Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 Italian Vacation

A diary of cough

This vacation was a bit different than the others. First, we waited until the last moment to plan it and find accommodations, because little brother had to graduate from high school and pass the exam to get into college before we could make any plans. So it was all done in a rush and late in the season. We were lucky to find accommodations where we wanted and how we wanted them. But I'm getting pretty good at this (with a little help from my friend who lives in Italy, true) so if nothing else works I could be a travel agent.

After that was done, we went to visit grandma in the mountains for a week. Going from 35C to 15C really did a number on my system and, although we made the fire and tried to stay warm, I caught the worse bronchitis in the past ten years. There were no suitable meds at the local drugstore and I didn't trust the hospital in the nearby town, so after a night of non-stop coughing we called Dad to come pick us up and bring us home. The same very evening I scared the crap out of our family doctor who had never seen me so sick before.

This happened on Thursday. By Monday, it became clear that I wasn't recovering fast enough, considering our departure scheduled for Saturday. We switched to stronger antibiotics and shots (ouch!). And let's not forget the aerosol sessions that made me look like an eighteen century steam engine. And the smell, oh, the smell was just awful.

On top of all the next Thursday evening, my blood pressure spiked because of the stupid cough syrup (a new one). Such thing never happened to me before so of course I panicked. No need to say I was not happy with our doctor's work. At our last meeting of Friday evening, she changed my antibiotics again to even stronger and more painful shots I was supposed to take along with me before going back to more regular pills.

But enough about my health. I've survived and since I'm writing this we obviously made it back from our trip in one piece. Let me whine about other things. Although my luggage had been packed since Monday, on Friday evening we were still packing. Mostly food. The two days car trip required quite some energy for a family of four, and we hoped not to have to do shopping during our first days there until we figured out how things worked and where to shop. This meant a trunk full of food. Well, as much as we managed to squeeze in after little brother packed his suitcase.

The past couple of days had been spent looking frantically for a GPS. For once, we had one, but it was broken, and with my illness we had missed shipping it off to Bucharest to have it fixed on time. So we were once again on the hunt for one and until the last moment we thought we'd had to rely on physical maps. Remember the paper kind? We do from the Greece trip. And we didn't get lost once, we did get lost several times while using a GPS. Anyway, we found one. Soon we'll be running out of friends to borrow GPSs from.

These were the circumstances preceding our trip. I had done no research about what we were going to see and I was quite a bit behind with work. It's impossible to do either in between two coughing fits. Yes, I was still coughing, a little less each day, but still plenty as my lungs were full of fluids. I don't know what I was thinking at the time, having the guts to embark on such journey, but I did.

So here we were, the usual suspects (we'll keep their names secret to protect the innocents, hehe): my Mom (MM), my Dad (MD), little brother (LB) and yours truly. As usual, these are some random thoughts about our vacation and the places and things we've seen, non-edited, and not meant to insult anyone. Since this journal is written one week after returning home, it's quite possible some things got forgotten. OK, let the circus begin!

