Italy Trip 2019: Days 8-9 Wednesday-Thursday

Today was our last full day in Italy, and my last half-day in Florence before we take the train back to Rome to stay at a hotel by the airport for an early flight out tomorrow morning. Late last night I had reserved online tickets to see the Ufizzi Gallery as soon as it opens at 8:15am this morning. I took a taxi by 7:30am and arrived at the Uffizzi shortly afterwards, and looked for the correctly numbered door for those with online tickets to show the email confirmation that I had.

I made my way to the door, where an attendant was performing triage on people trying to get in that line. Since I saw a sign for “online tickets” I naturally got in line until it was my turn. Apparently the online reservation is just a means of picking up prepaid physical tickets to gain entrance to the museum. When it was my turn, I showed the triage attendant the email that I had received last night immediately following purchase of my ticket reservation for the 8:15am timed entry. He looked at it and said something in Italian to the effect of that wasn’t the right email. I pulled up a second email receipt from the online booking, and this time he answered in English and said, “This is the wrong email, just a receipt. You need an email voucher download, you need to download the email voucher. Maybe you get wifi and download it and come back.”

Disheartened, and drawing very close to 8:15am, I rushed around the block to find a cafe that would have WiFi. I found a little hole in the wall and ordered a coffee while I tried to enter the 18-digit WiFi passcode from a piece of paper taped to the napkin dispenser. I scoured the two emails that I had received from my online booking, which while I thought it was the immediate Uffizzi Gallery booking agent, it was actually a thirdparty booking agent I clicked on any possible clickable icon in the email, which brought me to their app, their social media pages, and anything else besides a downloadable PDF of this supposed voucher I needed. I refreshed my email dozens of times, thinking maybe there was some mysterious additional email that I needed that somehow didn’t arrive yet, after checking my spam and junk email filters. Still nothing.

By now it was drawing on 8:45am and I had clearly missed my window for the alleged timed entry that I thought I had reserved. Annoyed and frustrated, I gave up because there was nothing I could do. I even asked where the line was to buy regular tickets but that line was way, way longer than I had time for (because I had to return to the hotel by noon to check out of the hotel). Disappointed I started walking back to the hotel. As I was walking by I passed a place called “A Lovely Egg-sperience” which seemed like a breakfast joint. I entered and found a restaurant dedicated to the breakfast experience, so I found a table and settled in. Since my Uffizzi Gallery experience was hopelessly and unexpectedly scrapped, I might as well find some way to redeem the morning by having a nice breakfast. They had a little bit of everything, waffles, pancakes, eggs, toast, even a free-standing honeycomb for honey for tea or oatmeal. I was happy with my mimosa.

After breakfast, I made my way back to the hotel, taking in as much of Florence as I could before we left this charming city this afternoon. When I arrived in the lobby I found my father attempting to check into our flights using the lobby computer. He was getting frustrated because Alitalia/Delta wasn’t allowing us to check into our flights. I took over the keyboard and attempted to enter our separate confirmation numbers on the computer but it still wasn’t working. I tried entering our confirmation numbers using the Delta app on my phone, which redirected to Alitalia, and wha-bam! I was able to check in correctly, at least for my mother’s and my reservation.

I packed up the remaining bits of luggage, handed my postcards to the receptionist to mail them, and checked out of the hotel promptly by noon. The hotel allowed us to hold our luggage there while we went to a restaurant across the street for our last lunch in Florence. It was a cozy place with walls lines with a textured stone. We got simple foodstuffs like pizza and pasta, followed by us all toasting our last day in Florence with shots of limoncello. We recovered our luggage from the hotel and took a taxi to the Florence train station, where we waited an hour for our train to Rome. Again, all the trains within a few minutes’ departure of ours received their platform assignments first, and we had to wait until the last minute when our train’s number appeared on the platform.

