31 May 2007

Florence -- our wild night out with the kids

So after three nights in Venice, we boarded a train and it was off to Florence. As luck should have it, it was raining in Florence when we arrived, too. Dragging your suitcase from the train station to the hotel in the rain is not much fun. It was worse in Rome but I'll get to that in a bit. Kelly and I loved Florence. We loved the relaxed atmosphere and the beauty of the city. We had a really good meal one night with a new friend and we enjoyed some of the best gelato in the world. Upon arrival and check-in we went straight to the Uffizi.
We stood in line for the better part of 2 hours to get in. While waiting in line we met a young guy from North Carolina who was living in Edinburgh. He was going to graduate from school a semester early so he took 6 months to work in Scotland and tour Europe. He was traveling alone and was staying in a local hostel. Anyway so we chat with him while waiting and then walk through the museum with him. When we left we all grabbed a beer together and decided to have dinner together. Kelly and I found a great place and we really enjoyed the veal and the wine. After dinner, we went back to the hostel with our new friend as he noted several people were going out and we wanted to tag along. The next thing we knew we were drinking wine that cost €3 per bottle from little tea glasses and were hanging out with college kids. We stayed out till 2:00 am before finally heading back to our hotel.
Needless to say, we felt miserable the next day. Thankfully, we had reservations at 9:45 at the Accademia to see the David or we would not have gotten up early the next morning. We went and we were completely moved by it. I don't think a sculpture has ever impressed me that much. I think Kelly can agree with me. After the museum we went through the Duomo and we walked across the river and up a huge hill that overlooks all of Florence. We took some amazing pictures, ate wonderful gelato and wandered through strange gardens on the way back down.
We ate cheap calzones for lunch before heading back to the hotel for a nap. For dinner that night, we met my parents and a couple touring with them. The dinner was nice but it was over priced and not as good as the place the night before. It became somewhat of a running joke. My parents, who were staying in 5 star hotels and going to these expensive places to eat did not have more than 2 good dinners over 10 nights in Europe. Kelly and I, who are on the budget trip, used our tour book and had great dinners almost every night but a few. We learned the lesson that our tour book is almost always right. So after 2 nights in Florence, it was on to Rome.

29 May 2007

Venice -- it's like a movie set!!!

Well on our way to Venice, our first stop, we had a lay over in Frankfurt. While sitting in Frankfurt we were informed that the flight was oversold and they were offering €250 per person if you would wait and take the 4:00 flight instead of the 1:00 flight. Needless to say, Kelly and I waited till 4:00 and collected €500 when we landed in Venice. The downside of that was that we were informed they left our luggage in Frankfurt and that we would not get it until tomorrow. So off we went to the hotel to clean up in our same clothes after a long day of travel. So we took a water bus from the airport to Piazza San Marco, which was right by our hotel and checked-in. Our hotel was small but quaint and it was centrally located making it immensely convenient. The first night we grabbed dinner at some place recommended by our hotel and then wandered through the Piazza San Marco listening to the orchestras play outside of the cafes. We had a glass of wine and sat and watched. It was really wonderful.

The next day the rain began and it rained on and off until we left Venice.
We had a break long enough one night to take a gondolier ride through the canals and down the great canal. Kelly and I really enjoyed it and were glad we did it but agreed that it was not worth the price and we would not do it again.
We spent the days seeing the Palace, Basilica, bell tower and wandering through the streets discovering the shops of Venice.
We were able to spend one afternoon and one dinner with my parents who were on an organized tour traveling to most of the same places.

I think the funniest thing I have ever seen and it will remain one of my favorite memories is watching Kelly feed the pigeons in the square. You pay €1 to a person selling corn for the birds and you throw it out or hold it in your hand and the pigeons swarm all over you because they know you have the food. I did it and took it ok. I had birds all in my hand, on my arms and all around my feet. Kelly, on the other hand, would jump and scream with fear.
At one point in time we were standing amongst hundreds of pigeons when it sounded like a gun went off. It turns out they make this sound whenever there are tons of pigeons and tourists in this area and the pigeons freak out and start flying everywhere causing the tourists to duck and dodge the birds. It scared us stupid and then the birds nearly decapitated us. Overall, I loved Venice but I think it is really expensive and that takes away some of the fun. Paying €4.50 for a coke really pissed me off. Here are some more wonderful photos, though!

