Tuesday, July 9, 2013

the ecksteins escape from rome and owen has his cone privileges pulled

I suspected our transition out of Rome would not be easy. Our plan was to rent a car in Rome and drive it to our Florence flat. We want a car in Florence so we can see other places in Tuscany, including, of course, one of Italy's most famous landmarks, the Prada outlet.

We were renting our car through a Hertz office a mile or so away from our Rome flat. I had toyed with the idea of picking up the car and taking it back to the flat where I would get Keri and the kids, load the bags and safely be on our way. As if. I suspected there were at least three problems with this plan: (1) I had no confidence I would quickly get the car, (2) I was slightly concerned about my ability to navigate the streets of Rome to make it back to the flat, and (3) I was really worried that our bags would not fit in whatever car they gave us. Concerns (2) and (3) compelled me to have a cab take us and our bags to the Hertz office. That turned out to be the easiest part of the day, as all four bags fit snuggly in the back of the taxi station wagon.

The Hertz office near Via Veneto was the model of Italian efficiency. I would rank it just above the Burger King and McDonalds we experienced. There were three employees helping customers and at least four other employees in a back office smoking and drinking coffee. And the rental office was three buildings away from the garage in which the cars were held (and in which Keri and Lauren were waiting with our bags when Owen and I went to get the car). There were several people in line before me in the cramped office, so Owen and I had a nice chat with two men who got in line behind us. They were from New York and had come to this office to get a replacement Neverlost for their device that broke. Apparently, neverlost and neverbroken are not synonymous.

I'm not sure why the lines were moving so slowly. Part of it was the mind-numbing and horribly cumbersome process the Hertz people had set up. To be fair, part of the blame must be put on the customers, as one of the lines was being held up by a Brazilian couple that wanted to treat every part of the rental process as a matter to be argued. "What do you mean you need to see my driver's license? Show me the law that says so!" "Waiver of collision? That is totally unfair and I refuse to sign!" "This price is not a good one! I am sure you can do better!" This couple was in line when Owen and I arrived at the office and there when we left, forty-five minutes later, rental agreement in hand.

When we made it back to the garage, we were presented with a Ford station wagon. The trunk looked pretty small and, after several minutes of effort, it was clear we could fit no more than three of our bags in it, leaving one suitcase to go in the backseat with the kids. As that would cut off nearly half of the backseat, and we would have at least ten hours of drive time with those bags over the next week, we decided that was not-workable. Lauren and Owen have gotten along remarkably well this trip, but having them on top of each other for such an extended period of time was a recipe for disaster, not to menton a safety hazard.

Back to the rental office, another wait in line and I emerged with an agreement to rent a larger but, according to the rental agent, not very nice vehicle. I told Keri the same back in the garage, and she pointed to a Volvo SUV that was sitting in front of her and suggested that might be a better option. Back to the office I went, this time with Lauren, who "really, really" wanted the Volvo. The rental agent took pity on me and agreed to give us the Volvo for an extra fifteen euro per day. Back to the garage, squeeze the bags in and start the trip out of Rome -- a mere two hours after we arrived at the Hertz garage.

Keri took out the directions she had printed out, weeks before, to guide us from the Hertz office to our Florence flat. Turn one, check. Turn two, check. Turn three, what did you say, honey? I thought you said right, not left? Crap. This is a long tunnel, huh? I have no idea where we are but if we keep driving we'll get out of Rome eventually, right? Hey, is that a GPS in the dashboard? I wonder if that works? Wow, it does! That map visual and the woman giving me directions with an English accent is really helpful. My oh my, there are a lot of roundabouts, small streets and nary a single useful street sign directing us to the Autostrada. How the hell would we have done that without this thing?

Having escaped Rome, Keri and I enjoyed the gorgeous Italian countryside of Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany, all the while Lauren and Owen were discussing some iPad game in the backseat. It was quite nice. A late roadside cafe lunch and on to Florence, where we were relying on our navigation system to steer us to a location for which there seemed to be no direct address that the system, or Google maps recognized -- Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini. We knew one of the streets that was by the flat and figured that would get us close enough. It fact, it did, although at the other end of the street in the heart of Florence. A desperate call to the person from who we were renting, a few tears, and her observation that the flat was just next to the Medici Chapel -- hey, maybe we should put that into the navigation system -- and we were, to our amazement, in front of the flat.

I am morally certain we would not have found this place, ever, without that GPS. Keri was quick to observe that, were in not for the oversized luggage, we never would have gotten the car with the GPS, and therefore may still be lost. I'm not sure I completely agree with her train of logic, but I get her point.

The flat itself is really nice -- first floor with an elevator, two bedroom, air conditioning in each room, sparse furnishing, tastefully decorated. Keri and the kids immediately declared it their favorite flat. It also happens to be our last. Once we unpacked, it was off to the local grocery store, which was just across the plaza. It was as fully-equipped a store as we have had since we left the London flat. Again, all were pleased.