The 1.5 hour train ride back to Rome was uneventful and relaxing as we watched the scenery pass by the windows or briefly napped. When we arrived to the Roma Termini we were the first ones in line for a taxi which took us to the airport hotel. While my mother settled into room, my dad and I went to the lounge’s happy hour to see what it was all about. We were poured a glass of wine and given some small hors d’oeuvres and debriefed our impressions of this trip. We returned to the hotel rooms and we all repacked our bags to comply with international airline regulations, and decided to order room service for our last night here. Room service took about a full hour and a half before it was delivered to our door. The food was good even if a little lukewarm. We all went to sleep early so we could get out the door the next morning at 5am.




ADDENDUM: Day 9 Thursday (Return Travel to USA)

Early at 5am we took the shuttle to the airport across the street, checked in our luggage to the gate agent and went to wait in the lounge for our flight. The Rome Fiumencio-DaVinci (FCO) airport is very large, and it took us almost a full hour just to walk to the proper wing to find the lounge nearest to our gate. The gates at this airport were unlike I had seen before, as nobody can enter the walled-off area until it is boarding time, then take an escalator down to another level then walk onto the jetway. When it was our turn we boarded.

Our long flight from Rome to NYC JFK airport was about 9 hours, but it was during the regular daytime so I found it hard to sleep this time around. I watched a few movies, one of which starred Chris Hemsworth as a whaling captain. I ran out of interesting movies so I eventually resorted to playing chess against the computer. I took a few brief naps, and we were served lunch at the beginning of the flight and dinner at the end, with a few snacks and glasses of Aperol spritzer and wine in between.

In JFK my flight to Boston departed about an hour earlier than theirs to Buffalo, so I only had about a 2-hour window to get to the proper gate out, including customs and baggage claim. We all waited for our luggage to come out of the chute before going into customs and the main terminal. Our luggage was among the last to come out, about 45 minutes later. Since my connecting flight departed earlier, I said goodbye to my parents and jetted my way towards the customs line with my two bags.

Since I used the “Mobile Passport” app to answer customs questions, I went right through the Mobile Passport line (much quicker and shorter line) and pretty much ran all the way down the terminal’s corridor until I got to my gate way on the other side of the airport, which involved again going outside of the terminals to get back to Terminal 1, except this time it was during the day.  I made it to the right wing, so I ducked into the lounge for just a quick bite to eat for about 15 minutes and then ran again to my gate and caught the plane in time to depart to Boston. When I arrived at Boston Logan airport I knew I was home immediately at the sign of the Dunkin. I was picked up at the airport an hour later and was glad to arrive home and be in bed by 9pm EST. This has been truly a wonderful and exciting trip to Italy, but there’s still no replacement for my own bed. Now to fight off 6-hour jet lag over the next few days and return to life as usual.


Italy Trip 2019: Day 7 Tuesday

After yesterday’s initial trip into Tuscany, we wanted to see a bit more of the beautiful countryside in our short time here rather than taking a train up to Venice for a daytrip. After breakfast we arranged to meet up with a driver who would take us on a half-day trip to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, and then to Livorno, to see the Mediterranean Sea and to see a part of the city called “Little Venice,” since we wouldn’t end up seeing the real thing.

First we had the same driver as we’ve had the last couple days, a guy in his 40s-50s named Dmitri who spoke some English and always tried to change up our itinerary. This morning we left at 9:30am and he recommended that instead of seeing Livorno that we should go see Lucca, and have lunch at some restaurant in Pisa. With him there was another driver, a woman named Tania, who recommended a little seafood restaurant along the sea cliffs and rocks just outside Livorno. Feeling doormatted by Dmitri, I spoke up in Italian to the female driver about how we wanted to go to Pisa first and maybe a light coffee, but that we wanted to see the Mediterranean Sea and have lunch along the coast in Livorno with a beautiful seaside vista. He eventually backed down and said that we’d go to Pisa then Livorno, not Lucca. Tania would be our driver once we were outside the city, since he had an appointment. Once Tania took over the car, it took a few tries to get the transmission to get into gear, even though it was automatic transmission.


