quite formal. The menu was three fixed price options based on how many and which courses you had (17.50 - 24 euros). In fact the wine was cheaper than the meals. That does not happen very often back home! The best quote of the day came at dinner when we were sitting at the table and Josh just blurted out: “We’re in a castle!”

Jane, Kaia and I had the entree of Guinea Fowl in puff pastry, for the main course Jane had Duck, and Josh, Kaia and I had the steak. Next up was the cheese course with a variety of different cheeses and finally desert which included a small layered cake that tasted like it had a rhubarb middle. Along with the cake we each had a scoop of ice cream. We were all trying to figure out what kind of ice cream it was so we tried to ask the server, who spoke no english that we could tell. Kaia deciphered that it was green apple ice cream.

The best part of the trip is... * Dad: Chenenceaux * Mom: Chenenceaux and Chambord * Kaia: * Josh:

Rain, Rain, go Away!

Rain, Rain, go Away!

The goals for today were... See Rodin’s thinker in the Rodin gardin, visit the Musee D’Orsay, Visit the Versailles palace, and go up the Eiffel tower. When we left the apartment it was nice although a bit cool. We went to the marketplace again and got pain, gruyere fromage, jambon, and cherries. We carried our breakfast thinking we would eat it in the garden, but the garden was not public and we didn’t want to spend any time in the musee so we continued to the Orsay. We ate our breakfast in front of the musee and then went in.

Once again the Rick Steve’s commentaries were really good. I learned more about realism, and impressionism than I ever knew before. Renoir, Monet, Manet, Whistler, Rodin, it was really good. D’Orsay used to be a train station and the huge high arching ceiling is still preserved.

When we finished we noticed that it had started to rain, so we decided to take the train straight out to Versailles. On the way, we passed the statue of liberty, it looks just like the one in New York except it is on the river here in France.

By the time we reached Versailles the weather was really cold and rainy. We dashed across the street to get some food at McDonalds! The bacon on the burgers was excellent! After lunch we tried to start walking but it was so cold and rainy we turned right around and ran back into the mall. We found a souvenir shop that had some sweatshirts, we bought 4 sweatshirts and 2 umbrellas. We have vowed that we will do better at checking the weather forecast for the day in the future.

The Versailles palace was moderately interesting. Admission included an audio tour but it was not nearly as interesting as the Rick Steves guides. The rooms were interesting but the commentary most mostly about who made the furniture when, and how many coats of laquer were applied. Not so intersting unless you are a furniture maker. We did learn more about the history of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI which was good. We stayed through 2/3 of our tour but the line to get into the kings chambers in the main hall was just too long to stand in during a cold rain so we headed back and took the train back to town.

Once back in town we came to the apartment to rest and relax a bit.

Dinner tonight was at a Bistro down the road. Kaia and I had Chicken Shishkebab with curry sauce, Jane had Duck with honey sauce, Josh had Beef rib, which was a ribeye steak. Again it was all good. After dinner we had a chocolate crepe and a crepe with sugar, almonds, cinnamon and citron (lemon juice). A great desert.

So far the best part of the trip is.…

  • Kaia: Notre Dame, the food in general
  • Josh: Notre Dame except I had to pee really bad, and the crepes
  • Mom: Notre Dame
  • Dad: Musee D’Orsay

Walking, Walking, Walking

Walking, Walking, Walking

Yesterday morning we got up and walked down to the marketplace for breakfast. Josh really wanted to buy a box of raspberries, so we did and they were the best raspberries anybody had ever had. A little further down the street we discovered a bakery. So we had a baguette, and chocolate eclair, and a doughnut. All very fresh and good. Decorah really needs a market area like this... (perhaps as part of the Kellog grant proposal Brenda could do this)

After our little breakfast we walked, over the bridge to the grand palace, down the road to the obelisk, onward to point zero, further still to the Louvre. In the Louvre we walked. The Rick Steve’s iPod tour was really helpful and interesting.

Our family seems to have three speeds when going through a museum. Josh and Mom lead the way, Dad is in the middle, and Kaia wants to savor every work of art. In the Louvre we saw many classic greek and roman works of art.

the Louvre was very interesting we saw the Mona Lisa of course, along with many other famous works including Winged Victory, and the Venus DiMilo. It was a good learning experience as we learned how the greek artistry influenced the romans and other artists for many years to come.

Lunch was at the Cafe Beaux Arts, just a random place we picked as we walked by. Josh had a cheeseburger, can you believe it? Kaia had Penne with fresh basil and red sauce. Jane and I both had a hot ham and cheese sandwich (Jambon avec Fromage) on toasted bread. The sandwich was delicious. In keeping with French tradition we had a small glass of wine. So far the idea that wine is cheaper than pop does not seem to be true.