Saturday, 25th of August

- Iasi – Szolnok
- 10:30 – 23:00
- I woke up at 5 AM for the traditional morning cough. At 6:30, the alarm went off. At 9, we were still having breakfast. It was past 10 o'clock when we were finally leaving Iasi. When we took the luggage to the car, we realized we had too many. In fact, if we got stopped at the border and were searched, we would have been booked for trafficking drugs. We were caring an entire drugstore with us. So we left the shots and aerosol machine behind and settled for regular pills. Again, I don't know what we were thinking, but my butt was grateful.
- We took the usual route, Iasi – Pascani – Borsec – Toplita – Reghin – Cluj – Oradea. Up until Reghin, with the exception of two small segments that were still undergoing repair work, the rest of the road was in pretty good shape. The landscape was lovely too, in spite of all the twists and turns in the road. And, of course, I love Reghin, such a cute little town. No time to stop for cakes, though. We did stop for lunch on the side of the road later on. MD slept for a bit and I coughed. It was very hot, which seemed to help some, as in dehydration stopped the cough and I only coughed if I moved.
- There must be a better road between Reghin and Cluj, unfortunately none of the GPSs we had ever used seemed to be able to find it so we slalomed on a deserted road full of holes. In Cluj, we got lost because the GPS insisted to take us on a route designed for trucks. We had used it once before and thought we'd leave our bones there in that forest so never again.
- At 9 PM, we were in Oradea. Only that MD refused to sleep in Pension Z, where we usually stayed, on account that air was not included in the price. It wasn't on the list at all. That meant no Dolph Lundgren movie for me, because there always seemed to be one on TV when we slept there. So we called home, let everyone know we were fine, including my doctor, filled the gas tank, exchanged a random sum of euros into forints, and rode off to Szolnolk to a hotel we had no reservation for and whose address I had taken with us just in case we would make it that far, which I didn't think it would happen by the way.
- At 23:00, we were checking in at Hotel Tizsa in Sarkozy room. The word goes that Sarkozy's grandfather slept in there once. Well, they must have not changed the mattresses since. Those beds are just awful, I didn't slip a wink. And to make sure no one else did, I coughed all night.

Sunday, 26th of August

- Szolnok - Mestre
- 10:00 – 20:00
- The first thing I thought when I woke up was "I'm dead, just leave me here." But after the morning cough session I got out of bed and half an hour or so later I remembered this was how I usually felt after a Iasi – Oradea trip. Except for the coughing part, of course.
- The boys went out to take some photos around the hotel, while us girls got ready for breakfast, which was rather poor, but they had some fine baked rolls. MM complained about not being told to bring her swimming suit so she could use the hotel's bath like she'd seen other hotel guests do. She also filled several bottles with water from a street fountain that was supposed to cure all sort of illnesses. It smelled awful so the rest of us refused to touch it.
- At 10 AM, we were ready to leave. Another warm and sunny day. Unfortunately, the Hungarian highway landscape is rather monotone and less than an hour later MD was already whining that he was getting bored and tried to get MM to drive. We wasted about an hour stuck in traffic on the road around Budapest. I would have preferred to go through the city, at least we would have seen something.
- From there we went south, and as soon as we crossed the Slovenian border it started to rain. We missed the first gas station where we had to get the vignette, so we had to look for the next one, where we also stopped for lunch. Slovenian landscape is full of mountains and tunnels, and because of the rainy weather with all that mist raising from the forest and covering the peaks it was really amazing. Never seen anything like it. I wish we had taken pictures.
- We refilled the tank at the last gas station before the border, and once we entered Italy the sun came out. It was sunny up until Trieste so we dared hope we got rid of the rain. Wrong. After Trieste, the sky was so dark it felt like it was night already. We crawled on the highway, and while the sky started to clear some as we approached Mestre by then it was getting dark for real.
- Finding the apartment's address turned out to be a little problematic. The GPS hadn't heard of that street's name (old maps could be blamed for that) and the main street was quite long to search left and right. We parked the car and they went searching on foot. By the way, it was 18C outside.
- The first spoken word we heard in Mestre was "Open up!" (in Romanian!). Unfortunately, the gate opened fast and the guy on the bicycle disappeared inside before we could ask for directions.
- We did find the street eventually, lucky for us the owner lived upstairs so we didn't have to wait for him to get there. He told us that after a whole summer with no rain, that day they had had the biggest storm ever.
- At 20:00, we were inside the house just as predicted. The apartment looked even better than in the photos. The wardrobe smelled funny so we decided against using it, but other than that it was fine. The bed was awesome.