No there’s not doing construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa (this time), that’s just a crane hanging out in front of the tower on another building

An hour later we arrived at Pisa, a cute little town that became more and more touristy the closer we got to the center of town. Eventually Tania pulled over the car to a place where we could see the top of the tower from behind a few buildings and trees. My parents and got out of the car and walked to the tower plaza and took photos every few steps to get a new and different vantage point for talking both selfies and video. We did of course try to take the obligatory photo pretending to hold up the leaning end of the tower. A photo one of my parents took of me trying to hold up the leaning tower just looks like I’m trying to do a weird dance, but the one I took of my father “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa looks a bit more convincing.

We walked around but it was so very, very hot and humid that we decided to take some time and get a coffee or cappuccino nearby under one of the tented patios. My parents ordered Cokes and I got a cappuccino and we all shared a light lemon cream cake. Even though we were in the shade and drinking cold drinks (except me being stupid by drinking hot espresso), it was still uncommonly and unbearably hot. By around the time we finished our beverages it was about time to go and meet our driver, and then on to the seaside lunch spot in Livorno, followed by exploring the city central plaza, the Terrazza Moscana.

Livorno is about a half-hour drive by car until we were close to the restaurant where we had a 1:30pm lunch reservation. We drove around a little bit until we finally found the restaurant, which was right along the side of a cliff looking out onto the Mediterranean Sea. The color of the water right next to the rocks was the most perfect shade of turquoise-into-blue that I’ve seen in the natural world. The rest of the sea, from the distance, looked a bit blue-er, a sparkling blue from our vantage point. There were even people camps on the rocky ledges and others who were swimming.

The restaurant had a good selection of fish, but their fish wasn’t what I was there for (because seafood doesn’t really agree with me): I was there for the views . I ordered a white wine and a crostini as an appetizer and they got something small pasta as a meal instead of as a first course, or “primo piatto.” They brought out the pasta and the crostini at the same time as their meals, so I thought that this was my meal by accident. I traded some of my fish to dad and he gave me some of his pasta. Then they brought out my actual meal of the beef I had ordered, but I didn’t need it anymore, and then the waitress looked as confused as we did when she brought it out. I suppose that something got lost in translation, as the waitress did not seem to speak English and my Italian wasn’t proficient enough to mitigate the confused order. While we were eating lunch we were getting bitten often by the insects and it was still very hot, so as soon as we finished eating and paid the bill, we opted to return directly to the hotel in Florence instead of going to downtown Livorno as originally planned. I will just have to try to check out Livorno on my own the next chance I can return to Italy. It was nice to at least be able to see the sea!

After we got back to the hotel, my parents and I walked around Florence for a couple hours, and then we all went to the restaurant on the lower level just to get some afternoon coffee and shared dessert, and then the two of them turned in early for the night. Before we left Florence, there was one last friend’s recommendation for a restaurant that we wanted to see for skyroof dining with supposedly beautiful views of Florence.

So I made reservations for just myself at this local rooftop restaurant by the name of Sesto on Arno an hour later at 830pm. Between now and then I washed some laundry and took a short nap. After getting all ready, I called a taxi and arrived on time for my reservation, took the elevator to the 6th floor and was immediately drawn in by the views of the hills, the River Arno, and the city nearby. During dinner, the sunset started its transition, so I got up several times to walk to the rail to take better photos than I could take from my table on the interior of the restaurant, excusing myself as waitstaff kept rushing by me with plates and drinks.

The views of the sunset were definitely worth the trip up to the top. The food was also quite good. They brought a starter of a glass of Prosecco to go with the varied breads and olive oil, followed by a small flat cylinder of something gelatinous that I’m still not entirely sure what it was, but I think the intent was to be a palate cleanser for the next course. The gelatin-thing wasn’t gross, just curious. The main course was a plate of several spinach and ricotta balls with a drizzle of light wine sauce, they were very tasty. For dessert I was brought a plate with what appeared to be a large chocolate globe and several smaller lighter-brown spheres.