After lunch we continued walking, walking, walking down the the island in the Seine. We went to Notre Dame cathedral, and the center point which is right out front. The center point is the place that all other distances in France are measured from. The cathedral was amazing. When we got there the line to go in to the main cathedral was long so we went around the corner and got in line to go up the tower. This turned out to be a good decision, as the views were just great. In addition once at the top you get to go into the bell tower itself to see a GIANT bell. The radius at the bottom must be a good 10-12 feet and is so heavy you can’t really make it move back and forth by pushing on it. After the large bell we were able to continue even farther up the bell tower for even better views of the city. The weather was a little cloudy so the Eiffel tower was in a haze in our picture.

When we got done with the tower tour the line was nothing to get into the cathedral. So we went inside. Mass was in progress but tourists were still allowed to wander around the perimeter. The rose window and the organ were both beautiful.

By the time we finished the cathedral we were getting pretty tired, so we decided to get a quick snack. We had a crepe chocolate to split. Very very good. We continued down to the last little island called Isle St. Louis. Here there were many nice shops and restaurants. On the way off the island we stopped to watch a street performer for a while. He was an acrobat and had a fun show.

By that time we were really tired and wanted to catch a boat ride back up the river. But we couldn’t seem to find the right one so we gave up and walked, walked, walked back to the apartment. We were all very foot sore by the time we made it to the apartment. I think none of us thought we would walk that far and we were sorry we didn’t have the pedometer to keep track. We do know that we climbed 400 stairs in Notre Dame!

After a short rest, and some consulting of Rick Steve’s we decided to find dinner somewhere close by. Dinner was at La Arcade. We tried to get in at several of Rick Steve’s recommended places but they were all quite busy. Josh had Duck, Kaia had Chevre in Phyllo Dough, I had rack of Lamb, and Jane had Prawns.

The Long Road to Paris

The Long Road to Paris

A long day! We drove through some rain and thunder to get to the airport in Cedar Rapids. Unfortunately it was also windy in Chicago which was a bad omen for us. Our flight was delayed getting to CR and once we got out to the end of the runway the dreaded ground stop announcement came. Chicago was not allowing us to take off because they had no landing slots. So we sat at the end of the runway for 45 minutes and one more rain squall before we could finally take off.

As we began our descent into Chicago we watched helplessly as the time ticked closer to 4:30, our scheduled departure time. Our only hope was that our outbound flight was as delayed as everything else. This was not to be. We got off the plane and ran across 2 concourses to get to our gate only to find out the plane had left without us. We were told to go to K6, the rebooking gate. The line there looked 2 hours long at least. Jane tried to talk to the gate agent for the paris flight but they told us there was not enough time to get our bags on the flight.

So there we were standing in line, using Kaia’s cell phone to call the rebooking number with a hold time of more than 28 minutes. Finally I was able to flag down a manager (Shawn ) and I asked him why we couldn’t get on the Paris flight. When I explained that it looked like we were going to miss an entire day of our vacation I think he felt sorry for us. So, he looked on the computer and said we could fly to Frankfurt and then back to Brussels. That flight left at 7:00. When he went to change our booking he discovered that we had already been rebooked on a flight to London connecting to Brussels. How we were ever supposed to discover that is a huge mystery.

On the flight to London we were given the very back row of seats in the 777. This means we were even behind the bathrooms. The flight attendant told us he would move us up because it was a very smelly place to sit. He was a really nice guy and moved us to bulkhead seats in row 20, which made for a pretty comfortable flight.

We had five hours in Heathrow to kill, so we tried to get some sleep in the international lounge. Once on our plane to Brussels we were seated in front of three obnoxious women (kind of like the nightmare version of Bridget Jone’s Diary)

Once in Brussels everything went very smoothly, all the luggage was intact, we zipped through customs and didn’t even have to wait at the car rental counter. We had a little fun trying to get our first tank of gas since I went to the Belgium card side of the gas station and none of my credit cards would work. I finally learned that we need to go to the other side of the gas station to fill up.

Now we are enroute to Paris! So far the GPS has been working and have not gotten lost yet. We hid major rush hour traffic in Brussels and were zooming along toward paris until just a moment ago when we hit a big slowdown. Josh is enjoying our drive to Paris by looking at all the cars he would like to drive.

As I write this in the car, we are all tired and hungry so are very much looking forward to getting to our apartment and having an evening meal.

After Jane and I left the kids in the apartment and parked the car we all went for a walk to check out the eiffel tower at night. Beautiful.

We had late night pizza at La Gourmandise. A little Pizza shop that seated about 16 people max. Josh and I split a Pizza Margherita avec chorizo and Jane and Kaia split the four fromage pizza. Very good.