Monday, 27th of August

- Venice
- I felt less dead in the morning and after a consistent breakfast and a bunch of pills we were ready to roll. Take That was playing on TV so I took it as a good sign. We also discovered that our neighbor from upstairs played the piano beautifully as he or she treated us with a joyful classical tune.
- The bus station was a couple of steps away from the building, but that doesn't mean we didn't miss the first bus until we figured out what the deal was with tickets, bus passes, travels and the like. Inside the one we took, the A/C was fully on. Although I wore a long sleeve blouse, I still froze. That and the heat outside when we got out in Piazzale Roma really did a number on me. For the next couple of hours I felt like a zombie.
- First impression of Venice: probably because of the storm from the previous day, it had the bluest sky ever. My favorite shade of blue, the one I've only seen in the mountains where grandma lives. Second impression: I knew Venice was supposed to have bridges, but not this many! After the bad pavement, not as bad as in Prague, but still pretty uneven, all those bridges consumed all the strength I had left.
- We went through Santa Croce and Sao Paolo districts, over the Rialto Bridge and into San Marco. While waiting for the boys to take photos of every corner and rock, it got late afternoon until we got to Piazza San Marco. After all the photos I'd seen, I was expecting the piazza to be bigger. It's impressive, but still… And there were not nearly that many pigeons as I had been told there would be (MM confirmed it). I liked basilica San Marco and the Dodge's Palace much better. I also didn't get why the street lamps' glass had to be pink.
- Lunch was eaten on the border of Canale Grande, near the pier where all the painters displayed their works. It was still hot, but the breeze made it quite pleasant actually. I didn't care I was the only tourist in the entire Venice wearing long sleeves, I was finally starting to feel fine. After we rested for a bit, we went the opposite way for a couple of bridges, still on the border of the channel, then we entered Castello district for a little while.
- As the evening approached, we made our way back to the bus station. We would have gotten there much faster, but men don't bother to use maps so we ended up crossing at least half a dozen of extra bridges than we would have if we had taken the shorter route instead of relying on the signs on the walls. I have a strong feeling they were made to have you check the entire Venice before getting to your destination.
- On the way back, we kept talking about the soup MM was going to make. It's funny 'cause we always have soup at home so it's not a big deal, but there it felt like we hadn't had any in years. Dehydration must have been speaking through us, though we had water with us and we found several street fountains to refill the bottle.
- When they boys wanted to download the photos from the camera at the apartment, they discovered the laptop's power cord was acting up. As a result, the laptop was placed on the table next to the wall with strong orders not to be moved. This explains why I couldn't write the journal on the spot.

Tuesday, 28th of August

- Venice
- We were treated with no piano concert that morning, such a shame, but we managed to leave the house earlier than noon. No A/C working in the bus either so the day started well. Also, I was wearing only one layer of clothes, still long sleeves, but well, when you got burned once, you better take extra precautions.
- We went to Cannaregio district, over the Scalzi bridge. MM bought a new pair of sunglasses, hers had broken during the car trip, and I lost my leverage, because until then she'd been using mine, damn. Mine tend to give everything a redish tint so I prefer not to wear them when I explore new sights. Somehow, it felt like there were less bridges there. We entered a few churches, but I'll have to over the photos to remember their names.
- We stopped at a store to buy some fruit juice and chocolate filled croissants, then we ate in a small square where we got quickly surrounded by pigeons and we ended up feeding them with bread crumbs. The plastic glass broke spilling some of the juice.
- Our walk ended once again in Piazza San Marco, back to Rialto Bridge and home on the known path.
- A few observations: most buildings have three stories, painted in all shades of yellow and brown. With no exception, they all have wooden blinds, mostly green, but also brown and gray.  All blinds are closed, I don't get how people can live in that darkness. All buildings could use a good restoring work.
- There are probably as many stores selling Murano glass jewelry as tourists. We heard a lot of Russian (they seem to dress the best when they go away on vacation), Spanish, French, German, Czech, Italian and, of course, English (Americans dress the worst). We heard a lot of Romanian too, but mostly from the vendors in the stores and in the street. I hadn't imagined there would be so many Romanians there. And some of them were just… ugh… no wonder Italians hate us. LB suggested for us to speak in a different language while being there because he was embarrassed by what he saw. I tended to agree.
- Dogs. LB and I are big animal lovers so we kept an eye open for dogs. Well, they looked more like toys. I saw no big dogs, only small ones. I would never want such a poor excuse for a dog. We saw no cats, which was strange.
- If I were the Mayor there, I would ban all the gondolas and make the bridges flat. Just saying.
- Cough status: I coughed all day, nothing major, little coughs, probably making up for what I hadn't coughed during the car ride.