Keri and I planned a late dinner, knowing the place we wanted to go -- Osteria De 'Benci -- did not open until 730. Keri and I had been turned on to this place by my cousin, Aaron Kogan, when he heard we were going to Florence on our honeymoon. It did not disappoint, as we ate there two of three nights we spent here in 2002. We looked forward to sharing it with our kids, hoping the quality was the same and hoping they would like it.

We were there for the 730 opening, and were the second party seated. (Pictured are Tim and Owen as they wait for the food to arrive.) By 745, the inside and outside tables had all been filled. The dinner was, as we had hoped, fantastic. Keri and I split a cheese and honey dish as well as Spaghetti dell'Ubriacone, an incredible pasta made with red wine. I have dreamed about this dish many times over the last eleven years and those dreams were all fulfilled. I also ordered a filet with balsamic sauce, several bites of which Lauren had. Also mouth-watering good. Keri and I have not discussed this yet, but I expect we will make a second trip before we leave here on Saturday.

After dinner, we walked home by way of Perche No!, a highly-rated gelateria. Another gem.

Keri and I both ran this morning. I set off hoping to run through the Garden di Boboli, which sit just behind the Pitti Palace, longtime seat of the Medici grand dukes. I ran across the Arno, to the gardens and found a locked gate. I figured if I cannot run through the gardens, I'll run around them. Turns out that is not the case, and the other side is blocked off with private property for quite some distance. The only way one can go in that direction, is further up the hills that lie to the south of Florence. Fortunately, because of my iPhone, I could tell once I got up to a plateau that I was not likely to find a way back down other than the way I had came. GPS once again saved me from myself.

After breakfast, we took the kids down to the Arno and Ponte Vecchio. Lauren was taken in by the beauty of it all. Owen, whose skin has not reacted so well to the Italian portion of our trip, was kind of miserable. We got him some cold water, and then some antihistamine, which seemed to help, as he was less itchy the rest of the day.

We made our way through the courtyard of the Uffizi, got some lunch, more gelato for the kids and then back to the flat for a brief mid-day rest. We went back out and to the Palazzo Vecchio, a romanesque fortress that sits at the south end of the town center. It was the original residence of the Medici dukes, having been built up by Cosimo I. We had read good reviews about a kids' oriented tour in the palace. Two hours and ten euro well spent, for sure.

Our guide, Alberto, walked us through, along with a family of five from the Netherlands. Alberto was outstanding, bringing to life for Lauren and Owen (and us) the history, art and architecture of this historic building. We probably spent close to one hour in the entrance hall alone, as Alberto helped the kids see the narrative (celebrating aggression and Florentine military successes against Sienna) and detail involved in the room design (including allowing the kids to hold some of the gold leaf like that that adorns the thirty-nine framed paintings of the ceiling). He regaled us all with stories of the grandeur of the parties and celebrations thrown in that room, all of which were aimed to help increase the statute of Duke Cosimo and, in turn, Florence.

We walked through a number of rooms in the upstairs apartments, including one room that had been dedicated to Leonora of Toledo. Interestingly, Owen saw from one of the panels that the frescoes in that room were based on the Book of Esther. This observation required a full description of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible.

We also saw a mask of Dante Alighieri, which apparently was the inspiration for Dan Brown's Inferno, as well as a map room that features prominently in the same book. Our tour finished by showing the kids some of the clothing, toys and furniture of the 16th Century, allowing them to handle the same. Lauren received major props for her quick and definitive recognition of the Black Death mask (pictured).

After another break, we went back toward the Arno, grabbing dinner at Osteria Vecchio Vicolo, which was also deserving of its glowing TripAdvisor reviews. After dinner, I led the family in search of Antica Gelateria Fiorentina, a gelateria that had received great reviews and which, according to TripAdvisor, was one block from our flat. This was our third attempt to find the place, as each prior attempt had been felled by some bad direction from TripAdvisor (one big problem with the application is that it can be manipulated by a business's competitors/enemies to get a bad rating or an incorrect location). In any event, we found it, on the last of the five streets that run off the plaza on which our building sits. The effort was worth it, as both Lauren and I enjoyed immensely our banana/coffee gelato.

Owen liked his stracciatella, too, but has now had his cone privileges revoked. I really don't know how it has come to this, but that kid simply does not know how to eat an ice cream cone. Despite repeated instruction, he does not get the work-around-the-edges approach that is necessary to avoid the dripping of melted ice cream. Just can't do it at all, requiring Keri and I to assist (which is fine) but ultimately leads to him making a total mess of himself (which is not fine). In any event, privileges have been pulled, so it's cups from here on out. Life can be cruel. Perhaps they can be reinstated when they develop a GPS that can help with that.

1 comment:

  1. My next food shopping list will include a few dozen cones and lots of ice cream. Owen will spend time with me "practicing" how it is done. We want to see a revocation of the ice cream cone ban. Baba