Florence.

**the WordPress app is not letting me post!!!**

The ladies:

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We arrived in Florence after driving from Venice. The roads are beautiful. The drivers are crazy. The speed limit was elusive, I couldn’t find it…so I’m assuming it was limitless. Sometimes they’d tell you to slow down…abruptly taking your speed from very high to 100, 90, 50 and then you’d see a guardrail and slam on the breaks for dear life. Two lanes easily translates to four, with shoulders and dotted lines substituting as lanes at any point…you’d see two lines of cars, then three, then four, then something that resembles a group of people entering a packed subway car, then it would be back to two lanes. Anything goes. Which by the end of the trip…I think I appreciated. 😊 the roads are curvier than any costal road, mountain road, or complicated video game course you’ve ever seen. The fact that we are still alive is nothing short of a miracle (and that our tires and “glasses” -aka windows- are ok). But aside from all of this, I have to tell you how beautiful the countryside is. Aesthetically speaking, the drive couldn’t have been nicer. Always something to look at, always beautiful.
As we approached the city, our GPS voice Fiona began to get out of control. How Meredith and I made it through that without losing it, is beyond me. Fiona had clearly never been to Florence and she was dead-set on getting us to this fricken park on the outskirts of the less pretty side of the city…which has too many names…Florence, Firenze/Fiorentina… My god, we were seriously like Chevy Chase in the London roundabout, going around around and around…just that our roundabout spanned several city blocks. It was like that dreaded twilight zone you’d find yourself in, in this choose-your-own adventure novels where no matter what you did, your character ended up dead by falling off the roller coaster or drowning in a cement pit […why were these story lines in kids books…?]

The GPS managed to give us every wrong turn and find every one-way street to turn the wrong direction in. Our hotel’s front desk was nice upon arrival but absolutely useless in helping us find the damn place (liked the hotel, don’t get me wrong).

Guy: Buonasera, hotel desk, prego?

Meredith: Do you speak English?

Guy: Si.

Meredith: We are lost. Could you give us directions?

Guy: [silencio]

Meredith: Hello?

Guy: Si, this is the front desk?

Meredith: Hi. We are lost. Could you give us directions to the hotel?

Guy: You try to find hotel?

Meredith: Yes, could you give me the GPS coordinates please?

Guy: A GPS-a?

Meredith: Yes the GPS coordinates, could you give them to me, please?

Guy: Si! Via [starts spelling] D….E….

Meredith: No no, the GPS coordinates , longitude and latitude.

Guy: Si!!! Via De Constra…

Meredith: Sir! The numbers!!

Guy: Ah!! Si! Si! ….12!

Meredith: [starts muttering…then collects herself] Coordinates like -42N, 68…

Steph: Just give me the phone.

[Meredith hands Steph the phone]

Steph: Hello, this is Steph. Can you provide us with the G…P…S…coordinates, please? We are lost and our GPS cannot find the hotel. Coordinates. Coordinata…

Guy: Aaaaay….

Steph: What are you near? Our GPS cannot find you. Are you in the city?

Guy: No!

Steph: You’re not?

Guy: No.

Steph: What major landmark are you near? Is there a church near you?

Guy: Si! Santa Maria Novella!

Steph: Gracie. [ looks at Meredith]…Santa Maria Novella…. It’s right in the fucking middle of the city.

***

We changed quickly and left for dinner. What happened at dinner was truly amazing.

We walked out of the hotel and skipped the recommend restaurant…got to S. Maria Novella and scoped out the dinner options and decided on the farther away restaurant. But then Edith says, let’s go to the other place and check out the menu. So we do and we decide that one is good. We ask the guy where to sit. He points to one table but a man sits down in the same instant. Then he points to another and we look around looking for better. We spot one table by these two beautiful women. We thought, they look pleasant. Let’s sit there. “That table there please. We’ll take that one.”

Now I’m only telling you this because I am showing you how many things have could have put us in another spot that night. But no. We ended up next to these two women.