Wednesday, 29th of August

- Venice
- MD forgot the coffee maker on the stove without water inside and the plastic handle fell off. Do you see a trend here?
- We took the vaporetto to Academia Bridge, determined to explore Dorsoduro district. A cruise on Canale Grande is nice to do once, but I'd rather walk between buildings the rest of the time.
- It was the hottest day so far, and since MD dragged us only on the border of the water at noon, I got sunburns on my hands, wrists, forehead and collarbones. The sunscreen cream had been left safely at home in the bag with shots and the aerosols machine. I didn't care, I felt great. For the first time in two weeks, I finally felt like I was getting rid of the stupid bronchitis.
- The church on the border of the water we wanted to visit, Santa Maria de la Salute, was closed so after we rested for a bit on its front steps, we went deeper into the district. Dorsoduro is a little different from the others, more quiet, less tourists, and more like a place to live. Still pretty.
- After more bridges, we got to Santi Giovanni e Paolo church. It was very impressive with the hospital next to it and a nice and large square going around it on one side. There we heard more Romanian at a terrace and in a corner a group arguing, seemingly drunk.
- Time to return to the real world, meaning the more populated districts. MM and MD were too tired to enter Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari church, but LB and I did. It was lovely inside, so we kept teasing them about what they missed when we got out.
- We finally saw a cat, two actually. One was sleeping curled up in a basket in a store window, while the other crossed the street in front of us and entered a pet store where it treated itself with some cat food. Smart cat.
- During the past few days, a considerable amount of time had been spent looking for an internet café. The first time we ran into one, we said we'd come back later and forgot where it was located, then we couldn't find one, and when we did it was closed. Mind you, when I had consulted MD before booking the apartment he'd said he didn't need internet access in Mestre. Now he'd remembered it was mandatory to send some emails with exam subjects for Uni, duh!

Thursday, 30th of August

- Mestre
- Aside from being a family vacation, the purpose of this trip was also to attend the Architecture Biennale in Venice so we gave the boys the day off to go and play architects while MM and I stayed in Mestre.
- We checked the map before leaving the house, unfortunately my hand mirror was on the table underneath and when MM pulled on the map the mirror fell on the floor and broke. Seven years of bad luck anyone?
- We found the center, but went quickly through it as MM was looking for a store to replace the coffee maker. The nearby mall, Coin, was small with few stores and not at all interesting. The market around was better.
- Feeling brave, we decided to go explore further south over the railroads. There were works on the right side of the road where we were supposed to go so we walked on the left side. We crossed the bridge and after another kilometer or so as we were getting further away from our destination we realized there was no way to get to the other side of the road so we went back. More sunburns.
- Disappointed, we entered a Pam to get some water because we hadn't taken any with us. By then it was starting to get cloudy. We returned to the market to buy some fruits and then we explored the center properly. We even found some presents for LB because it was his name anniversary. On the way back, we bought a coffee maker and some glue.
- We got to the house while there was still light outside, and if it hadn't been for our helpful neighbor who helped us unlock the front door, the boys would have found two skeletons waiting for them in the garden as the mosquitoes would have eaten us alive. Their mosquitoes are different than ours, smaller and black, and you only feel them after they bit you. At least they bite only during the day, they never bothered us after going to bed.
- The way it was, we even had time to prepare the soup before the boy arrived, victorious that they had seen the Biennale and found an internet café. Only then it began to rain.