When I used the spoon to crack the large chocolate globe it turned out to be a chocolate-and-hazelnuts mousse, with the small spheres being a coffee mascarpone mousse. It was quite delicious! To accompany dessert I had a small hot chocolate, since I had not yet had the amazingly delicious version of Italian hot chocolate yet this trip, and I was not disappointed. When the waiter brought my bill, it was accompanied by an adorable little tray of petit fours! I tried just a small bit of each, paid my bill, and left the restaurant to return to my hotel, where I completed my evening of “treat yoself” with a bubble bath and a good night’s sleep.

Italy Trip 2019: Day 6 Monday

Yesterday was a very active day so we slept in this morning until 9:30am and met my parents for breakfast at 10:30am in the tea room of our hotel. At 11am our car and driver arrived to take us the hour ride to Castello Verrazzano, a vineyard and winery tour and a lunch  and wine pairing. The ride through the Tuscany countryside is beautiful, with lush greens and rows of vines and olive trees and clear sky.

The winery is located in a castle that dates back to the 1100s-1200s and was owned by the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano who discovered New York and for whom the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge is named today. The property is beautiful, with a fountain and pond, trees, fields, gardens, , and restaurant. We learned that in addition to grapes and olives, they also grow tomatoes, lettuce, fruit, and they raise wild boar. We joined up with our tour group for the tour in English, with a very enthusiastic and articulate woman who spoke both Italian and English. We went around the property, down into the wine cellar with wines over 100 years old, saw giant oval-shaped barrels aging, even some aging for the sweet wine or vinsanto. We also poked our nose into a grate to sniff the strong aroma of balsamic vinegar that is in the process of aging for 10 years into a very expensive balsamic. The stairs of the wine cellars were sometimes tricky, but there were a few stone tunnels and narrow passages that definitely felt like we were stepping into the old times of millennium earlier.

After the tour and exploration of the winery and processes, we were guided to the dining room where several octo-and nonagenarian women were having lunch and where we would be having our wine tasting and lunch. At our table was a couple from Ireland  who were here on vacation. We had a pleasant time chatting with them about our differences and similarities in cultures and experiences in Italy. They were just leaving Florence while we had barely just arrived.

The wines were poured in order of white wine (chiaro bianco) then reds: Chianti Classico, then Chianti Reserva, then the Supertoscano wine. Each wine glass was paired with each course: the white with the salami, cheese and prosciutto, the Chianti Classico with the spaghetti and red sauce, the Chianti Reserva with the meat plate of aged pork, the Supertoscano somewhere in the middle. We were also given just 2 drops of the super-expensive balsamic vinegar to taste, which we were encouraged to sip slowly after each bite of cheese during the first course, not as a salad dressing. The guide expressed that to put this fine of a balsamic vinegar on salad would be a waste, because this kind is so fine that it is to be savored and nothing less.

After the main course, a plate of biscotti and a small shot glass of sweet wine were brought to our table. I recognized this specialty plate as the same vinsanto as what we tried last night at the Il Latini restaurant. This was served just before dessert, in order to provide a change in transition for the palate. Though this time doing vinsanto, our guide encouraged us not just to dip the biscotti in the wine then take a bit, but to also suck the wine out of the biscotti before biting it. Dessert was a simple fruit torte served with coffee. We were asked if we wanted coffee “correcto” with grappa, a clear alcohol like vodka, or if we wanted plain coffee. I tried first the coffee, espresso, without the grappa, and it tasted strongly of a coffee. After putting the grapa in the espresso glass, the flavor turned pungent and bitter, and completely unrecognizable to coffee. I think I preferred the coffee without the grapa.

After we finished up our dinner and wine, we went to the counter to order some wines and olive oil to send home, and then we checked out and met our driver again for our ride back to the hotel. He asked if we wanted to go to another winery along the way and we declined because we were ready for a break. The drive back to Florence was very pretty to see all of the different wineries and olive trees all in a row in the countryside. It was also so wonderful to get out to the countryside to have a break from the city.