We sat down and started talking immediately. That night called us to them. We shared our good memories of the trip and a bunch of laughs. Then the mom says “…well, we’ve had one bad experience.” From there she literally described the EXACT same story about a man….in Monterosso…with compliments….with hugs….with inappropriate advances…and with fucking lemons! ….for God’s sake, we were shocked. I pulled out my camera and scrolled through my photos… “Did he look like this…?”

Sure enough, it was the same man. What on earth are the chances of that. We met these two ladies at 10:30 pm in a city across the country…and they had the exact same experience one day before us. That made the whole story ok. We started laughing, we shared deeper stories about life, cried, hugged, cried some more, and laughed even more…

There is an expression in Croatian about a dear person (in this case two dear people) who lay (figuratively) across your heart. These two ladies did that. Loved them.

That’s it for today. xo.

(Did I mention how great this trip has been. I have a revived love for humanity…those living in the world now and those who have made these incredible creations of art that I’ve seen. Thank you lovely people of planet earth.)

Venice

Be warned. This is a two in one LLLLLONG ONE. 

Today we had the photoshoot in Croatia, but I’m behind in my blogging…so we are back to Italy. VENICE!!

Edith and I fell in love with the small town in which we stayed that I mentioned, Monte Marcello. We only have photos of us there at the spa and during the day, none of Nonna’s gnocchi, or of our new friends in town that we chatted with after dinner. God, locals are the best. It’s so exciting to meet people and devote all of your hour or two to them, have a great time, and then leave on a high note. It’s sad we will never see them again, but it was a fun two hours. 
Our hotel was in the most picturesque spot. Set inland from from Cinque Terre, we were atop a mountain about 700m above above sea level (Cinque Terre being at sea level). We overlooked a large valley of homes with terra cotta roofs, an indigo inlet, and a wrap of luscious dark green forest. Italy’s countryside and entire landscape truly are beautiful and a pleasure to drive trough. Umbria, Lacio, Tuscany…all had such beautiful landscapes on our drive around the country. 

Back to our hotel…it was a boutique hotel and was in an area that was frequented by cyclists for its variation in terrain and likewise visited by wildlife enthusiasts looking to see wild boars with the hairy and black fur as well as some unique and beautiful birds. Edith and I especially love the poppies that grew everywhere on the property of our hotel and spa as well as throughout the town and hills growing fainter and hiding as they weaved into the forest patches. The trees are striking thought the country…from the coniferous to deciduous…the trees seemed extra beautiful. Tall evergreens, poplars planted for wood, Cyprus trees landmarking Tuscany and all the succulents growing taller than us lining the side of the roads. I highly recommend driving through the country if you consider yourself a good driver and want a to spice up your driving adventures. You’ll enjoy the limitless speeds, aggressive tailgating, honking, light flashing, lack of marked lane use and indistinguishable traffic signs. Edith and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

If you stay at our hotel Golfo Dei Poeti Relais & Spa you’ll need to eat at the only other restaurant in town and then when you’re done walk across the street to the garden bar to chat with our local friends about art, history, politics, swear words, ship yards, and Italian life. Absolutely loved that town for its peace and serenity. 

   
  
When we boarded the little water taxi to Venice I had no idea what to expect. As the city came into view I was left without words. This was he most unique place I’ve ever been. It was as if I’d entered a micro universe. In a movie like WallE you see a self-contained micro ecosystem. Little robots zipping by, it’s own traffic system, logistical rules you’re unfamiliar with. That’s exactly what Venice felt like. You first line up in a Disney-esque line and wait for your boat. Then you undock and set out into the busy river in which there are hundreds of boats in close proximity. You pull off into different pavilions which are the actually the different islands and places in Venice. Some are full more of locals, some are overrun by what looks like little ants from the water. In fact they’re tourists walking between and over bridges soaking in the dense dense beauty. 

I was completely overwhelmed by this city. I cried happy tears the second I landed for it was the most stimulating and beautiful place I’d ever been. The color, the people, the comedy of the souvenirs, the incredible architecture, and sheer number of people. This place is magical. Our friend in Montemarcello described Venice as an indescribable, magical city with secrets. That’s exactly what it was. Gondoliers, opera singers, artists, God seekers and the confused who didn’t know what they were there for but found it unknowingly. There was so much there. You must go. It may not end up being your favorite city. But it will leave its mark on you. There’s no place like it. It’s something out of a story. It’s enchanting. So so enchanting. 