Friday, 31st of August

- Venice
- In spite of MD's claims that we'd wake up and leave early, we left really late. So we had to take the vaporetto to San Marco, where we wanted to visit the basilica. Well, it looks better on the outside than on the inside. Nice mosaics on the floor, unfortunately there were lots of carpets covering them, which filled the air with a foul smell of dirty feet. Eww! LB wanted to go upstairs on the roof too, so MM and I had to wait even longer for them to return. We learned all the paintings and statues by heart.
- Then the boys left to visit another location of the Biennale. We agreed to meet again in Piazza San Marco at the main entrance at 5 or 5:30 (MM's phone was dying so we couldn't quite communicate among us once we split).
- MM and I took advantage of our time off to visit every store in the area. Of course we didn't buy anything, but that's beside the point. We ate in a small square and hid inside a church for the whole five minutes while it rained. It had been clouded all day, but not cold, so it was fine.
- Between 5:30 and 6 we ran from the San Marco square's entrance to the Dodge's Palace entrance, because I really wanted to visit the museum and the latest admission time was 6 PM. The boys showed up at 6:30. No need to say I was really pissed. It was our last day in Venice, and given the number of bridges it was very unlikely that I would return any time soon.
- We walked some more through San Marco, Sao Paolo and Santa Croce districts, but although the sun was finally out, it was also windy and cold. We entered a church just to warm up for a bit and discovered it was the Music Museum.
- We finally got tired and went home to pack. I needed hot water bottles to warm up that night. But MM had fixed the coffee maker so yey!

Saturday, 1st of September

- Mestre - Florence
- 10:30 – 14:00
- The apartment's owner was off to Rome, so we left the keys on the table, closed the door and left with almost as much luggage as when we had arrived. You have no idea how much documentation the boys have brought from the Biennale. But we did empty the water bottles brought from Szolnok. It rained on and off all the way to our destination. Tuscan landscape wasn't as exciting as the Slovenian one, but it was less boring than the Hungarian highways. I guess they keep the pretty sights for movies and postcards, because we didn't quite see them.
- It was pouring when we entered Florence and the GPS wasn't familiar with all the one way streets so we drove in circles until I spotted a sign with our street name. We called the owner and half an hour later we were settled inside the apartment.
- Now, we have a joke about the apartment we stayed in in Barcelona, we say that someone's grandmother must have died in it. Well, someone's great-grandmother must have died in this one. It was very small and crowded, with furniture older than grandma, and pour cell phone and internet reception unless you were climbing on the windowsill. Having not checked my emails for a week, I discovered the editor was waiting for me to give my approval for the edits suggested for the story about to be included in his anthology. Also, my friend who had moved to Italy and whom I hadn't seen in ten years announced that she couldn't come over for us to meet. This was disappointing.
- We unpacked and ate and at 6 the rain stopped and we went out for a walk. We discovered the place where all the old furniture had been bought from, went to Piazza della Repubblica where a market was taking place and MD bought some wine, then to Piazza del Signioria and on to Ponte Vecchio. In between, we witnessed a ballet practice session inside Palazzo Strozzi.
- Don't get me started on how bad the pavement was. It's impossible to wear high heels inside the old city center. Walking is barely manageable.
- I stayed up way over midnight checking the edits. I was too tired to argue over every word so I approved most of them since they did nothing to change the story.
- The bed wasn't too bad and if you left the door open you could look at the TV from the living room, though we were too tired for that. It wasn't very restful either because we could hear everything happening in the street and inside the building too.

Sunday, 2nd of September

- Florence
- In spite of our worries, the weather was fine as in it was sunny and it didn't rain. When we went outside, the pavement was still bad and my brain felt like dancing inside my skull with each move.
- In the morning, we went to Santissima Annuntiata. We inspected the market, tasted some of the free samples, and then entered the church.
- San Lorenzo was next. We spent an awful amount of time checking the stands selling leather goods around it before entering the church. It was nice, with a beautiful ceiling, small garden on the side and treasury, probably my favorite church in Florence.
- When we walked out, it started to rain lightly and I got to wear my yellow raincoat boat from Amsterdam, like for five minutes before it stopped.
- Then we went to the Dome square, where we saw Santa Maria die Fiore cathedral and the Batisterium, but we didn't enter yet. The Dome's façade was overly decorated, looking like a giant whipped cream cake decorated with lots of slices of kiwi and strawberries.
- On to Piazza del Signioria to look at the fountain and statues, enter Palazzo Vecchio to check the visiting hours, then we went through the Uffizi interior yard to the border of the river and continued with a walk along its side.
- We crossed Ponte Vecchio to the other side and went up to Pitti Palace. I loved the streetlights in front.

