Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ringing in the New Year

  Happy New Year!!! Hope everyone had a great New Year's celebration. Since the break is shorter here in France this year with the team playing through Christmas, we decided to stay in Europe for the break and do a 'mini-vacation.' We both have travelled a good bit so deciding was tough but we knew we wanted a change of scenery, to get out of France. Don't get me wrong, we love France, but this being Shaun's 11th season here, we wanted to see something new, eat something new and experience something new. We spit balled some places around and Italy seemed to jump off the map for us. Our options were narrowed down to Venice, Florence and Rome and ultimately, we decided on Florence due to some input from our friends and the fact that we could drive there also. Who doesn't love a great road trip??  So after deciding on Florence, I would of normally became obsessive about the planning, things to see, directions, 'must not miss' places, etc... but since I wasn't feeling too well ( read last post), I had no desire or energy. And to be honest, until 1 hour into the ride, I still wasn't too sure sitting for 5 hours in a car was smart, but I kept that to myself. In hindsight, Shaun had to know something was off because I didn't talk much. I know, hard to believe. There was no way I was ruining this Christmas break (last Christmas I had the dreaded gastro, and yes, it is as bad as it sounds) so I soldiered on and boy was I glad I did.

   The drive was fairly easy. We relied on the GPS to get there and after a bumpy start where she told us to drive to the Nice port then take a ferry to Corsica, an island, then another ferry from Corsica to Italy, she redeemed herself by getting back on track and getting us there in the 5.5 hours it was supposed to take. Maybe she was giving us the 'cheap' route?? Come to think about it, this may be who Shaun's team uses as their travel agent for away games....I can see it now, the front office hops in their car, fires up the GPS, punches it all in, et voila, an itinerary is born.  Back to the drive, it was absolutely beautiful. The route was along the coast all but 30 minutes of the drive so the views were incredible. Almost to Florence, both Shaun and I noticed we were going through a lot of tunnels, I mean a lot. So I threw out a guess of how many tunnels we had gone through since the start of the drive, '30 or 40 something' and vowed to count them on the ride home. Shaun disagreed and said more, 'maybe 50-60'. Remember those numbers for the end of the story...

The Duomo (Florence cathedral)
  Florence was incredible. It was a bit cold, after all it is January, but we knew that going in, so it was no biggie. Figure there is going to be a trade off, it will be colder but we will get to see all the Christmas decorations and lights. Our hotel was great, centrally located, so we valeted our car and left it there for 5 days. Florence is pretty compact so having a car was going to be more of a pain than anything, so we walked and walked and walked. The one thing I noticed right away was the 'fleur de lis' on everything, and I love me some 'fleur de lis'. Come to find out that is the symbol for Florence, a welcome surprise. I'll be honest, I am pretty sure we both were looking forward to the food more than anything else. Sure, the architecture is awesome and it was different from France but we both have travelled some and seen different types of architectures. The food was going to be the focal point for us. Let me tell you, we were not disappointed. We did not have a bad meal. I am pretty sure I more than made up for the 4lbs I lost at the hospital last weekend. At every meal, Shaun would clean his plate, I mean clean like it had never been used. The one thing he did do though, he gave me at least one bite of his dish. It started out romantic but I caught on fast. I could see the wheels turning in his mind thinking, 'this is so good, maybe if I give her some she can re-create it when we are back home.' Guess I have some re-creating to do.
The many Fleur de Lis
  Most of our days consisted of just walking. We didn't have a plan. We didn't have a 'must-see' list, or a 'must-eat' list. We would walk and wherever it took us, it took us. I suppose in a bigger city, this method wouldn't of worked but since everything was so close, we ended up seeing everything there was to see in our own time. We stumbled upon a food market that sold the biggest blocks of cheese I have ever seen, and we live in France remember. There were barrels and barrels of balsamic vinegar and tubs of sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms. At many points, I thought to myself how great it would be for Shaun to play in Italy, for us to start all over again, to learn a new language, learn a new culture. Then I thought about how much we both loved the food and maybe it was  not such a good idea, I mean how successful can Shaun be if he gains weight at an alarming rate??? His job solely depends on his physical health. I am sure we have a lot of the same things here in France and I have been to our markets here and they are fantastic too, but for some reason, that grass looked a lot greener.
Cheeses and meat
Hunks of Parm
Sun dried tomatoes
Fresh pasta

Marinated artichoke hearts

  For New Year's Eve, we opted to eat dinner early and then just walk the streets. We had heard that the squares/piazzas in Florence are where people gather for live music, fireworks and to ring in the New Year so we decided that sounded more of our speed than an 'ultra' fancy 7 course meal or a nightclub. The squares were packed with all walks of life,  from young kids to the elderly. We walked a bit and then settled on a larger square where a band played and it seemed to be more 'our crowd'  ie. less Snooki types. (Florence is where they filmed the Jersey Shore so Dunn when you come visit, we will take you  and show you all the 'shore' hot spots.) Most everyone brought their own champagne to uncork and glasses to share with their friends at midnight. It was funny because earlier in the day we were trying to recall what we have done for the last few New Years and we couldn't remember anything about 2 years ago. I can tell you we will never forget this one. We didn't get crazy drunk, or eat at an uber snazzy place, or ring it in with friends or family but I will always remember New Year's Eve in Florence.

