Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Italian Getaway - Day 3 (part 2)

D.Rough and I have both been to Riomaggiore in the past, so we knew where to go. We rolled up to the Mar Mar Rooms office and the guy showed us to our specially-requested apartment with a veranda overlooking the sea. It was the biggest and most expensive one they have and it was worth it. (even though the outside shower didn’t work).
We had to walk about 419 stairs to get to the Giulia Suite (I also liked it because that’s my mother’s name), but we knew that going in, so it wasn’t a problem. We’re young and spry.
We simply sat for a while and just enjoyed the sun and the sound of the water. It was really good to be back here. Really good. D.Rough decided the lemons that were growing on the veranda of our apartment came with the price of renting the apartment, so she decided she'd steal them to make drinks for us. Meanwhile, I secretly checked my phone to figure out what time the sunset was. I had plans that D.Rough didn’t know about.
We headed down to the harbor in Riomaggiore and walked over to the beach. This is my favorite spot in the world. I’m serious. I love the sound of the waves rolling the rocks around. It is the best sound in the world to me.
We sat on the rocks for a while, and I was really frustrated to see some clouds rolling in and almost spoiling our sunset.
We took some funny pictures and just hung out for a while.
Then, I got down on one knee and started crying like an idiot. I finally choked out, “Thank you for coming with me to my favorite place on the whole planet. Since you’re my favorite person in the whole world, will you marry me?” She was crying too, but she said yes. Commence more crying and taking hilarious photos in the dark, trying to get a good photos of the ring. We did pretty well. It’s got a bunch of diamonds and French-cut rubies. We both like it.
We found our way back to the town in the dark, and since D.Rough wanted to make a nice Italian dinner in our apartment, we tried to find a store. However, they were all closed. Except one. A fancy tourist store with exorbitant prices. But it didn’t matter. We grabbed some pesto and some olives and some chocolate and some pasta some wine (and some limoncello) and headed home. Back up the 419 stairs and we fired up the cooktop and found all the dishes we could. D.Rough (my newly crowned fiancĂ©) is an absolutely amazing cook, even when she doesn’t have the home field advantage. She just whips together whatever she thinks of and it is always delicious.
We ate outside on the veranda in the moonlight and it was perfect. I told her I almost didn’t do it because the clouds had rolled in and I wanted it to be perfect, but I couldn’t chance that there would be rain the next night, so I bit the bullet and made it happen. We both laughed and said it was still perfect (which was good because it rained the rest of the trip!!! Hahaha).
We had been collecting photos the whole time, since remember, we still hadn’t told anyone we were going to Italy. We began posting them on Facebook in an album called, “Remember when we went to Italy and didn’t tell anyone?”. We (mainly me) thought we were pretty clever with that. I posted all the best photos and finally the photo of my fiancĂ© and her new ring. Then we started calling family, which took forever since we have large families. I was anxiously awaiting the phone bill I’d have when I got home. Hahahaha.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Italian Getaway - Day 3 (part 1)

We woke up and paid for the hotel room. We also went up and checked out the balcony during the daylight. Just to see what it was like. Absolutely beautiful.Then, we asked if we could store our luggage there at the hotel while we went to see something D.Rough had only dreamed about, AFTER we got a hangover Nutella waffle sandwich...

D.Rough did some pre-travel research on Florence and since she’s a fashion-conscious rock star, she knows all of the scoop on all of the famous designers. She found out there is the Ferragamo Museum in Florence – where they’re based. She asked if I minded going. Of course I didn’t. I like looking at unusual stuff like that. And that’s pretty unusual, in my life-style of jeans and black band shirt-fashion. Hell, I didn’t even know what a ferragamo was. Apparently, Salvatore Ferragamo is a famous fancy shoe, purse, and clothing designer of epic proportions. REALLY fancy. The company has shoed many famous celebrities.
The family-run company operates a museum in the basement of its flagship store in Florence and it is absolutely awesome. It is super interactive with fancy touch screen tables you can move pictures around on like giant iPads. There’s a huge electronic screen topped table where you put things (shoes and purses) on the table and it recognizes what is on it and pulls up all sorts of information about it. There is a room filled with multi-language screen showing movies about the operations of the company. And another room with video interviews of everyone from the CEO to the founder's children, and factory workers. The whole place is covered with black and white photos of smiling workers and pretty ladies – all the photos are taken from this famous photography studio nearby. Then, there's a room with three projectors showing on the walls and one more showing on the floor. It's called concerto for four hands -there's a piano player playing a seriously difficult but expressive piece and also a guy building a red leather pump to the music. All four screen trade off who they show, so you're forced to watch music and shoes and keep switching where you're looking. Very awesome. There were other rooms with very cool projectors showing down onto things that weren’t screens, but more 3D concepts – like books and drawing boards. I'd recommend this museum tons, even if you’ve never heard of Ferragamo (or can’t afford his products). I have raved about it to a couple people who are either fashion people or museum-design people. It really is one of the best museums I’ve been to.