Monday, 3rd of September

- Florence
- We started early with a visit to Michelangelo's house. Very interesting. I liked the blue and the green rooms the best.
- A stop in San Ambrosio market. I saw a nice ring with a blue stone, but it was too big for me. Found a heart shaped pendant for our house and cat sitting friend instead.
- We continued with a visit to Santa Croce church. Awful pavement in the square. We spent way too much time inside, especially since the altar was undergoing repair work and a big part of it was hidden. I was not impressed, for some reason blank walls inside a church annoy me, and the façade that tried to imitate the Dom bothered me even more.
- During one of the previous nights, an old Batman movie had been on TV, dubbed in Italian of course, and since "pipistrello" had become our favorite word. It kept making us giggle whenever we said it.
- Back in the square, we were treated with a striptease number. Two girls decided to change their pants for shorts in the middle of the square for some reason. We assumed they had the long pants on for the church visit, but couldn't they put them over the shorts? Duh!
- It got clouded soon after that and it was really raining by the time we got to Piazza del Signioria so we headed home.
- Early dinner and  some rest, during which I studied our travel guide.
- In the evening, we went out again. A short walk to Santissima Annunziata where we saw our gypsies sleeping in the portico of the Spedale degli Innocenti. Earlier during the day, MM had declared she wasn't leaving Florence until she got to taste their famous ice cream so MD treated us with some. Not sure that was a wise decision given my recent health history and the chilly air outside, but I didn't say anything while we ate it in the Dome's square. It was really good.
- In Piazza della Repubblica, some people were dancing to 50's music and we watched for a while, then MM wanted her picture taken with the wild boar statue in Mercato Novello, which was empty at the time.
- More walking through familiar sights and as it was getting close to midnight we headed home on the well-known route by now, discussing the animated nightlife and wondering if all the people we saw in the street at that late hour were tourists or locals.
- I very much liked the way the streetlights were attached to buildings instead of lamp posts.

Tuesday, 4th of September

- Florence
- You know that feeling when the vacation ends that there's so much left to see and if you had one more day everything would be perfect? Well, the first thing we did in the morning was to call the apartment's owner and ask if it was possible to stay one more night. The phone reception was so bad that I had to speak to her daughter who spoke better English and in the end she agreed, yey!
- There's an outdoor market held every Tuesday in Le Cascine Park and of course we couldn't miss it. The only problem was that we left the apartment late and we decided to walk when we should have probably taken a bus or something. It didn't help that we stopped to visit San Ambrosio church in the piazza at the end of our street, but it was the only time we saw it open. I didn't like it, too much kitsch inside.
- Of course we got lost from the boys on the way. MM and I took advantage to cross Ponte Vecchio and see it during day light. We nearly had a stroke at the sight of all those gold jewelry stores on both sides of the bridge. Then we looked at the prices and, well, let's just say we moved on.
- The park was quite far and when we got there people were already starting to close the stalls. By the time we crossed it from one end to the next and back, over half of them had already packed and left. LB was happy he'd found a bracelet for his girlfriend.
- On the way back we stopped to visit Santa Maria Novella, another church with a façade imitating the Dome, all churches in Florence seem to do that, but this one was more discreet. Nice square in front outside and a smaller one inside too. It's quite big inside with a beautifully painted cupola.
- Finally, it was time to enter Santa Maria dei Fiori aka the Dome. After all the decorations outside, the simple interior was more than a little disappointing. I was actually impressed when the guards addressed me instead of MM because people usually speak to her first when we're together. LB wanted to go up into the tower, but returned quickly declaring he was not crazy to throw out that much money.
- We regrouped on a bench, drank some water and decided that while tired we should make another short trip on the other side of the river. We made it up to Santa Maria dei Carmine, ugly brown stone façade, but so beautiful inside.
- Off to home, dinner and nap. Well, I didn't nap, I had a nutella jar to keep me company. While in Venice, after seeing so many nutella ads, I had announced that when we returned home the first thing I'd do was going to be getting me some. Then MM bought three jars in Florence because they were on sale.
- I didn't think we'd go out again, but just when I was ready to go to bed MM woke up and managed to drag everyone's sorry asses out of bed for the evening walk. More ice cream, then some live music in Piazza della Repubblica. There was a cute couple in the audience, she kept dancing while holding her arms around him until he started moving to the beat too.

