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Europe 2012

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Europe 2012 - Page Text Content

S: Europe 2012

1: FIRENZE, ITALIA | 2 luglio 2012 - 26 luglio 2012

3: SANTA CROCE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 3 luglio 2012 | Yesterday was our first day in Firenze, Italia. We arrived to our apartment, Via delle Pinzochere, 20, around 6 in the evening and got settled in. Our apartment was small and cozy, just barely enough for three people. When you looked out the window, you saw Santa Croce. Since we were so exhausted from the 13-hour airplane flight, we only walked around the city for a little while and then ate dinner at Pizzeria Santa Croce. We were true Italians and even ate outside. The view from where we were eating was wonderful; we were right in front of Santa Croce. That night, our sleeping patterns were all off. If one went to sleep, the other two were awake and vice versa. If one got up, one would go to sleep. It was awful! The only good surprise we got during the night was that there was a baker downstairs baking. The aroma was so pleasing, we did not mind staying up. Around 5:30 a.m., Mom and I decided to get up and walk. We could not go back to sleep. It was better at that time anyways because there were no crowds and it was not scorching hot. I gave her the priceless Caitlin tour. I showed her Santa Croce, ABC School (where Lauren and I studied back in 2007), the Ponte Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery. After, we found a café, Calamai, that was open (around 7:00 a.m.), where we got café and pastries. Later on in the evening, we went to get some gelato at Vivoli Gelateria. It was Mom's first gelato in Firenze. After we got back to our apartment, I opened my very first bottle of wine. When we arrived in our apartment yesterday, vino was waiting for us as a house-warming gift. With the help of YouTube, I finally got it opened within ten minutes. I was so proud of myself. After, I was rewarded. I got to relax and enjoy a glass with the breeze coming in. Now I know why people prefer to wine and dine outside. Fresh air and the view are the best combination.

7: PONTE VECCHIO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 4 luglio 2012 | Happy Fourth of July!!!! It had been mine and Caitlin's third time celebrating the 4th of July in Europe, our second time celebrating it in Firenze, and Mom's first time celebrating our great country – the great U-S of A, here in beautiful Italia. Of course, no one in Italy, besides the American tourists acknowledged it but it was nice to know the 4th of July has the same meaning, regardless where we are in the world. In the morning, Caitlin in keeping up with her dawn-to-dusk daily Ponte Vecchio pictures, walked to the Ponte Vecchio. At first, she wanted to take a picture of the Ponte Vecchio at every hour and after realizing this daunting task she quickly reverted back to reality and shortened it by half – a more realistic undertaking. This day was spent walking around the city center and taking in all the culture and beauty of Italy's great architecture and art. There were no fireworks but there was a lot of American pride represented by Americans wearing the colors of our flag – red, white, and blue. American tourists were louder than ever on this night to celebrate and with great reason. Caitlin, Mom and I did not eat the usual cuisine of the 4th of July – hamburgers, hot dogs, and beer but Italian food was a great alternative on this day – especially since we were, after all in Italy. Sleeping through the night was still something Caitlin, Mom, and I had not achieved yet, in Italy. The noise and weather did not make it any easier. However, the aroma of the bakery downstairs was still pleasing to our senses. At certain times throughout the very early hours of the morning we would call each other's name and after hearing a “yes” response all that was said was “mmmm that bread smells good." And with a chuckle we all proceeded to talk about the heavenly smell of the baked goods that were a brewing downstairs.

9: PALAZZO PITTI E GIARDINO DI BOBOLI, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 5 luglio 2012 | On the agenda today was Santo Spirito. We took a taxi because we did not know where it was. When we first arrived in Firenze, Gian Marco recommended it and said it was beautiful. Little did I know, it was right next to Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. I knew exactly where it was all along. Santo Spirito is down the street from Pitti Palace, which is down the street from Ponte Vecchio and so on. Everything is right next to each other and you can walk anywhere in the city center and it is within a 30-minute walking distance. You never need to take a taxi. After we saw Santo Spirito, which was only for literally a minute, we went down the street to Pitti Palace. Pitti Palace was once the grandest palace in Europe. This elegant building was once home to the Medici. It is now filled with several museums. Mom wanted to see Boboli Gardens. Lauren and I had gone once before, but it was good to go again. I missed a few things the first time around. I was on a mission to take a picture at the very top, where the views are spectacular and you can see the delightful gardens. Unfortunately, the gardens were not how I remembered last time. It was disappointing as there were no flowers and water in the fountain. The views were breath-taking as usual and well worth the walk. After Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, Lauren and I walked around the Duomo, Piazza della Signoria and Uffizi Gallery. We bought a postcard and stamps to mail to Brittany. Then, we went around the block to eat gelato at Vivoli again, located in a hidden alleyway at the heart of the Santa Croce district. I always heard about this place producing the best gelato in town. It was rich and creamy, but I have had better gelato in Firenze. After we got back to our apartment, we wrote Brittany a postcard.