We headed back to the street market we saw the first day to buy some gifts for people. Well, D.Rough did – I’m on vacation, I’m not buying things for people who I’m not traveling with. Hahaha. Then, we went back to the hotel for our things, and then the long walk to the train station. We rolled in with less than five minutes until our train left for Riomaggiore. I bought our tickets in the machine and then we took off running. And then the strap on my bag broke. It was in slow motion. (D.Rough laughing at me the entire time). It tumbled and tumbled behind me – but sadly, I went back and grabbed it hug-style and kept running to the train.

We sat across the aisle from the most amazing man. He was dressed in orange and was the smiley-est man I’ve ever seen. I snapped a couple photos because D.Rough’s roller derby team color is orange and we thought they’d all appreciate a random fancy boy sporting team colors in Italy. He had an orange neckerchief (yes, I said neckerchief) on, and had orange ribbons in his fringy moccasin boots. He was reading books on the wild west (in Italian) and listening to the new Johnny Cash cds he had purchased. When he got up to leave he grabbed his orange man-purse, put on a puffy orange down jacket, and donned his fancy orange lady-hat. It was amazing and we still smile when we talk about him.
We were going to be late to our room in Riomaggiore and they have explicit directions on their website that they don’t wait around past 5 to let people in, especially in the off season. My phone wasn’t working yet, despite having sent Verizon a number of messages through the hotel internet in Florence. We had to change trains in La Spezia, and just then, my phone starting working. Downloading hundreds of emails and missed messages and txts (all the while I had dollar signs chinging in my head… yikes). I called the Mar Mar rooms and talked to Amy and she assured me they’d still be there when we arrived. Which thankfully, she was.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Italian Getaway - Day 2 (part 2)

We got a recommendation for a restaurant from Guido at Bernardo’s Antique jewelry store, but decided against using it based on the price. It looked like a good place and we probably would have been treated really well there, but with the cash we had just dropped on the ring and the trip in general, we thought we’d do something a bit more low brow. Plus we overslept from our nap and didn’t think we could get in without a reservation.

We walked a bit on the other side of the Arno River and came across a fabulous-sounding place that had the steak I had been looking for - Chianina Beef – one of the oldest lines of cattle in the world from 30 B.C. or something is the claim. We kept referring to it as Jesus beef for that reason. We found this restaurant with it on the menu - Osteria de' Benci. It also said it was “Served Bloody” right on the menu posted outside. What does that even mean?! We went inside to find out.
The menu listed some sort of bacon pasta dish that I thought I’d get, since we were trying to not spend a huge sum of money. However, I kept going back to the Chianina steak. But, you know me – I caved in a serious manner when I saw them bring out a steak for someone else. It looked amazing. We got a plate of salami, olive oil, and grilled artichokes – really delicious, in fact. We also got a bottle of house red that ended up being really incredible and better than the previous night’s red. We split a plate of spaghetti, cooked al dente, that was one of the better dishes of pasta we’ve had. The server brought out the raw steak on a large platter and told us “This is your steak this evening. It is one kilogram and five hundred grams. This is ok?” I was drooling and D.Rough said, “Yes, it’s perfect!” I was half worried, they were going to put it on the table in front of us since they said they serve these bloody. They didn’t, thankfully. Let’s go back to what the server started with – one kilogram five hundred grams is big. In fact, it’s really big. This is a 52.9 ounce steak. My record previously was a 36 oz porterhouse at Ruth’s Chris. This was waaaay bigger than that. I’m glad I had my lady along to help.

The steak came back and looked quite cooked. AND delicious. I figured I’d start on the bigger side (the strip steak side) and I’d give D.Rough the Porterhouse. It was mostly pre-sliced into sections so it was easy to maneuver. And it was raw and bloody on the inside – they weren’t lying on the menu. This doesn’t bother either of us one bit, so we dug in. … into the most delicious piece of steak I’ve ever had. Seriously, it was amazing. Normally when meat is rare, you have to chew and chew and chew. This wasn’t like that. It broke down nicely and had the best flavor I’ve ever had in a steak. I demolished my entire side pretty quickly. My jaw only got a little tired from the chewing. Midway through the strip steak side, I grabbed a couple bites of the porterhouse side – D.Rough’s side was even better than my side. Holy cow. Literally. This is the new reason we are calling this the Jesus steak. It was incredible. I’ll quit babbling about it, but you need to try it if you’re there. You’ll pay out the ass for it, but you’ll be glad you did. The whole meal was very simple ingredients cooked perfectly. No crazy sauces or complex recipes. Just solid cooking.