Wednesday, 5th of September

- Florence
- A day reserved for culture. In the morning, well, it was actually more like noon, but we had gone to bed after midnight so don't judge (we were on vacation after all), we went to Uffizi Gallery. Two whole stories full of work of arts, statues and portraits in the corridor (lovely ceilings, reminding me of those from the Vatican Museum) and paintings in the exhibition rooms. I was ecstatic to see Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus" and "Spring", though I was surprised to see the first one was so dark. In all the art books I had seen it, it was much lighter.
- Once we were done with the top floor, we had to wait for the boys to finish so we could go together to the next one. Inside the Spanish painters' wing, I finally gave in and put the jacket on because I was literally freezing thanks to the A/C. It seemed I had forgotten what museums were really like.
- When we got out we were exhausted, the gallery is really long and there's so much to see, too much, we agreed. It also looked like it was going to rain so we headed home to eat and rest for a bit.
- It was getting dark and the rain had stopped when we got out again. We went to visit Palazzo Vecchio, which happened to be open until midnight. The big room on the first floor is simply amazing, and the rooms upstairs are not bad either. Each seemed to include some sort of cabinet with many small drawers and painted doors, and after seeing several I started to whine that I wanted one, too. We appointed LB as guide and made him read us the explanations about each room. He's a bit of a clown when he wants to so all rooms were full of giggles. A nice guard removed the cord and let us look outside the window at the city from up there.
- We ended the day with the traditional evening walk.

Thursday, 6th of September

- Siena
- The plan had always been to take a trip to Siena and San Gimignano so we used our extra day for that. Our enthusiasm considerably diminished after we found a parking ticket on the windshield when we went to get the car. It had been issued the same very morning and we still don’t know why we got it. As a result, MD refused to go over the speed limit, or anywhere near it for that matter, so we arrived late at our destination.
- We found a parking reserved for tourists near the fortress and from there we walked on foot. Okay, who on earth decided to build this town on top of a mountain? Everybody gushes about how beautiful Siena is, and it really is, but nobody tells you all streets are angled at 45 degrees or more. There are no horizontal streets, I swear!
- But moving on, the city is really nice and unlike the Florence Dome here the Dome looked more like and ice cream cake, yum! And I liked the big round window on the façade that looked like stained glass from the inside and mirror from the outside. I think I like this church better than all the churches in Florence and Venice too. I also ended up with a new silver bracelet with two white stones and a small cross attached to it. A cross, really Mom? In thirty years, she still hasn't learned that I don't do crosses. I've read to many vampire novels to wear one.
- We ate in the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo where we fed a pigeon with missing fingers, the poor thing. How do pigeons end up losing their fingers? No idea. Oh, and I forgot, this was the only day when I got to wear a t-shirt. I was the only tourist wearing a bright orange t-shirt in the entire town apparently. In my defense, I hadn't imagined I would get to show it to the world when I  put it on in the morning,
- By then, it had gotten late so we went straight home and left San Gimignano for another time.
- One last evening walk before we left, sniff.