Along the drive we stopped at Ponte Vecchio, the “old bridge” of 600-700 years old that still has shops and apartments built over the bridge. After we returned to our hotel we took a bit to rest and I got some laundry started in my hotel room’s double sink,  and then I napped for a short while. Then my father and I went out and walked around the Duomo Piazza and stopped at a wine bar where we got some wine and I got a spritzer. My father was still tired so he went back to the hotel so then I got a lite dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall trattoria called Il Contadino, by recommendation of a friend that had passed through Florence a few weeks ago.

The sun was setting on the way to the ristorante so I walked along the river to snap some photos of the sunset’s progress. Then I found the right place and asked for a table for one, and was seated by the waitress. The menu was entirely in Italian and I was ready to take up the challenge of ordering all in Italian, as we had to do at a few other cafes and restaurants we had tried in our time in Italy. I ordered a pesto pasta and salad, and for dessert they brought strawberries in mascarpone cream. It was all very delicious but I was still rather full from this afternoon’s winery lunch so I just nibbled a little at each of the courses.

After dinner I walked around the river and streets of Florence for awhile more, just taking in everything and observing the people and the changes in lights, as the night lights started reflecting over the river. Today was a festival, so there were a few fireworks that kicked up over the river as well, with many crowded to watch it. As I was tired from walking and it was still very hot even for evening, I stopped at a bar and ordered an aperol spritz while sitting in their quiet but picturesque courtyard. After finishing I called a taxi back to my hotel where I filled up the tub and took the first bubble bath I’ve had in over two decades until I was so relaxed it was time to go to bed.


Italy Trip 2019: Day 5 Sunday

Since today is our last morning in Rome, we packed up all our suitcases and backpacks and then ate an early breakfast for the last morning on the rooftop patio. We watched the birds that always come to join us for breakfast, and this time a large baby crow-looking bird perched right next to us. The little nuthatches and chickadees were still bold enough to to jump right on the table as we left to get juice or coffee.

Our taxi arrived to bring us to the Roma Termini to take the train from Rome to Florence. We had booked tickets on the Frecciosa Treni, the express train that goes faster and makes fewer stops. On our way in several people asked if we needed any help or information, so we asked one woman the right direction to go, so she walked with us to show us where we would go and explained that the train wouldn’t be assigned a gate until 10-20 minutes before departure time, so we had to stand to wait an hour and then enter and try to figure out which was our train platform. The lady came back a few minutes later with her hands held out, “some money for the information I gave you, please,” she demanded, so I handed her a small bill for her to leave us alone and then she went away. I should have known better that the people offering information weren’t for free. She was even wearing a lanyard that made me think that she was an official train station employee. Oh well.

There were two other 10:20am trains, and their times and gates were posted, but ours still wasn’t showing a platform number even within 5 minutes of the posted time. Then we saw a bunch of people moving purposefully towards a train, and so I scouted the sign next to the train, only to find that it was the correct train towards Milan, with a stop at Firenzi, or Florence.

The train trip was a comfortable hour and a half, with gorgeous views of the Tuscan countryside through the train windows. The train attendant came with a light snack of packaged shortbread and juice/coffee. For most of the trip I worked on just trying to type up all my adventures from the prior days along, check in on our tours and itineraries,  with a brief nap.

Arriving at the Florence train station we exited until we found the hotel shuttle driver holding a sign with “Brask” on the sign, standing over by the Pharmacia. He helped us load up his van and we drove through the city to our hotel. When I first saw the Duomo through the rows of buildings, it was then that I knew that I was indeed here in Florence!

We checked into our hotel, a very small and boutique artisanal hotel, a former palace of an influential and wealthy Florence family. The rooms have high ceilings and antique frescos on the walls and ceilings. The window of my room looked out into the hotel inner courtyard, my parents’ room looked out directly at the Duomo!

After checking in and settling, my father and I took time to go explore our neighborhood of Florence, making our way towards a cafe that was recommended by a friend who recently honeymooned here a few weeks ago. The city feels a lot smaller and less crowded than Rome, a little more comfortable and a little more beautiful. We arrived at Pasticciera Deanna and ordered an ice coffee and a cappuccino and we shared a small pastry. We sat outside watching the people walking by from what appeared to be a shopping mall across the street.