13: PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 6 luglio 2012 | As we were getting more and more acclimated with the time difference, we were venturing out more often. We got an early start and headed to Piazza della Signoria. It is Firenze’s most famous square. It has many tourists, as well as locals, beautiful palazzi (buildings), sophisticated café terraces and a dazzling collection of statuary. There, we people-watched and soaked up the atmosphere of the busy square. After people-watching, we took a break and sat on the terrace of the classy Caffé Rivoire. Lauren and I were on a budget the first time and never even thought about going, but being older, teachers and on vacation, we could afford to. It was not hard to resist Rivoire’s outside tables, overlooking Piazza della Signoria. Known famously for specializing in hot chocolate, the food was delicious. Mom ordered sea bass with carrots, Lauren had lasagna and I had prosciutto and melon. Everything, from food to drinks were overpriced, but definitely worth paying for the view. An added bonus was our waiter. He was the nicest and most personable waiter we have ever had. He spoke limited English and was so appreciative when we tipped him. He even commented on how nice my Tory Burch iPhone case was. He knew how to win us over (with compliments). After an amazing lunch, we visited Palazzo Vecchio, which towered over the Piazza della Signoria. The night ended on a wonderful note. We ate at Bar-Pasticceria, which was in between Piazza della Signoria and Hotel Bernini, coincidentally where Kim and David stayed at during their duration in Italia. I was familiar with that hotel and it was absolutely beautiful. On the way home, we bought souvenirs for Johannes and Kimney. Later, we even got to Skype with Johannes and Kim. We were on Skype for over 3 hours. It was great not only hearing familiar voices, but seeing them too.

17: PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO E GIARDINO DELLE ROSE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 7 luglio 2012 | Lauren and I hiked to Piazzale Michelangelo after I took my 10:30 a.m. picture of the Ponte Vecchio. It was a much shorter hike than we expected. Maybe because the first time we went, it was with so many people and the weather was hot. Plus, it was crowded in general because they were taping TRL Italy. When we got to Piazzale Michelangelo, we took pictures of the perfect postcard view. It was really one of the best views of Firenze, if not the best. We even managed to get jump shots in. I wonder how old we will be before we stop doing jump shots. Our first jump shot was in Firenze, five years ago. Ever since, we have been hooked. Firenze was where it all started. Mom and I did not take a nap the entire day. I think we were finally adjusting to the time difference. To celebrate, we all walked around the city. We went back to mine and Lauren’s first apartment and took jump shots and pictures with Porcellino, the local Florentine nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar, located in the Mercato del Porcellino. You rub the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Florence. Lauren and I have rubbed it the past two times we visited Firenze and it really works. While still at the Mercato del Porcellino, we bought an ACM Milan Ronaldo Dinho, #80 soccer jersey for Ian. The man only had one. We were lucky to find one. No one talked about soccer because they lost to Spain the day before we arrived. After the Mercato del Porcellino, we went back to Piazza della Signoria and had dessert at Perseo. It had the same feel and ambiance as Rivoire. Mom and I each had a granita, which was coffee with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. It was delicious, but the coffee was too strong and bitter for my taste. We loved eating on the terrace. We had been really lucky and got incredible seats each time we had eaten in Piazza della Signoria. Afterwards, we went to see the Duomo.

21: BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME, DUOMO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 8 luglio 2012 | Sunday was literally a “Sun”-ny day or as I like to refer to it “bun” day because I literally had to have my hair in a bun just to keep a little cooler from the heat. I think since we arrived, today had been the hottest day yet. Caitlin and I started the morning by of course walking to the Ponte Vecchio to take her picture. After Caitlin finished taking her picture, we headed to the Accademia but along the way I spotted Astor, a comfortable and modern café that I had been wanting to go to. I saw it featured on a television show and knew I wanted to visit there on my next escapade. Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I saw it so of course, we went in. After a quick stop at Astor and a gelato later, we headed to our original first priority – the Accademia (where the real Michelangelo’s David is located). We had already seen the spectacular sculpture on our first visit but wanted to revisit the area and scope out how far it was for Mom. As suspected it was not that far at all. For dinner, Mom had a hankering for Chinese food so Caitlin and I joined her. Only our mother would crave rice and Chinese food when in Italy. She had stumbled across this Chinese restaurant near our apartment, Rosticceria Cinese Jian Jian. It was this small little Chinese restaurant adorned with red lanterns. The food was edible and the service was excellent. The chow mein noodles were made with fettuccine noodles and even though it was quite different from what we were accustomed to, it satisfied our appetite. After, we found a great souvenir store in Santa Croce, where we bought souvenirs for family, friends and even ourselves. We ended the night with a stroll to the Duomo where we took in the beauty and all it had to offer, relaxed, and people-watched. The highlight of the Duomo was Brunelleschi's dome. It is no wonder it is one of the architectural wonders of the world.

23: DUOMO E CAMPANILE DI GIOTTO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 9 luglio 2012 | The day started as usual: a walk to take my daily picture of the Ponte Vecchio and Mom exploring around our neighborhood. I cannot describe how adorable and precious she was. This time, she came back with our new best friend, a fan. It was so amazing; it was lightweight and was not loud at all. As I was eating lunch, I noticed on the can of coke that it said “colleziona le 6 lattine dell Italia." It caught my attention because it did not look like the usual coke can back at home. I thought it was a collector's edition or something similar to that. Naturally, I looked up the translation on-line and it said “collect the 6 cans of Italy." I was a mission to collect all 6 after that. I thought it would not be so hard, considering we drink coke like it was water. The fan felt so great in our apartment, we did not want to leave. However, Lauren and I needed to walk and move our body. We walked our usual walking route – to the Duomo. We took pictures of the Duomo and Giotto Tower. After taking more pictures, we walked a little further to the San Lorenzo Leather Markets. It was exactly how we remembered it – overcrowded and hot. On the way back, we decided to go in a few stores. It was such a coincidence because earlier I had mentioned collecting coke cans and Lauren saw the collection in this one gelato shop. I had to take a picture. It was fate. Next to it was a store that sold Ferrari merchandise. Right away, we thought about Oom Mond. He mentioned to Mom that he wanted her to bring back a Ferrari for him. He never said anything about the size. We found a miniature Ferrari toy car and thought it would be perfect. We cannot say enough about our fan. Mom said that it was the best purchase she made on this trip and I could not disagree with her. It was the best purchase!