Our first day we checked in and talked to Sandro, our hotel manager. Per his directions we set off into the city and ended up at San Marco’s Basillica where one of my recurring dreams came true. I love pigeons. I don’t care what others say. They’re wonderful birds and I love them. And I love when they land on me. When I walked to the square a man threw bird food on me and pigeons landed all over me. I giggled like a little girl as they clawed my hair with their blunt nails and tried to balance on my arms. It was fricken wonderful and I’d do it every day if I could. 

Ok but the fun ends there because the pigeons didn’t land on me because hey loved me. It was because the guy threw food at me. And then put more in my hand. These non-Italian anti-bird whisperers stand around with pasta and pray on tourists. Lol, my joy transformed into an interesting exchange with three non-Italian money makers. 

Man: “Ok ma’am, now you pay.”

Steph: “Pay for what?”

Man: “This is my livelihood, give me 10 euros.”

Steph: “10 euros?! I’m definitely not giving you 10 euros. I’ll give you something but it’s not going to be 10 euros.”

By this point the other two men were starting to get involved. Each of them had “given” me bird food (in my face). They both insisted that they too deserved 10 euros.

Men: “Ma’am, you come here and we give you pigeons.”

Steph: “They’re not your pigeons!”

Man: “10 euros ma’am.”

Other man: “20 euros.”

And the men started to creep in closer. 

Steph: “Get away from me, here’s 2 euros each.”

None of them would take the 2 euros as they held out for better. So I placed the money on the ground told hem it was that or nothing and walked (kinda ran) away looking over my shoulder. They followed a while but eventually they settled with 2 euros each. 

From there we saw San Marco’s, Palazzo Ducale, and salsa danced on the square. 

Later that night, our concierge Dimitri took us around town. It’s people like him that make you remember a place. We had such a nice time with him as he showed us some sights, gave us flowers, taught us some Italian expressions, and hydrated us with beverages. Venice and Montemarcello get 1000 points each. Cinque Terre…not so much.  

   
        
   (Who loves selfie sticks?!?!?)  

                           And here was out very very favorite shop keeper Christian. This is where we bought our cameo rings.  #DelightedWithOurPurchase

   

 

Cinque Terre…watch out for lemons

We spent a couple of days Cinque Terre, part of the Italian Riviera over on the west coast. There are 5 towns. One of them is called Monterosso. While there Edith and I turns into a little street to visit some churches. We saw what at that time was the most unique facades and interiors that we learned were artifacts of Pisan rule over the Cinque Terre region at one point. We received a history lesson by some locals over in Monte Marcello which is where we actually stayed. More on this later, but you have to go there for some relaxation. Francesco, one of the locals is a Law student in Pisa. He told us that the churches ere black and white striped, both inside and outside and had a theatrical appeal to them with the contrasting horizontal stripes and heavy velvet curtains in the richest deep jewel tones. They were remarkable and very unique from the standard Gothic and Renaissance churches that you see in Italy. (Will post good photos of this later from the camera and not from my phone).

After exiting the church we totally got duped in Monterosso. While standing around fixing our hair in a window, we got played by an old man. He caught us off guard and lured us in with his compliments and warm smile. I’m not shitting you. “Belissima! You byooteefula weemen!” He talked, as he stroked our faces. He made fools of us by getting as many hugs out of us as he could before planting the ugliest, wettest, and longest kisses on us we’ve ever had. The amount of slobber was daunting and although this sounds funny the amount of slobber would put a hot St. Bernard to shame. There were cops and there were feels. Not. Cool. After smacking him and pushing him I ran out of the store only to find Edith missing…because he was holding here there…still copping and feeling. Disgusting.

We tell kids:

1. Don’t talk to strangers.

2. Don’t go anywhere with strangers.

3. Don’t take food from strangers.

Heed your own advice people. I snapped this photo of the loser when he was hugging Meredith before things got crazy. I had no idea what he was going to do at the time I snapped this.


Such. An. A. Hole. Omg. PORCO!!!