On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at a hat vendor and my father got a small cap and I bought a wide-brimmed visor, very similar to a gardening hat I have at home but without the roof of the hat. We walked a bit more and ducked into a souvenir shop to browse. We returned to the hotel and rested for an hour or two before we caught a taxi to go to our dinner reservation at Il Latini, a small restaurant that serves authentic Florence typical food. This place came highly recommended from a gourmand friend, so we looked forward to the experience.

The place was cozy, feeling like we were in a wine cellar  underground, with aging pork hanging from the ceilings. The tables were close together, and we discovered that there were fellow Americans at the table next to us so we chatted with them a few times. For dinner we ordered a pre-fixe Tuscan meal so it included house wine and 4-5 small courses. The first course brought was the tomato and bread soup, which was not just tomato soup with bread on the side, it was tomato soup with bread in it as part of the soup! What an interesting surprise!

Then they brought us three different types of pasta to try and compare which was our favorite. The main course included bistecca fiorentina, or Florentine style beef steak, a very soft cut of meat with savory seasonings and almost like prime rib. My father expressed how this was probably one of the best tasting and most flavorful steaks that he’s had before in his life, and I thought it was pretty good too.

Later they brought out dessert, a combination of a chocolate cake and something called cantucci and visanto. The waiter explained that it is very Florentine tradition to take the biscotti and dip it into the sweet wine before the actual dessert, to prepare the palette for the real desert. It was quite delicious! They brought over another bottle of the house wine but we couldn’t realistically finish it, so we gave it to the table next to us for free and hope they could use it or pass it onto the next party.

We took a taxi back to the hotel after walking around just a little bit outside to take in the piazza duomo at night, with the green and white marble walls all lit up from powerful strobes. Florence at night was actually a little busier and more active than Florence during the day, it seemed. I really liked observing the play of light on the ancient architecture at night. After dropping my father off at the hotel for the night, I continued exploring the city, looking for a wine bar by the name of Obsequiem, but once I found them they were closing. I walked along the river for a bit to take in the colors of dusk and the reflections of the lights on the water. Altogether it had been a wonderful first day in Florence! Tomorrow we are going to a winery and vineyard in the Tuscany countryside!

Italy Trip 2019: Day 4 Saturday

After such a busy few days and very little sleep, it was nice to finally have a morning when I let myself sleep in, until around 11am. My parents were really sweet and brought some breakfast vittles to my room since I missed the last chance to get breakfast from the hotels continental breakfast. After breakfast we took a slow afternoon and just lounged in our hotel rooms until around 2:30pm.

We went to a late lunch in the neighborhood nearby al fresco under a canopy surrounded by bushes. Where we sat by the corners of two streets there was a nice breeze. We started lunch with a little prosecco. After lunch we walked a bit around the nearby streets, gradually making our way to the Trevi Fountain, where we took a few photos and sat on one of the benches to take a break and watch some people.


After the Trevi Fountain we got some gelato, and then we went at a strolling pace to head towards Cafe Eustachio and the Pantheon. My dad purchased some of the same St. Eustachio coffee beans that I had gifted him from my last Italy trip. I ordered a hot chocolate that the three of us sipped just for the taste.

We snapped a few photos of the Pantheon and watched people go by, including a bunch of tour groups. We were pretty tired after walking around most of the afternoon, so then we caught a taxi back to our hotels, where we rested for a bit and changed up before heading to our dinner reservation at Ristorante Zodiaco, a hilltop restaurant with a reputation for gorgeous views of Rome at sunset and to see the twinkling of the lights at nighttime.

We took a taxi up the hill in time for our reservation. Just arriving, we could see that the views were indeed beautiful, with a 180 view overlooking all of Rome. Of course we snapped some photos before going in and being assigned a table. The interior of the restaurant actually has a whole wall of clear Windows and the tables are arranged in tiered floors so that no matter where a table is located it has an unobstructed view of the city.