27: SANTO SPIRITO E OLTRARNO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 10 luglio 2012 | The day did not go exactly as planned. We planned on going to Santo Spirito in the morning, but heat got the best of us. It is better not to plan anything and just be spontaneous anyways. It is more fun that way too. Instead we slept, and then Lauren and I eventually got ready. I got my 1:30 p.m. Ponte Vecchio picture. Then, Lauren and I walked for a little bit and bought some more souvenirs at the same souvenir store we went to before, near Santa Croce. We got Vespa-shaped mugs – so adorable and a few more things. We eventually made it to Santo Spirito. When we got there, it looked different. There were no outside vendors; the square was empty. We liked heading out in the late afternoon because the weather was cooler, and there were not so many people. We did more souvenir shopping and even found the San Spirito church. I was hoping we would see the church and we did. Since we were in the area, we walked to Pitti Palace, Ponte Vecchio and ate dinner in the Piazza della Signoria square. After dinner, we went to get some gelato at Gelateria dei Neri. We all agreed it was the best gelato we had thus far. Mom had mango and limone (lemon), Lauren had stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chips) and nutella and I had mirtillo (blueberry) and acai. I had no idea what mirtillo was, but it looked good. I took a chance and ended up loving it. Lauren later looked it up and told me it was blueberry. No wonder the 2 flavors went so well together. The night ended with pictures at Santa Croce. I wanted a jump shot at every top Firenze site. I was embarrassed at first because there were a lot of people, but got over it quickly.

31: CAMPANILE DI GIOTTO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 11 luglio 2012 | It was a breezy and beautiful morning. It was perfect for climbing the Campanile di Giotto (bell-tower). It is a 278 feet tall building that is situated next to the Duomo – one of the most architectural and magnificent buildings in all of Firenze. On our first trip to Firenze, we had climbed the Duomo. It took 463 steps, tight corners, no central air conditioning and lots of patience to finally reach the top but it was definitely worth it!!! The view from the top was unbelievable!!! It truly was an incredible view and a wonderful experience! Caitlin and I knew we did not want to miss the opportunity to climb Campanile di Giotto so we made sure it was something that we did. We knew it was going to be confined and hot but the good thing was we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Campanile di Giotto was not as grand in scale as the Duomo but it surely did not lack style. It was not as tall as the Duomo either. However, it still offered wonderful views. It opened at 8:30 a.m. and Caitlin and I wanted to beat the crowd so we went early. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised at how short the line had been. I guess it is really true what they, "The early bird catches the worm." After 414 steep steps, very little area to move, and minimal light, we were finally at the top of the bell-tower. What a view!!! And what a workout!!! It did not take us very long to get to the top however, once there we were in no rush to get back down! Since it was not too crowded, we even managed to get in a few jump shots. Later in the evening – Caitlin, Mom, and I went to Piazza dei Ciompi. It was not a tourist attraction but Mom wanted to go somewhere that was not in the city center. It did not have a wow-factor. Mostly native Italians gathered in that square. It was a great area to immerse oneself wanting to capture the true Italian lifestyle.

35: GALLERIA DEGLI UFFIZI, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 12 luglio 2012 | After a change of bed sheets, we all had a good night’s rest free of mosquitoes. For the first time, we all slept for more than 7 hours straight. Mom and I went to the market, Magi, while Lauren finished getting ready. After my 3:30 p.m. Ponte Vecchio picture, Mom, Lauren and I finally went to the Uffizi Gallery. Mom had been talking about going since she got to Firenze. That was the only museum she wanted to visit. We were fortunate to get in so quickly; it took about 10 minutes and that was it. It was almost closing, so that helped too. The Uffizi Gallery is one of the greatest art galleries in the world and the most visited museum in Italia. The gallery is located on the 3rd floor and it has 45 rooms spanning European art from the 13th to the 18th century. There were 2 added bonuses – you could see a spectacular view of the Ponte Vecchio and on the other side, a rooftop terrace in the West Corridor, where you could see the Duomo, Giotto’s bell-tower and Palazzo Vecchio. Among the beautiful paintings and sculptures, Lauren and I were most familiar with Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1485) and Tiziano Vecellio’s Venus of Urbino (1538). We remembered seeing these paintings and many more in our college textbook and on our 1st visit. We were even fortunate to snap a few, quick pictures of them while in the museum. After the Uffizi and looking at the Corridoio Vasariano, we ate dinner at Caffé Castelvecchi, located in Piazza della Signoria. Then, we took pictures of Orsanmichele, shopped at Coin and ended the night at Grom. Mom finally tried the best gelato in Firenze. It is now her favorite gelateria too. On the way back to our apartment, we saw a duo performing in front of Santa Croce. They only played instruments – a cello and guitar. They were both talented. I swear they performed a song that sounded so familiar, but nothing came to mind.

39: PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 13 luglio 2012 | The day began at 6:00 a.m. After we got ready we started to walk to Piazzale Michelangelo. We figured the hike in the morning would be better than in the afternoon and we were right! We had the opportunity to take the best pictures and did not have to wait for our turn. In addition the weather was refreshing and ideal. When we walked outside it was like a breath of fresh air. The weather was so nice and cool. There was a nice gust of wind here and there and the sun was just rising – BEAUTIFUL! We did not hit the mid-day heat since it was so early in the morning. We enjoyed the simplicity in the morning. It was great to walk around the city with little interruption. It was a nice change of pace from all the crowds, traffic, and the weather – it was not as chaotic as it was during the afternoon and night. After we went to the Ponte Vecchio and took pictures on the bridge. We usually take a picture of the bridge so we thought it would be nice to actually have a picture on it. Later that afternoon, Caitlin, Mom, and I went walking to San Lorenzo. We ate gelato, took photographs, and looked in the stores. For dinner, we ate at a new restaurant just around the corner from our apartment. It was an asian-fushion restaurant called Buddakan. It was tasty and relaxing inside – especially because they had central air conditioning! To end the evening, we sat on the steps of Santa Croce. To keep us occupied was a hot Italian guy at Finisterrae – a restaurant/pastry establishment that had not only one cute employee but an oh-so HOT cashier as well. Caitlin and I frequent that place for that very reason. What a great view alright!!!!!!

43: PIAZZA DELLA REPUBBLICA, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 14 luglio 2012 | The day started off late because we all got a good night’s rest and did not get up until the afternoon. It was awesome! Well – awesome that we all got rest but not so awesome that we missed the entire morning to see Firenze. Along the way to our daily walk to the Ponte Vecchio today – we saw the same two young musicians playing outside the Santa Croce. They were playing Adele’s “Someone Like You". It was a different rendition but equally recognizable and enjoyable – the crowd seemed to enjoy them too! After Caitlin took her picture at the Ponte Vecchio, she, Mom, and I walked to Piazza della Signoria. There, Mom sat in a shady area and people-watched while Caitlin and I walked to the Santa Maria Novella train station. The walk was not that bad but once inside it was hectic! There were so many people passing back and forth, speaking different languages, and carrying suitcases. Six o'clock was definitely not the time to go but since we were already there we figured might as well get tickets to Lucca. So we proceeded to stand in the long line that moved (it felt) like every 30 minutes – and to top that off there was of course, no central air conditioning – just a club flyer that I was fanning back and forth, that I got from a club promoter on the street. After we finally got our tickets to Lucca, Caitlin and I started heading back to Piazza della Signoria to get Mom. Along the way, we took a detour and passed by all the luxurious stores – Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc. All the nice air conditioned stores!!! After taking a quick stop to the Piazza Repubblica, we picked up Mom. We ate dinner and relaxed for the rest of the night.

45: PONTE VECCHIO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 15 luglio 2012 | As usual Sunday was a rest day. Half the day was spent in our apartment sleeping. There was not much to do anyways because mostly everything was closed. In Firenze, their Sunday and Monday is our Saturday and Sunday in the United States. They rather choose to relax and sleep than work. I could not believe our time in Firenze was almost over. We had a little more than a week left and then it was off to Paris, France. I could not believe we only had 15 or so more days left. We had already seen so much in such a short period of time. I felt like this time around, I really got to see Firenze. Every day I walked to the Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria or the Duomo. The first time Lauren and I were in Firenze, everything seemed so rushed. We were always going on this tour that tour and we were hardly in Firenze on the weekends. We thought that was going to be our last trip to Europe, so we wanted to take advantage and see everything. It was exhausting but also exhilarating experiencing so much in just 2 months. After a restful afternoon, I took my last picture of the Ponte Vecchio at 6:28 p.m. I started on July 3, 2012 at exactly 6:30 a.m. I thought it would be a great idea to document how it looked at every hour in the upcoming days. At first, I wanted to take 24 pictures, but that was too ambitious. I did not want to get up and walk at 3 in the morning. It would have been a different story if I was right next to it, but from our apartment, it was a 10 minute walk. I was not too happy with the last picture because the sun was still out. I just considered taking pictures randomly from then on. I wanted to see the sun set, but in Firenze, it did not set until much later. I eventually got my sunset picture.

47: LUCCA CENTRO, LUCCA, ITALIA | 16 luglio 2012 | We woke up early to head to Lucca. Lauren and I knew how busy the train station got and did not want to be in a train with lots of people. Surprisingly, there were not too many people as it was a Monday. There was this cute, young Italian, who sat next to Mom. He had the cutest accent! Lauren and I wished we had traded seats with her. The train ride was about an hour and a half. When we got to our destination, we headed for the city walls. We were lost in the beginning, but Mom seemed to enjoy being lost. She saw it as an adventure and I appreciated her enthusiasm. When we finally reached the city walls, there was an undeniably special charm. It was very quiet and peaceful and not crowded at all. The majority of people were cycling around. The city walls were wide, which was made into a raised park that was shaded by trees. The one thing we did not do, but should have was rent bikes. We could have seen so much more than we did. After a couple of hours, we went back to Firenze where we ate lunch at Il David in Piazza della Signoria. We initially wanted to eat at Rivoire again, but being Monday, it was closed. After lunch, we had gelato at Gelateria dei Neri again. I got cookies ‘n cream and it was my favorite thus far. I finally got a blue spoon too. It was perfect. Later, Mom people-watched at Santa Croce and Lauren and I walked around the Ponte Vecchio. We felt like we were eating too much and were not getting enough exercise. We walked as the sun was setting at the Ponte Vecchio. It was amazing to see. I wish I would have continued taking a picture every day, at every hour.

51: AEROPORTO DI FIRENZE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 17 luglio 2012 | KIM’S ARRIVAL DAY!!!! YAY!!!! Caitlin, Mom, and I started the day by relaxing in our apartment. Shortly after, Mom and I went shopping at Mercato Porcellino and little stores here and there in Firenze. When we got back to the apartment we waited until 6:15 p.m. Then we got in a taxi to pick up Kim from the airport. When the taxi driver dropped us off at arrivals we were all excited and could not wait to see Kim! It had only been a little more than two weeks since we last saw her but it felt much longer. Just within minutes, there Kim was! She looked incredible! By far the best looking person I had ever seen getting off a 13-hour flight. With just a purse on one shoulder and a bag on the other she had a glow about her. Her smile was refreshing and contagious! She spread light throughout that entire airport! It was so good to see her!!!!!!! We took a cab to her hotel, Starhotel Michelangelo. The lobby was nicely air conditioned and modern! It was nothing like our apartment! Once we all got into her hotel room, Kim surprised me and Caitlin with our birthday gifts. She was so sweet!! She got us each a TOUS onyx bear necklace. We both loved it! And it was a great memory for us. They traveled all the way from the United States. She even picked out the Europe (green) box for us. It was so unexpected! She could have just given them to us when we got back home. For dinner, we ate at Osteria Benci. The food was delicious and the service was excellent. It had been the best restaurant that we had eaten at thus far! Our waiter was hot and the restaurant was only run by men – it was no wonder the restaurant was so packed! Good food and eye candy!!