We ended up with two lemons (that’s what he insisted on giving us to want us up) . “I heva geefts foRrr you. Mio frrriend geev to meeh, I geev to you.” He ended up with a swift kick in the a$$ and a strong shove. My god…the things you don’t expect to happen. We used the lemons to disinfect our mouths and faces.

There’s more life to this story if you want to hear it in person. Just ask. And there is a part II that you’ll need to stay tuned for.

***

Here’s some FUN from that part of the trip. I’m just saying….and all you people that loved Cinque Terre, I’m sorry we don’t agree, but this was by far the least impressive part of our trip. We have better pictures on the camera rather than he phone…but still. Those will be on FB when we get back, but…we did 4 towns and nope. Just didn’t do it for me. You can ask Meredith if she feels differently, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say she doesn’t.

[selfie sticks are GREAT. seriously.]

  

My counters!!! Found the cliffs and the mined pieces. And for all the people worried about marble counters and water and stains….listen up. Our counters are great. Also…all of Italy is made of white marble. The steps, churches, statues, christening tubs, bathtubs…white marble is great.

      

Dado is seriously EVERYWHERE in Italy and Croatia.  ❤️    

Lol, we liked these. And felt like this several times.   

Check out this selection. The names…! What do you advertising people think of this campaign?    

The arrival

On Sunday morning I left DSM to ORD well aware of my 5 hour layover…only to find out my first flight is delayed by 3.5 hours. And later it got delayed further. I think I roamed for a total of 10.5 hours. This layover gave me ample time to eat Mc Donald’s twice, sushi once, and to order a pretzel, a shake, and a banana. Before I finished round two of Mc Donald’s, I realized I lost my phone and had to gobble my chicken nuggets and cheeseburger (no onions) much too quickly which I regretted soon afterwards me so bought another cheeseburger. 

I embarked on my journey to find my phone only to find a lady standing in the middle of try terminals waving it. She said she had tried calling people but that it was locked but knew my face from my photo on my phone. Insert embarassment of having my own face on my phone, lol, but 10 points me since my subconscious vanity is what saved the day. 

One cool thing was this captain who stopped to play the piano in the airport. Beautiful music. Thank you captain for doing that. It made my day. 

  
My flight left after10 pm and was uneventful. I eventually landed in Rome to meet Meredith here forth called Edith. Customs was a cluster-F and took 2.5 hours in Rome. So long that Edith surrendered her welcome Steph! sign and threw in the towel and left. 

Here is the custom “line.” My first clue at lines in Italia.

 

I found her upstairs with the rental car people looking warm, unamused, and I think happy to see me. After a quick welcome cry we made our way over to the Enterprise rental car line…and over an hour later were at the same counter stop waiting to get our car. That’s when the dude with the socks arrived. 

He had a round head and a ledge chin. Im not sure if he had teeth, I think so. His shirt was fine and that morning he had decided to pair it with the feminine-masculine  pants we call man capris. I was really fine with this, Dado has been known to sport some man capris and rock their socks off. But speaking of socks, that’s where this story took a turn. Not Italian, not American, the man was asking for a smaller car than the one he had ordered online. The lady at the counter obliged and began to process his paperwork. He handed her his drivers license from his wallet and his passport from his pocket. His total came out to 700 or so Euros and the lady extended her hand for his credit card. 

I happened to be leaning on the counter looking his direction as this was happening and watched him suddenly get a life&death type of itch on his foot. He whipped off his shoe and rolled his sock down by wedging his whole hand of fingers down his calf and deep into his sock all the way past the instep of his foot. He dug around down there really struggling and I couldn’t help but watch along with the other room full of people. That’s when we heard some crinkling. Satisfied he had gotten a hold of the goods his face relaxed and he pulled out a small 1/4 quart plastic bag. He wiped the sweat off and and proceeded to bring it to the counter. Appalled, I looked on. That’s when he did it. He reached in pulling out a sock of cards and then took a big whiff to see if they smelled before giving one to the lady at the desk. Here you go ma’am, I hope this sweaty card that was by my toe cheese works. Sorry if it’s wet or smelly. Here’s a picture of him. We were pretty grossed out.    

 

   

 

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