Our appetizer of meats and cheeses arrived, followed by a long gap during which the sommelier decanted the wine over a single flame before very carefully lining the glass and then pouring the Chianti. The first course was various pasta, and the main course was variations on a beef theme. After dinner they brought dessert, which we all shared so we could each try a little bit of different ones for different favors. It was wonderful to be able to watch the sky out the window make the long and beautiful transition from afternoon to sunset to nighttime.

After we finished dinner we returned via taxi to the Piazza Spagna. We walked a little around the plaza, then we were convinced to take the horse ride, yet another series of wonderful moments of an otherwise very magical evening. The horse’s name is Roxy,the. Took went right through most of the main historical and architectural monuments, and it was much more pleasant to see everything via horse carriage in the evening when it was cooler and at less risk of burning (knowing me, I’d probably still get sunburn from the stars and moon even at night). Then we returned to the hotel and turned in for the night.


Italy Trip 2019: Day 3 Friday

Today was the big day for the opening reception of my art exhibition in Italy! We planned to arrive at the gallery around 5pm, leaving at 3:30pm, so that we had some time in the morning to see some of the sights in Rome. We started the day with breakfast up on the rooftop in the cool of the morning. Then my father and I aimed to get to Vatican City early, around 8:30am so that we could get our Omni/Roma Passes and get ahead of the lines.

We took a taxi there, and then we looked for the store where we could pick up our Omni/Roma Passes. The last time I looked for this place it took 3 hours of getting lost with wrong directions so this time I knew the correct general area to look for the shop. We stood in a short line to wait for it to open at 9am, checked in with the tour group, and headed with the group immediately to the Vatican Museum, where the Sistine Chapel is located. We were able to avoid the long, long lines since we had the special pass and group entrance.

We made a beeline to the Sistine Chapel, following signs for Sistina Cappella. Even though we skipped the longest of lines, there were still a good amount of people in the museum. So my father and I went as fast as we were able to, given the fact that we had to just get shepherded through by the museum guides, along with the other tourist sheep. We passed many a Roman marble sculpture, many portraits of a popes or cardinals. We went up stairs and then down stairs and then up and down stairs again in order to get to the Sistine Chapel. Once we entered, the room opened up with the really high ceilings, and we could take in the grandiosity of Michelangelo’s painstakingly detailed creations on every wall and ceiling surface, even curtains that looked transparent!

It was interesting for this to be my second visit to the Sistine Chapel within 6 months. While the paintings on the walls and ceilings were the same, the crowds of people were a bit thicker and more crowded this time around. We were herded towards the middle of the room by a waving security official, like a parking attendant at a music festival directing us to which patch of grass upon which to park our vehicle. Speaking of parking, this time there were no open bench spots upon which to park ourselves to sit and rest to take in the artwork, only standing in the middle. All the while the security and museum administrators kept periodically yelling “Silencio!” Aand “No photo! No photo!” This time around seeing the Sistine Chapel was also nice because then I could see how my father reacted to seeing it all for the first time, asking questions and noting his own observations about it.


Once it became a bit too crowded for us, we left out the exit towards the Basilica of Saint Peter the Apostle. We had to negotiate the strange configuration of entrances and group entrances but we eventually located it. We walked counterclockwise around the outer small mini-altar areas of the Basillica until we came to the very large sculpture of the altar of St. Peter.

This time around I noticed the swirly, twisted texture of the columns, steady but not boring. Also a first time for my second visit to the Basillica, my dad and I followed a line of people that looked like they were descending some narrow winding stairs directly adjacent to one of the many saintly statues. As we went down the stairs we realized that we were entered the papal grottos, an underground network of vaults that housed the remains and memorial statutes and sculptures of popes and royals. It was nice and cool down in the grottos, and there were a lot of statues of sleeping men.