55: THE MALL, LECCIO REGGELLO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 18 luglio 2012 | Happy 27th birthday to me and Lauren!!!!!!!!! Wow, I could not believe this was our 2nd time celebrating our birthday in Firenze. I was exhausted when I woke up this morning and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep, but I knew I had to get ready to go to The Mall, the exclusive outlet destination for shopping top brands at bargain prices. Lauren and I were initially going to walk from our apartment to Kim's hotel, but we were running late so we took a taxi. When we got to her apartment, we shortly left in another taxi to go to The Mall. About an hour and 80 euros later, we arrived. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in Firenze. It did not feel like I was in Firenze anymore; it felt more like home. All the high-end stores were air-conditioned and so beautiful. They were like their own artwork! Kim was the only winner and purchased a Gucci carry-on. Now we all have one! After shopping, we were hungry. It was so crowded at the café, we just decided to splurge and eat at the restaurant upstairs. We made a good choice because it was delicious. Mom and Kim had hamburgers; Lauren had lasagna; I had the spaghetti with clams and a Sprite. It was so light and refreshing. When we got back, we relaxed for a bit and then shopped some more. Kim had her first gelato – lampone (raspberry) and cioccolato (chocolate) at Perseo. Then we did some more shopping, where mom got her first leather messenger bag. There was no surprise that it was black. The night ended with dinner at Buddakan and dessert at Finisterrae. I could not have asked for a better birthday because I got to spend it with family in Italia. We went shopping, had delicious food and all in a beautiful city like Firenze.

59: VIA DELLE PINZOCHERE, 20, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 19 luglio 2012 | It was no surprise that we were all exhausted from yesterday's outing. We planned to go to Louis Vuitton first thing in the morning. However, our plan changed. Instead, we had lunch at Jian Jian and napped for a few hours. When we woke up, we headed for Louis Vuitton. On the way, we had a granita and gelato at Festival Del Gelato. I had my very first coke granita ever. Coke was not as scarce as it used to be 5 years ago. It was everywhere this time around!! After gelato, we went to Louis Vuitton. Unfortunately, it was closed. We got there 5 minutes before closing, but the security guard would not let anyone in. Italians work to live and not live to work. The day was not a total loss because we went shopping afterwards. David made it really clear that for the 3 days Kim was with us, he wanted us to get all the shopping done. That way, they had more than enough time to sightsee around Italia and not shop at all. Later, we ate kebabs (a first for Mom and Kim) and had more gelato at Gelateria Cillo. There, I had a crepe for the first time – 2 new things in one day. It was warm-y goodness! I had it with cioccolato bianco (white chocolate) gelato. We came back to our apartment and relaxed. Since we spent most of the day in our apartment, it was only fitting that the highlight of the day was in it. I finally collected all 6 cans of coke!!!!!! It only just took me 11 days and I do not even know how many coke cans later. It was no lie – Mom, Lauren and I had drunk a coke a day. We knew it was bad for us, but it was so good there. Mom deserved all the credit though. She was the one who found all the letters for me at different markets and stores.

63: PIAZZA DI SAN FIRENZE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 20 luglio 2012 | David's arrival day!!!! We had a busy day as we had to get everything Kim wanted to do before we had to leave to pick up David at 6:00 p.m. There were only 2 things on Kim's list: Louis Vuitton and souvenir shopping. Of course on the way, we stopped off here and there. We stopped off at Piazza Di San Firenze, where Kim bought us sister cross-over bags. It was the 2nd part of our birthday gift. Kim and David are the sweetest!! Kim wanted an Italia zip hoodie, so that was next on the agenda. She got one for herself and then found a baby zip hoodie. It was too adorable; Lauren and I had to get it for Kim. The set would not be complete without one for David. Now, they can take a cute, matching outfit family picture. We finally made it to Louis Vuitton. We had a miscommunication along the way, but Kim ended up purchasing 2 handbags – a multicolor Alma MM and a Damier Azur Speedy 35. She got a steal of a deal being that we were in Italia, as opposed to the United States. Before we had to leave to pick up David, Kim and I had just had enough time to do souvenir shopping. After pens, calendars and magnets, we waited for a taxi to take us to the airport. Unfortunately, we all could not go because we would not be able to all fit in a taxi. When David arrived, he looked so happy. He had a smile from here to there. I had never seen a person so happy to come off a plane. That is David though – happy-go-lucky and full of charm. The night ended with pizza from Osteria De' Peccatori in Kim and David's hotel room. I heard only great things about Bernini Palace. The lobby was amazing!

67: PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 21 luglio 2012 | Caitlin, Mom, and I finally went to eat at Finisterrae. It was a restaurant that we passed by everyday but had only been to the bakery because the guys who work there were H-O-T! It was a restaurant/bakery/gelateria/good place to people-watch for good looking guys. It was ideally located in Piazza Santa Croce and was a recommendation from one of our Florence guide books. When we sat down for lunch we all had a great view of the Santa Croce and I had an added bonus because right in front of me had been a clear view of one of the hot guys – well what would have been but unfortunately he was not working that day. Caitlin ordered the “Santa Croce” Pizza (no surprise!) and I ordered the “Don Carlos” pizza – tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, and bell peppers. The pizzas were good but next time on Caitlin’s – no “rocket leaves” (arugula) because it was overpowering and on mine no “peppers” (bell peppers). Our waiter was really nice and super friendly. Of course, Caitlin and I had to take a picture and as we were, our waiter jumped in the picture. After, we got gelato at Gelateria dei Neri – their Nutella was amazing! Caitlin and I got Nutella and cookies 'n creme. Mom got coco (coconut) and hazelnut. Later in the evening, Caitlin and I walked to Piazza Michelangelo, AGAIN! We had to take the long way because our usual route was blocked off because of a concert that took place that night. The weather was nice so we did not mind. The only downside was all the mosquitoes. Caitlin was attacked by at least half a dozen of them as she did not wear any sunscreen or mosquito repellent. She had swollen arms and legs, not to mention bruised from all the others the previous week. As soon as one healed, more came.

71: ITALIAN OPERA, CHIESA DI. S. MONICA, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 22 luglio 2012 | The only thing Mom wanted to do before she left Firenze was watch an opera. For days and days, all I heard her talk about was going to an opera. She kept telling us that we could go Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Sunday. Since Lauren and I had already seen an opera (Tosca) in Italia, we did not want to see another one. I was so glad Mom wanted to go because I really enjoyed it. Anyone who knows Mom knows she likes to get to places extra early, even before anyone is even there. This was no exception. The opera started at 9:15 p.m., but Mom made sure we were out of the apartment by 7:00 p.m. Boy, were we early. We decided to walk down the street to Santo Spirito. There, we took pictures and people-watched. We headed back to the church, where the opera was being performed around 8:10 p.m. It was the coldest, windiest day yet. It was no surprise that we were the first ones there. On a positive note, we took pictures and had first choice of where we wanted to sit. We moved once from the 4th row to front and center. The opera was amazing and very powerful! The soprano was Hiroko Saito and on the pianoforte was David Boldrini. They performed to the best arias from La traviata, Tosca, La boheme, Madame Butterfly and Nozze di Figaro (Marriage of Figaro). I was only familiar with La traviata and of course, Tosca. La traviata was the opera Richard Gere and Julia Roberts went to see in "Pretty Woman". I love that movie and have watched it several times. Mr. Boldrini performed it perfectly! That was my favorite performance of the night. It really moved me. I wish I could have recorded it, so I could play it back over and over again. That was the fastest hour and a half and well worth the 20 euros each.

75: SANTA CROCE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 23 luglio 2012 | Mom wanted to visit Santa Croce. She wanted to pay her respects at Firenze’s famous graves. Since Lauren and I had been there once before, Lauren did not want to go. This was my opportunity to spend quality mother-daughter time and I gladly took full advantage of it. The line was not too bad, as we got in within 20 minutes. When I first walked in to Santa Croce, I saw architectural soberness, open timber roof (distinctive wooden ceiling), gloomy lighting and huge proportions (open church). It has numerous tombs, funerary monuments and nearly 300 tombstones, which resemble more of a cemetery or a museum of religious sculptures. Mom had goose bumps when she was in there. Firenze is well-known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, not to mention famous people. Mom and I saw the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti, Michelangelo and many more. In addition, we visited the Museo dell’Opera and the Cappella dei Pazzi. We saw treasures rescued from the church when it was flooded in 1966. Mom was very intrigued and wanted to know more. After journal writing, cooking, and washing dishes, I decided to clean the apartment. I hated those mosquito bites and felt filthy. I was surprisingly in the mood to clean. I felt great afterwards. Plus, the apartment looked great. It was cleaner than when we first stayed in it. I was just kidding, but it just might be true. I swept every room thoroughly. The rest of the night was spent relaxing, going on-line, and watching The Big Bang Theory and Friends.

79: GOLDEN VIEW RISTORANTE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 24 luglio 2012 | The morning started with “The Breakfast Club". It seemed fitting as we were eating breakfast. After breakfast, I painted my nails one last time. This time, the color was blue, “Jet Set to Paris". It was appropriate considering we were going to Paris that Thursday. Plus, my favorite color is blue. For dinner we ate at Golden View. I was looking forward to eating there since my second trip to Europe. However, we only had 2 or 3 days in Firenze and did not get a chance to go there. I knew we would have time to go on this trip. It is my favorite restaurant in Firenze. On our first trip, we ate there at least half a dozen times. It is that good. On our way to Golden View, we saw the sun just setting at the Ponte Vecchio. It was absolutely gorgeous. The colors were amazing! When we got to Golden View, Kim and David were already there waiting. What a shock! Golden View was still how I remembered – elegant and classy. I love the jazz feel. I ordered the King Prawns Risotto with Rosemary and Cream (Risotto Gamberoni* E Rosmarino) and it was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. It was so tasty and flavorful. Kim ordered the same thing also. The best part was the dessert. David, Lauren and I got the same thing – Variations made out of chocolate and chocolate ice cream made by “La Strega Nocciola” (variazione al cioccolato con gelato al cioccolato “La Strega Nocciola”). It was heaven, pure perfection!!! Thank goodness Lauren and I decided not to share and got our own. It would not have been enough otherwise. We all, including Mom, finished our desserts. After dinner, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio and took pictures on the bridge. Firenze is so lively at night.

83: GROM E DIM SUM RISTORANTE, FIRENZE, ITALIA | 25 luglio 2012 | Today was our last day in Firenze. I could not believe it had already been 24 days. Lauren and I went last-minute souvenir shopping in the afternoon. We had the nicest, friendliest vendor. He spoke English too. After souvenir shopping, we had kebabs. Mom does not like them, but we do. It is a tradition the day before we leave to eat one for lunch. It was a good lunch to end with. When we got to Firenze and explored the city, Lauren and I came across a photo booth and knew he had to take photos in them. Knowing we would be in Firenze for a while, we waited until the last day. We had our poses ready – IT for Italia, hearts, Moosey and Ladybug and just smiles. I had to improvise a little and on the last one, I blew a kiss instead of smiling. Gian Marco stopped by our apartment 45 minutes late, but his looks made up for it. He was always late, but just so darn hot. After Gian Marco came, we went to Grom. The day was on my side as all the food I had eaten was delicious and the best yet of all the times I had been there on this trip. I had the Pistacchio (pistachio) and Crema di Grom (egg cream with Langhe region corn biscuits and Columbian "Teyuna" chocolate chips). OMG, Crema di Grom was heaven! I should have known considering it was named after the gelateria. We were going to have dinner at Buddakan, but they were only taking groups. Thank goodness, because not only were they rude, but we ended up having a delicious meal at Dim Sum. They were friendly and had great service. Our favorite dish was the spring rolls, but beware that they were tiny. You might need to order 2 or 3. The Peking duck was also delicious and crispy. Grom and Dim Sum were definitely a perfect ending to our stay in Firenze.

84: * | *

87: PARIS, FRANCE | 26 juillet 2012 - 31 juilet 2012

89: ARC DE TRIOMPHE ET DES CHAMPS ELYSEES, PARIS, FRANCE | 26 juillet 2012 | Caitlin, Mom, and I said arrivederci to Firenze, hopped on a plane, and an hour and thirty minutes later, said BONJOUR to Paris. It had already started off well because not only was check-in a breeze, all of us got our luggage at baggage claim in less than five minutes. Literally – no exaggeration! It was probably the easiest and fastest time we had ever got our luggage. Paris was truly like none other! Everywhere you looked was like looking at a postcard or a painting! The weather was nice and all the people we had encountered had been nice and friendly! People who said, “The French are rude” had clearly not visited Paris in awhile. Either times had changed or we stayed in the friendly part of Paris. We checked into our hotel, Hotel Residence Imperiale, located in one of the best districts, District 16, and immediately started exploring this wonderful city. The people dressed so fashionable and Parisian. We first passed by a café called Martha's Café. It was the same exact spelling and everything. Then we walked to the Arc de Triomphe. It was literally five minutes away from our hotel and since we were already at the Arc de Triomphe we thought might as well walk on Avenue des Champs Elysees since it was so close in proximity. Even the name is beautiful – Champs Elysees!!!! I can say it over and over but it was much better hearing it from a native French person! Their accents were so sexy! On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a pastry shop called Festins. Their éclairs were so delicious!!! Caitlin got a buttery, flaky croissant and mom got a quiche. No surprise on our part though. This was mine and Caitlin's third time in Paris and we had not come across a pastry shop we did not like.

93: LE MUSEE DU LOUVRE ET CHAMPS ELYSEES, PARIS, FRANCE | 27 juillet 2012 | Caitlin, Mom, and I started the day by getting tickets to ride on the metro. Yes, the METRO! Crazy and bizarre as that might sound, that was the recommendation from the concierge. We told her we wanted a taxi but she was insistent that the metro was the best way to go to the Louvre – where we had wanted to go and we were so glad we took her advice. Surprisingly, riding on the metro was not that bad. It was not as horrifying and nauseating as I thought it was going to be. It was fast, easy to take, and inexpensive. I actually even saw a couple of really good looking French guys. In my head, I was like, Enchanté! The best part of taking the metro was that once we got off, there were signs that directly led us to the Louvre. So it was convenient as well. Once I saw the glass pyramid it was official. We had arrived at the Musee du Louvre. After we took a few pictures, to the right, we had spotted Laduree – the BEST macarons in this entire world! Caramel was so heavenly! You definitely could not just eat one nor did you want to! They were that good! After, we proceeded to go into the museum. It was surreal. First off, this museum was not only enormous in size but of art! Just looking and passing by these amazing paintings – it was just an incredible feeling. I could have spent all day just taking in all the masterpieces and sculptures. I was literally looking at many great pieces of history – true talent of many great artists. Of course, we went into “Denon” first. There are 4 different sections of the museum but Mom really just wanted to see the Mona Lisa so that was our first stop. Later that evening, we walked along Avenue des Champs Elysees. It was so beautiful, we could walk there every day and not get sick of it.

97: BATEAUX-MOUCHES ET TOUR EIFFEL, PARIS, FRANCE | 28 juillet 2012 | Mom wanted to have lunch on the River Seine, so we went to Bateaux-Mouches. It was recommended by the concierge of our hotel. What an amazing experience! It was by far the best excursion we had done in Paris. Plus, it was a new experience for me and Lauren. The food was delicious and the boat ride was smooth. It lasted for an hour and forty-five minutes and we saw all of Paris on the Seine. We saw Jetty, Concorde, Louvre Museum, St-Jacques Tower, Hotel de Ville, Conciergerie, Ile de la Cite, Notre Dame, Ille St-Louis, Pont Neuf, Musee d’Orsay, Hotel des Invalides, Eiffel Tower and Palais de Chaillot. The food was scrumptious! Mom ordered Arugula salad with parmesan and asparagus, Filet of trout meuniere with almonds and Baked Alaska. Lauren had Duck foie gras, toasted petite baguette, Filet of trout meuniere with almonds and Pear craquelin. In my opinion, I had the best meal. I had Salmon carpaccio, Goose leg confit and Baked Alaska. I also had a glass of Les hauts de Massonne, Bordeaux blanc, Semillion-Sauvignon (white wine). After it was over, we went to the souvenir shop, like we said we would. We did not need anything, but wanted to get something because the man was so helpful and kind in the beginning. I saw Eiffel Tower earrings and thought they were adorable. It was reasonably priced, so I knew I had to get a pair. I thought it would be perfect when I wore them to visit the Eiffel Tower. Lauren was hesitant at first, but so glad that she got a pair because she loved them. We could not find a taxi and as a last resort, we had to take an auto-lift. I should have taken a picture because no one would have believed we rode in one. It was so tiny! It was designed hippie-ish and the license plate even read "LOVE".