Friday, 7th of September

- Florence – Oradea
- 10:00 – 3:00
- I bet you're wondering what's with that 3 AM. That sure wasn't part of the plan.
- We had agreed with apartment's owner to meet at 9 and hand her the key. We told her about the parking ticket, well, technically it was sort of her fault too since she told us to park there, and asked where to pay the fine. The said she'd go the police and ask about it because she had been filming in the street all night, she works for RAI, and there was no reason for the ticket. Oh, well…
- Up to the Italian border we were a little nervous because we weren't sure we had enough gas to get to the station on the other side, where it was cheaper, but we did.
- The Slovenian landscape was less exciting without the clouds covering the mountain tops, but it was still pretty. In the afternoon, we paused in a parking to eat and rest.
- When we entered Hungary, we missed the first gas station so we had to drive another hour or so to find another one and buy a vignette. Really, if you enter Hungary without gas, you're doomed!
- We drove a lot after sunset and it was awful because there was no light on those roads at all.
- Finally, at 11 PM we arrived to Szolnok as planned, only to discover they celebrated Goulash Fest that weekend and all the hotels were booked. There was not one free room in the whole frigging town.
- MD moved in the backseat because he was exhausted and let MM drive. He must have gotten some sadistic satisfaction out of this because he had tried to get her to drive the entire trip without success. Now she had no choice. MM had an instant love affair with a truck with a well-lit back and declared "I'm not leaving the back of this truck!" LB and I kept teasing her about driving faster than MD in her attempts not to lose the truck. We were lucky it was also going to the Romanian border or we might have ended somewhere like Greece, which wouldn't have been so bad, mind you.
- MD went back in the driver's seat because MM didn't want to drive in Oradea on unfamiliar streets at night. We stopped at the first hotel sign we saw, it happened to be Hotel Lyra, and it turned out not to be a bad choice after all. We checked in and we went to bed.

Saturday, 9th of September

- Oradea – Bretcu
- 11:00 – 20:00
- LB woke us up anxious to compare the local breakfast with the one from Tizsa Hotel. We decided it could easily compete and win, plus the omelet was huge. We packed, checked our route on Google Maps as there was free WiFi and eventually left, glad that no one chased us out because it was past 10 AM.
- Cluj - Tg. Mures - Sighisoara - Cristuru Secuiesc - Odorheiul Secuiesc - Miercurea Ciuc - Tg. Secuiesc
- According to the GPS, the entire Transylvania is full of radars. We saw the ugly boxes covered in rust in almost every village. Given the way they looked, they reminded me of scarecrows for some reason, I doubted they were working. The boxes were probably empty in inside.
- Except for Cluj and Tg. Secuiesc, I hadn't been in any of these cities before so I looked at it as an adventure. I liked most of them more or less, but I missed passing through Reghin and especially the cakes we usually bought there.
- We stopped in Tg. Secuiesc to get a chocolate cake for grandma because it was her name anniversary on Sunday and some other stuff for our planned goulash, yum!
- When we arrived to grandma's in Bretcu, we were told that as soon as we had announced our arrival the sky got invaded by clouds and it threatened to rain. Go figure. My uncle had the barbecue ready and it was waiting for us with steaks.
- Having learned my lesson during my last visit there, I let them enjoy the fresh, chilly, mountain air while I ate inside.

Sunday, 10th of September

- The morning was spent preparing our awesome goulash, well, mostly MD and MM did while LB and I wrestled over the laptop arguing who got to check their messages first. I won. Ah, finally a working internet connection.
- At noon, it got warm enough for me to go outside. It was quite pleasant actually. When we were preparing to set the table for lunch, we had guests. Apparently, grandma had guests every single day since we had left, she's popular like that. At least they didn't stay long, and then we got to enjoy our goulash. Awesome! I bet it was better than anything made in Szolnok. That and the chocolate cake, which was surprisingly good considering it was not home made, we could barely move when we were done.
- We had one more visit just before leaving. I haven't seen my fourth grade teacher in over twenty years, and now there she was. She hasn’t changed much. She said I haven't either. We were glad we didn't have to leave grandma alone when we left.
- Bretcu – Iasi
- 17:40 – 21:15 with no radars on the way
- At home, we were welcomed by a miffed pig… I mean cat. I don't know what our friend fed her, but she had doubled in size. Lucky for her, she made up for it by filling the fridge with cooked food so we wouldn't starve when we arrived. Now that's a good friend.

Final comments? It was a nice vacation in spite of all the problems. The pavement was awful, the weather was just so so, and I'm still pissed we didn't get to visit the Dodge's Palace. Other then this, it was fine.

Where will we go next year I have no idea. I'd like Paris, MD was thinking about Denmark, MM wants Lisbon, and I haven't dared to ask LB in case he might say North Pole. So we'll see.

Until then, be good everyone. Ciao!

No comments: