Driving, Pisa and the Med

Breakfast Florence

Today’s synopsis is brought to you by Sarah who, in a moment of extreme frustration today said “Some days you make all the right decisions and everything is good and you have a great day, and then there are those other days…”

Today started as one of the other days when our apartment internet connection was painfully molasses-y while I was trying to upload 1000 pictures to finish the post from yesterday. It took forever this morning. I can’t even talk about it. It didn’t put us behind but spending a couple hours glaring at my computer with gritted teeth and saying “U P L O A D!” wasn’t the best start to the morning.

I have to give props to Sarah and all my friends and family who travel with me and have the utmost patience to sit with their hands in their laps while I photograph all their food and wait patiently (and quietly) while I blog and write every day. You’re the best and I love you all.

I finally finished and we packed, left the house, had the breakfast above, which was great and also had a view of the Arno river, and then the sun came out! And so did all the tourists!

Florence from the ponte vecchio

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio for the last time (lovely), tried to take a picture with no people in it (unlovely)  and then tried to find a taxi to take us to the airport to get our rental car.

Things we didn’t know: you can’t hail cabs in Florence like you can everywhere else in the world. Instead you need to go to a taxi stand and act like you don’t care and you don’t need a taxi and then one shows up. Indifference, apathy and the correct location are the only things that get you cabs in Florence. We didn’t have any of those things because it took us a long time to figure that out, multiple cabs passed us by and we really really wanted to get out of Florence.

A couple strangers finally took pity on us and explained the system and we finally got a cab that took us to the airport only to discover that the airport rental cars aren’t at the actual airport, they’re accessible only by shuttle bus. So again with the indifference, apathy and finding the correct location for the rental car shuttle bus. Finally we got our car, finally Sarah figured out the clutch, a rather harrowing business, after which she said “You know what I need now? Chocolate.”

One piece of chocolate later we lurched our way out of the airport parking lot, started out going the correct direction and then it started raining and then we got lost, at which point I remembered a conversation we’d had the night before about whether or not to get a GPS for the car and Sarah said “How much is it? 27 Euros? No! Let’s just get extra glasses of wine instead.”

Perhaps we’d have been less lost if we’d had the glasses of wine before we got in the car. I’m sure we would’ve cared less. As it was, my lap looked like this:

maps of Tuscany

And none of those maps included all the cities we drove through. The next two hours of our lives were small skinny two way highways

Driving through Italy

Leading into one roundabout after another with multiple signs listing cities I’d frantically try to find on the map while Sarah circled the roundabout, I’d find none, we’d make a guess as to our exit, repeat repeat repeat.

We finally gave up on the scenic route and took the “expressway,” a slightly less skinny highway system and then also stopped for lunch when we realized that low blood sugar wasn’t helping.

So, this pizza from a road side stand called al Molinacci in Uzzano was awesome.

Sarah pizza

Can we talk about that wood fired  crust?

Al Molinaccio pizza

We certainly can. And it cost 1 euro! Our whole lunch including beer and a package of nutella cookies (we needed them) cost us 7 euros. And then the tide changed.

The sun came out, Cyndi Lauper came on our radio singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and we got to Pisa in record time with blue skies and good parking.

How precious is this little wedding cake of a complex?

pisa italy

You can just see the famous tower behind it. And speaking of that tower, I’ve never seen so many ridiculous selfies as I saw in Pisa. Here’s a small sampling, Can you see everyone with their hand out?

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s almost impossible not to play along though, especially on a day with such blue skies. So, here’s Sarah

Sarah in Pisa

And me

me in pisa

And us

pisa selfie

And one more just for good measure in case you can’t remember what it looks like.

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s simply so photographable we couldn’t help ourselves. And unlike everything else in Italy, they plunked it in a huge green open field and made it so easy to take pictures! Thanks Pisa! We could have paid 18 euros to climb the tower but we didn’t. We climbed two yesterday. We’re good.

Instead we took a tower break to photograph gelato (carmel) and cafe (macchiatto)

Gelato y cafe

And buy postcards and jewelry and then we got back in our little silver bullet and zoomed our way to the coast. In what seemed like .3 seconds, we were at the sea.

The Med in Italy

So gorgeous, the Mediterranean.

The Med in Italy

We’d decided to spend the night at the shore and head into wine country tomorrow so after climbing up and down that cliff and watching the waves crash for what seemed like hours, we continued driving down the coast looking for hotels. We swung off the road in Castiglioncello at the first hotel we found that overlooked the ocean to ask if they had a room.

They did. Would we like to see it? Yes. She takes us downstairs and turns to the sea side of the hotel, opens the door, says “and there’s a balcony” and then she opens that door to this view.

The Med from our balcony

Are we interested in the room?  ARE WE INTERESTED IN THE ROOM? Can I live here? Perhaps forever? Just for tonight? Ok, yes. We’ll take the room.

We moved in and stood on the balcony to take in the view and then only ripped ourselves away because we were starving and it was getting late. And then we tried to find an open restaurant in a small seaside town during off season… not easy. Sarah finally accosted a little old guy on the street to ask him about anything open and he said “Sto pensando… pensando…” and then gave us directions up the street to a place he was sure was open and promised we would eat very well. He actually kissed his fingers, God bless him.

The place he recommended was Scolapasta, a white table cloth place that looked very shi shi but starving beggars can’t be choosers so we went in and sat down… and then proceeded to have the best meal I’ve had since I got to Europe, perhaps one of my best all year.

Bread and wine

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh handmade pasta so thin I could see through it

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh grilled seafood

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

And a yogurt mousse dessert so light it was the texture of whipped cream.

Ristorante Scolapasta

Sarah and I couldn’t get over ourselves or this food. I’ve never had Italian pasta that good ever. Not once. And if I’d left Italy and not eaten food like this, I’d have been so sad. I’m also so glad it was by the sea because the seafood was so fresh. Outstanding. All around.

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Cheers Scolapasta. You’re magnificent.

And then we bought a bottle of wine and went back to our balcony because.. views.

Sarah and the Med

And that’s how a day turns around. Thank God.

Tomorrow: wine country.

Grand Magnificent Prague

Prague's Old Town

I know Paris is older, but Prague feels older. If Paris is a lady, then Prague is her grandmother. She wears all her jewelry, even at breakfast, she’s weathered all the storms and cannot be bothered and she’s beyond impropriety. Prague is the Maggie Smith-esque Dowager Countess of Europe.

Prague

It’s just that everything in Prague is so old and so massive. I assume the words grand and magnificent and monumental were invented to describe Prague. I’ve never been in a prettier city that was so hard to photograph. The scale of these giant ornate boxy magnificent buildings are beyond the scope of my camera.

Prague

Every picture I take fails to show the weight and grandeur. It’s awe inspiring. How long did all this take to build? How many millions of people contributed? I can’t imagine.

I even climbed a tower to get some perspective.

Prague from above

This is the tower on the Mala Strana side of the Charles Bridge, looking towards Old Town across the Vltava river.  And the city doesn’t look so massive from here.

Obligatory czelfie in Czech land.

Prague czelfie

And afterwards I spent most of the day in the Jewish Quarter, a neighborhood they call Josefov.

Josefov Prague

I saw several synagogues in this neighborhood, for a change of pace in my churchy wanderings. I only went into one because they all charged admission. But I picked a really good one, the Spanish Synagogue.

Spanish synagogue Prague

Moorish-inspired, intricate and so detailed and incredible. It was a rather small space but the paintings and carvings were extraordinary. And in their archives of photos and memorabilia, I saw this star from WW2.

Spanish Synagogue PragueI wonder what would have happened if they’d said no. Forget it. We won’t wear them. What could Hitler have said. “wear it or we kill you?” And could that have been worse? I think ultimately it would have changed nothing but I do wonder.

This Josefov neighborhood dates back several centuries and Jewish people were buried in this cemetery for at least 300 years until the 19th century. They estimate over 100,000 people are buried in this small plot of land no larger than most people’s houses.

Jewish Cemetery Prague

On a lighter note, here’s the exterior of the most Dr. Seussical synagogue in all the land

Jubilee Synagogue Prague

Again with the massive buildings and the difficulty of shooting pictures, but you get an idea at least. Those colors are out of control!

Franz Kafka got a monument in the Josefov, right near where he used to live across from the Spanish Synagogue. It’s a cool alternative piece inspired by one of his stories. Even though it was installed 80 years after his death, I like to think he’d approve.

Kafka Monument Prague

I walked all the way down to New Town to get a picture this Gehry designed building. We’d driven past it on my way to the hotel and I really wanted to see it again

Dancing House Prague

It’s called Dancing House but here in Prague they just call it “Ginger and Fred.” Isn’t that fantastic?

And speaking of things that are fantastic, here are more bubbles!

Old Town Square Prague

I love these bubble guys. They always make me happy.

These Bohemian Bards were throwing down and that made me happy too.

Bohemian Bards Prague

Public squares are my favorite things about Europe. I love the buskers and performers all gravitating to this public space as well as all the music and food and general revelry.

Speaking of food, here’s a Czech delicacy called trdelnik (feel free to try to pronounce that. The shopkeeper laughed when I attempted it :)

Trdelnik Prague

The dough is rolled on metal rods, brushed with butter and cinnamon sugar and then baked over these open flames. They cut them in chunks and serve them as is or coated with chocolate inside.

Trdelnik Prague

Perfect midday snack with coffee.

I’ll leave you with the only bit of street art I’ve found here in Prague

Old Pepsi Cola Ad Prague

Not quite in the street art spirit but still beautiful.

One more morning in Prague. I’m hoping to storm the castle!