101: JARDIN DU LUXEMBOURG ET LADUREE, PARIS, FRANCE | 29 juillet 2012 | Caitlin, Mom, and I began the morning by taking bus 82 which was going to lead us straight to the Eiffel Tower but shortly after, we decided to go to Luxembourg instead. We had originally wanted to get off at the Eiffel Tower (so Caitlin could climb to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower to purchase her picture frame she had been wanting for five years) but none of us pushed the red button to notify the bus driver to stop, so right as he passed our stop and continued on his route – we knew we had not done something right. How were we supposed to know to push the red button??? We definitely will not make that mistake again. Going to Luxembourg was not our initial plan but it all worked out for the best. Luxembourg had been the final stop on the bus and coincidently had stopped right in front of the Jardin du Luxembourg. Directly adjacent to the Luxembourg Garden was the Pantheon – so of course we took pictures of that as well. Luxembourg was so beautiful! It was well maintained and a great place to sit and people-watch. There were runners, people sun-tanning, students reading, children playing with boats in the water, and people just enjoying the scenery. After, we went to the Eiffel Tower. We did not make it to the 2nd level as the lines were so long. We did however get to take some wonderful pictures of and with the Eiffel Tower. Later, we walked along Champs Elysees. Mom wanted to go to Laduree to get macarons. It was jam-packed in there but it was well worth it! Their macarons are incredible!!!! The woman who helped us was so nice and she reminded Caitlin of a woman who played in "The Wedding Planner".

105: AVENUE DE MALAKOFF ET JARDIN DES TUILERIES, PARIS, FRANCE | 30 juillet 2012 | WE LOVE PARIS!!! Caitlin, Mom, and I were not ready to say au revoir to Paris yet, but our time was almost coming to an end! Oh how we will all miss Paris so much! In the short amount of time we spent in Paris, we managed to really enjoy and see the beautiful sights! I had definitely fallen in love with Paris and a few French guys as well. For lunch we ate at Le Touring. The outside sitting area reminded Caitlin of a scene in "Inception". However, since it was so cold out, we sat inside instead of outside. Caitlin finally got to eat her Croque-madame she had been wanting since we got there. I was happy to report that it had been very pleasing to her taste buds. After, we took the Metro. We got off of Concorde to see the Tuileries Garden. There were not as many runners as there were in the Luxembourg Garden but there were still a few people running. Since it was the last night we were going to be in Paris, we wanted to go to a nice, fancy dinner. One of the ladies at the concierge referred us to a restaurant that was down the street from our hotel – La Villa Corse. It was really nice and of course the employees were too. We could not have asked for a more personable waiter. He spoke French, Italian, and English – can you say impressive and sexy! He had lived in New York for a little while and also had visited San Diego. A lot of people we met on this trip had been to San Diego or were planning to go. What is so great about San Diego??? Later, we went walking on Avenue des Champs Elysees for the last time, at least for a while. We purchased some souvenirs, took the Metro to Porte Maillot and packed to go back to the United States of America.

108: Ponte Vecchio

109: The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is located at the heart of the city. It is one of Firenze's most famous landmarks. You cannot go to Firenze without seeing it. Because it was so picturesque, it was no wonder why I wanted to take a picture of it at every hour of the day. However, I could not go at every hour, so I at least did it for 13 hours. I started at exactly 6:30 a.m. and ended at 6:28 p.m. I especially loved seeing it early in the morning or at sunset. The vivid colors were wonderful to witness. Plus, the water added depth and extra beauty to the picture.

113: Our Top 28 Jump Shots | In honor of our 27th birthday, we thought it would be a great idea if we did 27 jump shots and of course one for good luck. Lauren and I had jumped all over Firenze from the Boboli Gardens to Piazzale Michelangelo to our 1st apartment (Via della Vigna Vecchia, 7) to our most recent apartment (Via della Pinzochere, 20) to Santa Croce to the terrace atop Giotto’s Campanile, and so forth. In Lucca, we took jump shots within the fortress walls. In Paris, we took jump shots at Arc de Triomphe, Celine, a bridge on the River Seine, Eiffel Tower, our hotel street, Avenue de Malakoff, and Tuileries Garden. Since taking jump shots all started in Europe, we thought it would end there as well. We officially retired from taking jump shots. I know it seems silly to say. We have enjoyed jumping from place to place, but it is time to move on to something new. We were getting too old for jump shots and were surprised to find out that we were not the only ones who did them. Mom, Lauren and I saw a few people doing them in Firenze and Paris. Some were even older than us. Actually in my opinion, way too old to be doing them. I guess it is true what they say, "Adults are kids at heart." We might be actually worse than kids though. We were glad our first and last jump shot was and will be in Europe. I do not know how many jump shots we have taken over the course of these years. Lauren and I have taken jump shots all over Europe (Italy, Paris, and Austria), within California (Carson, Fullerton, San Diego, Disneyland, etc.), Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Florida. We have even introduced people to jump shots. They were a lot of fun and laughs! We will always remember those memorable 5 years!

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Caitlin Choed-Amphai
  • By: Caitlin C.
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  • Title: Europe 2012
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