The restaurant was on a party street as it turns out. Tons of bars with young college-age drinkers spilling out on to the street and blocking the crazy traffic. Party whores galore!!! We weren’t anywhere near done drinking, so we pushed our way through the crowd and found a Scottish bar called the Tartan Jock. So we found a Scottish bar in Italy and it was run by Asians. It’s the perfect storm!!! We ordered some scotch (Dalwhinnie for me and Johnny Black for D.Rough) and a Bulmer’s cider (even though it’s Irish, technically) to split. We chilled out in the increasingly-noisy pub and headed out for more walking. We were a million miles from our hotel, and D.Rough needed to stop for some mobile proseco. She found a small bottle in a shop, paid for it, popped it open, and then we set out across Florence. We stopped for a bit in a small piazza where all kinds of people were just hanging out, then we headed towards home.

We were walking down an alley and a street juggler was doing his thing. D.Rough stopped to look into the window of a fancy bridal shop (Atelier Aimee) and the juggler said in a hilarious voice, “Uh Oh…. She wants to MARRY you! You are in the SHIT!!” Such a hilarious end to the evening. Well, AFTER we got back to the hotel and finished the previous night’s bottle of limoncello – THAT was the end of the evening.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Italian Getaway - Day 2 (part 1)

We started the day with a trip to the grocery store for a cheaper breakfast than we could have bought in a shop. We had purchased Uffizi tickets for 10am and had slept later than we intended, so we were rushing around pretty quickly to make sure we didn’t miss food OR the museum (hmmmm, which is more important?). We grabbed a pair of oranges and juice, as well as some spicy meat slices, some sliced provolone, and two baguettes. We walked over to the entrance of the Uffizi and wolfed down what ended up being really awesome sandwiches for breakfast.

We stood in a few different lines until we finally figured out how to pick up our reserved tickets and find the entrance into the museum. I’d been there before, but it’s still awe-inspiring. The Birth of Venus is so amazing up close and in person, as is La Primavera. I also got to see the original painting of the piece I “borrowed” from Artemisia Gentileschi called Judith Beheading Holofernes for the front and back covers of the Anthrofuge CD (the Death Metal band I played in back in the day).

In the basement of the Uffizi is this long cavern system where they have hidden a bathroom. Hilarious to hear all the comments from people wishing they had brought trail mix and made savings throws once in the caverns under the museum. After you’ve walked most of the museum, got the snack bar on the roof of the Uffizi as a break. You have to finish your food and drink before you go back in to the museum, but it’s a good view of the city and is a well needed break. We heard a classical guitarist down in the courtyard whom we then went out and watched for a bit when we left the museum. While watching the guitarist perform, we saw groups of people selling cheap prints of the famous pieces in the museum (which is apparently illegal). We’d see them scoop up their art pieces amazingly quickly and run away whenever someone official-looking or a cop showed up. We saw one of them getting hauled away by a very angry officer, literally holding the kid by the back of his shirt collar and hauling him through the piazza to the police station. Excitement all around!

We grabbed lunch at a small restaurant (Caffe Mokarico Letizia) with outdoor seating and a stoner server. You pick out your food from the display case and there is also food all over the top of the case. You might think it sounds like it’s an awful idea to display things like that, but these people have it down to a science. Everything moves so fast that it is always freshly made.

We grabbed a salad and I got a pizza for myself. The lady behind the counter tried to get me to order beer, but I wouldn’t cave. D.Rough did get talked into ordering herself a small bottle of wine. While they were heating up my pizza, we went out to the patio to sit down. The stoner guy grabbed our food and carried it out for us. My pizza came out shortly after sitting, and despite the fact that it was a tad greasy, it really was a delicious pizza. I won’t complain at all (even though my guts did a few hours later).
D.Rough’s tomato and mozzarella salad had TONS of mozzarella. The olive oil and vinegar comes in condiment packages like we have in the US for ketchup, so that’s fun. And the bottle of white wine D.Rough got talked into was pretty good as well. It was a great lunch, with entertainment provided by the couple who was clearly in mid break-up speech while we dined less than 10 feet from them. Dinner and a show. (It's the woman with her hand on her head behind the flower planter thing)

It was snacking time, so we grabbed some gelato, which we both love. I got amarena (cherry) and ananas (pineapple) and D.Rough got pistachio and tiramisu. We headed back to the Ponte Vecchio to do more window shopping and looking at rings. Then (again, to make a long story short), we went and bought us a ring… I mean RING. "THE" RING. Yeah, major freak out time on someone’s part, but I don’t regret it one bit. I’ll save the haggling stories and discussion over resizing the ring and the VAT you have to pay on expensive things. But we were pretty happy about this whole process. Things were looking up. We had to come back right before the jewelry shop closed that night to pick up the newly sized ring, so we had some time to kill. What better way to kill time than with a sweet Italian nap. Out like zombies for a couple hours. We headed back to the shop and picked up the newly sized ring. We only let D.Rough try the ring on for a second to make sure it fit, and then it had to go back in the fancy box until I got the balls to ask her officially.