Gotta love the ole' long arm self photo

Someone kindly took our picture after seeing us struggle to take one ourselves...

  As I am writing this, I am re-reading what I wrote and realize there is so much more I have to say. Like dinner our second night. Our hotel made us reservations at a nicer restaurant at 8 and when we arrived, we realized that 8 was going to be a stretch. The place was packed and it looked more like we were going to have to wait. So we took our wine and headed to the waiting area and just chatted. Shortly after, an older couple  joined us in waiting for a table. 5 minutes later, a waiter told us only a table for 4 was available so did we mind sitting with the other couple but they would split the table so it would be like 2 and 2. Talk about putting us on the spot...I mean the couple could hear our answer. So we agreed, and as soon as we sat down we realized there was no way we could eat right next to these people and not talk to them, it would of been more awkward to ignore them than to actually talk to them. Then, when they ordered a bottle of wine to share with us we knew we were doomed. They were mid 50's, puerto rican, and spoke broken english. Us, early 30's,  speaking English and French. Not much in common but hey, you only live once. Fortunately for me, I was sitting next to the lady and not the guy since he became very very comfortable and whispered things in Shaun's ear about life, ordering wine, how to pose for pictures and appear thinner, and when we were going to see them again. It was one of those nights you only see in movies. The pinnacle for me was when he asked me to try his steak that he ordered. When I say asked, I mean demanded, since he was already in the motion of putting his fork towards my way when he suggested I try it. We shared wine, food and dessert with them. I honestly couldn't make this up if I tried. For those of you who watch The Office, there was definitely some Michael Scott uncomfortable moments during dinner. We bid them adieu with the promises that we will e-mail them and come visit....we''ll see about that.
  While walking one day, we made our way down to the river that flows through Florence, the Arno river. It is lined with shops and little trattorias where people mill in out of and many bridges to cross over on. One bridge appeared different than the others architecturally, Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio bridge was the only bridge not destroyed by the Germans in WWII in Florence so therefore it is much older than the others (learned that from 'over hearing' the english guided tour, promise we weren't following them). Legend has it that if you or your loved one attaches a lock to any part of the bridge then throw the key over into the river, you will have ever lasting love. Well, apparently the government did not like the way the bridge looked with all the locks attached to it, and made it illegal.  However, it is rumored to be all the same to rub the remaining locks attached instead of attaching them yourselves. Needless, to say we gave the locks a little rub, can't hurt right???
Ponte Vecchio


View of other bridge from Ponte Vecchio

I could go on forever about what makes Florence special, the warm people, the food, the gelato in 40 degrees temperature, the Duomo. But what really hit home was when I got home and uploaded my pictures to the computer..I took 570 pictures!!!! Most of the pictures are better than words so I will do just that, post them at the end with a little explanation if needed. And I am going to try to load our videos of the square on New Years in the upcoming days if I can figure out how.

  We decided to take a little detour on our drive home and swing by Pisa, don't you just love the fact that you can swing by something as cool as The Leaning Tower of Pisa? It was pretty much on our way home and I figured it would be a shame to drive by it and not at least stop in for an hour or two to explore. This wasn't my first time in Pisa. In 89 or 90,( still can't figure out which year) I spent a few weeks in Italy with a friend and his family who are Italian so I saw the tower on that trip, and even got out on all the levels which is now forbidden, you can only exit at the top. Surprisingly for it being 22 years ago and me being only 11 I have a pretty good recollection of my time so I really wanted Shaun to see it because, obviously, it is pretty memorable. The weather wasn't that great, a little misty but it didn't stop us from taking the obligatory 'holding up the tower' pictures. We spent about an hour there milling around and asking each other questions that neither one of us had a clue the answers too. We took mental notes and figured we would look the answers up on the internet when we got back to France. Darn you cheap French phone with no internet. For me the trip was amazing and when I saw Shaun get on the internet for information about the Tower before ESPN.com, I knew it was just as good for him. Oh, and there were 182 tunnels, might have been 1 more but I was singing my heart out...

Look how strong my man is...1 hand.

Got heavier..two hands needed

I swear I'm not super-imposed

Up close look


Side view of Duomo, it was so large I could never get it all in 1 pic.

Duomo from across the river

The author of Pinocchio is from Florence so he is everywhere.

Ahhh...gelato. Who would eat it in this cold?

Yep, me.

Bronze boar statue at the back of the market. Legend has it, if you put a coin in his mouth and it falls into a grate below and you rub his snout, you will return to Florence.
San Lorenzo Basilica

Up close view of the San Lorenzo Basilica


  1. Lucky you, great tour. I love Florence and Pisa, both are great and adorable towns.

  2. Thanks Lemon, glad you enjoyed it :)