16 May 2007

The Wining on the Wall

Wow, it is May 16th already. It’s amazing how fast time flies over here. Kelly and I realized the other day that we have already been here eight months, and it scares us how fast our time slips away. It’s just so darn fun you forget what day it is! So, what have we been up to, you ask? Well, a lot. We have been around London the entire time, as we are preparing to go to Italy next weekend for eight nights. We will be in Venice for three nights, Florence for two, and Rome for three before coming back. Unlike earlier in the month, it has been cold and rainy, and it’s getting on my nerves. It’s not supposed to be 55 degrees and rainy in May, but everyone else seems okay with it, so I have to learn to accept it.

I have been “working” in London the past month. I say “working” because I have nothing to do, so I go into the office and read the internet most of the day. I finally got some work this week, and it has made my days much more enjoyable. Well, the weekend of May 4 was a long weekend, as May 7 was a bank holiday. During long holidays we like to go on tours here in London or on trips. We decided to stick around here and mess around. Friday night we went on a London Walk. London Walks are cheap ways to see cool parts of London you would not have otherwise seen. You pay £6 per person, and a guide walks you through designated streets, telling the stories and history in the theme you selected. We did a Haunted London Walk, so as we walked through streets and alleys, he told us ghost stories and stories of murders in the City. It was really fun, but not as scary as we had imagined. This same man does a Jack the Ripper Walk, and it is supposed to be awesome. We are planning to do that in the winter when it gets darker earlier. Anyway, it was a great entertaining and cheap thing to do on a Friday night.

On Saturday night, Kelly and I ventured to Shakespeare’s Globe and saw Othello.
Friday night opened the season of the Globe, and I snatched up some tickets for the second night. We were told that you should be a groundling at one show so that you can experience the theatre up close and personal. So we paid £5 per person and arrived almost an hour early to get in line. We were about 15 people back in line, and we were 45 minutes early to the opening gates. The show starts 30 minutes after they open the gates. So we waited one hour and 15 minutes prior to the show, but the production was amazing. The groundlings stand in a circular “pit” in front of the stage, and the actors come through gates and doors around the groundlings through the crowd and onto stage. This is how they simulate an approaching crowd. Othello, for those who do not know, is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Shakespeare’s tragedies always amuse me because he kills off everyone. Othello is no different. Most everyone of any great importance is killed off by the end of the play. We enjoyed the groundling experience, but after you factor in intermission and the performance, we were on our feet for 3.5 hours, which was a little much. Also, weird French girls with big hair cut in front of us and ruined our view at the very beginning of the play. Kelly and I arrived early get a good spot, but then a group of young French girls came up behind Kelly and the strange one with really big hair kept bumping her until she got in front of her. Kelly, needless to say, was outraged. So Kelly and I swapped places, and I would not allow her friends to join her or come near her. Crowds are funny. All you have to do is move a few inches back every few minutes, and you can pretty much isolate anyone. The girl was not happy, but we really didn’t care. At intermission they slid up close again, but we were smoother and ended up with front row spots. All in all it was a great experience, but I think we will buy regular seats in the future. Here are some shots from our walk home.

Kelly and I have also joined a softball team. We are now team mates on the London Tigers, a mixed-sex team that plays around town. Kelly plays right field, and I play left-center. During our first game (May 1), Kelly had line-drive after line-drive hit to her. She had a pretty rough day, but she stuck it out and played well. She also had a good hit. On Sunday, May 7, Kelly and I took the dogs out to the park and threw the baseball to help her with her catching and throwing. I’m glad to say that we are currently 2-0, and Kelly is doing quite well. We are playing our third game tonight, so I’ll keep you updated. In addition to the London Tigers, I was asked to play in a tournament this past Saturday in Slough, which is 30 minutes west of London. It was a two-day tournament, but I only played on Saturday, as I was supposed to play golf on Sunday before our tee time was rained out. I played well, batting over .700, and made several nice plays in the field, but getting up at 6:30 on a Saturday is not my idea of a tremendous time. The name of that team was the Clapham Thunder. I met some really nice people on that team, so I imagine I will play again, regardless of my distaste for rising so early on a weekend.

On Sunday, May 6, we had the Triefenbach’s over for dinner. Jeremy has been working in San Francisco the past few weeks, and we enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with him. We have been trying to keep up with Katy during his absence to make sure she doesn’t get lonely or need anything. On Sunday we grilled some bratwurst on the charcoal grill outside in our garden. I haven’t grilled in quite a while, so it was nice to have a cold drink over an open fire again. For those who don’t know, I had a massive gas grill at home that we used often. Man, I miss that grill. Neal better enjoy it now before I get back. Finally we get to our bank holiday, May 7. What did we do? NOTHING!!!! I didn’t even leave the flat, and I think I can count the times I left the couch on one hand. It was a good day.

Well, this past weekend was a little wild. Kevin Mitchell, our friend from D.C., and Katy Triefenbach were supposed to come over for dinner / drinks and a laid back evening around the flat. Kevin asked if another couple could come, and we were more than happy to have more people. Sharon and Emanuel (Shemanuel, as they are called) joined us, as well. Later in the evening another couple came, as well.

Well, we all started playing a competitive card game called Presidents, and time disappeared. By the time we looked up it was after two. The next thing I know, I toss a soccer ball to a person (it wasn’t Kelly, and I’m not going to call out one of our guests), who ended up accidentally spiking the ball onto the coffee table, knocking over about six glasses of red wine. Needless to say, wine went everywhere. Most of the wine remarkably came out of the carpet, and the bleach pen from the Cookes worked on a white blanket we bought over here that was draped over the back of the couch, so all that is left to do now is paint the wall where red wine hit it. Yes, red wine covered a wall. Kelly and Katy cleaned the apartment and scrubbed a lot of the wine off the wall the next day, but it still wouldn’t come out completely. The landlord, thankfully, left extra paint in a hidden cupboard in our flat, so it will all be fine; all we need are the brushes. It was not funny at the moment, and the person who missed the ball, who shall remain nameless, felt awful and even offered to paint the wall. We had a great time, though, and we met some great people! We just might soon institute a ban on red wine in the flat!!

Sunday was Kelly’s book club meeting. I still have no idea what goes on there, but I know it’s growing. I believe they have more than 10 members now, and word is spreading fast. I’m beginning to fear the book club and the authority they are wielding over our homes here in London. Seriously, if the book club is coming to a guy’s flat, he’d better make himself scarce. It’s like being banned from your flat for a day. I swear they are planning to take over London. Anna Karenina my foot. I’m just bitter that my golf game was rained out. I still haven’t played since Christmas, and I’m having withdrawal symptoms.

Well, that’s about it. Mom and Dad, we can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. Brad and Jill, I love your blog updates, and Levi’s entry is hilarious. Congratulations to Lane and Libby Cooley; they are expecting their first child, and it is my first pledge brother to be expecting (that we know of anyway). Hadley and Savannah are great. I think they enjoy this flat a great deal more than our old place. Kelly and I have our Italy trip planned, and we are going to Paris for Bastille Day in July. We will be home for my high school reunion in August, I for a week, but Kelly maybe for the weekend. Summer will be gone before we know it. Other than that, post comments to tell us what you think. Good luck to the Mean Gene Barbequing Machine this weekend in Memphis. Go Sox!!! They are 8 ½ games up on the Evil Empire. I know you love that, Stuart and Brad.