After we returned upstairs from the grottos, we continued on with walking around the basilica, snapping photos and taking photos of many of the things we saw. After the basilica, we walked for a little bit until we found a little cafe to get a coffee and do some people watching. From there we walked back towards where we saw that we could get a coffee then we did that until we hailed a taxi to bring us back to the hotel by the Spanish steps. We tried to hail an Uber but our trips got cancelled and rescheduled multiple times just in the 10 minutes we were waiting.



Upon returning to the hotel, I showered and got all prepped for my big night of the opening reception for my solo exhibition. I took some time to briefly write out my artist talk in English and then used Google Translate to translate it paragraph by paragraph into Italian.  At around 3:30pm we were picked up by car to be driven about an hour out to Frosinone, where my show was being held at the Galeria Dei Villa Communale di Frosinone. We arrived about a half hour after we had anticipated arriving because of traffic, but we were not late for the official opening time, at least. There were only a few people milling about, and the musician was just setting up for the concert in the main gallery room. I found Alfio and touched base about the program schedule for the evening and when I would be giving my talk about the artwork.


After the accordion concert of traditional Italian folk music, along with some experimental ambient symphonic sounds, it was then my time to shine. Alfio gave a brief introduction of me and my artwork, all in Italian, and then it was my time to give a brief talk about my art. I had prepared a brief talk in English, which I then translated using Google Translate. My parents advised me to drop doing the speech in both languages, so I settled for giving only the Italian version my best efforts. I asked the crowd forgiveness in advance for any mispronunciations or wrong words that I might use.


I had practiced pretty fine in the taxi on the drive to Frosinone, but it’s quite another when my nerves get going while up in front of an audience. I stumbled over my initial introduction, but then I feel like I got into some better momentum with the language pronunciation the more I went, asking every few lines if the audience could understand me. When I finished everyone clapped, so I’m assuming that they understood me or that they were just being polite.

After I finished my talk, people got up and walked around looking at the artwork, and then a few people came up to ask me questions  (in Italian) about my process and about my inspiration, or to give some words of encouragement. It was quite challenging to answer their art questions about my process using only the few Italian words and phrases that I know, and they helped to fill in some of the proper art terms in Italian. My parents were beaming with pride and smiling at me throughout the evening, helping me with their encouragement and their very presence here, and I was grateful for their support and love.

The evening flew by and finished up around 8pm and then Alfio’s wife drove my parents and I to the train station to catch the train back to Roma Termini, where we then took a cab back to the restaurant. We arrived back to the hotel and then went up to the rooftop deck for a glass of wine and some cheese for a late dinner, since the reception actually didn’t have any refreshments as we thought maybe they might. We laughed and debriefed about our experiences at the art opening. There was live music happening in the Piazza Spagna that we could hear up on the rooftop deck which gave a really nice ambience to finish off the night before we headed to bed.


Italy Trip 2019: Day 2 Thursday

After the tumultuous day that we had travelling yesterday, it was really good to get a good sleep last night. The bed was quite comfortable and the room was quiet. We started our morning with breakfast up on the roof of the hotel, on the fourth floor. There’s a terraced patio area surrounded by potted lemon, orange and lime trees along with many plants and flowers. There were many little birds that occupied the area, even jumping right onto the table to try to steal crumbs directly from our plate until we waved them away. The breakfast bar itself had a pretty broad selection of cheeses, meats, eggs, fruit, pastries, toast, croissant, juice, and Nutella. We got coffee and tea and just enjoyed the coolness of the morning and the chatter of the many birds. The view from this rooftop terrance of the city skyline is beautiful.

I got a taxi driver to give me a ride for about an hour’s transit to the town of Frosinone, where I would have my solo art exhibition for this month. I needed to be at the gallery for 10am in order to check in with the curator, probably about what paintings needed to go where, and to confer on the curatorial vision for the exhibition. When I arrived, curator Alfio Borghese greeted me and we viewed the four large rooms of wallspace for the show. Shortly after, the cargo delivery driver arrived with the four large crates of my 50 paintings. I paid the driver the remaining amount of cash needed to pay the taxes and delivery fees, and then he used a palette jack to lift and roll the crates, and then he had to use his shoulder and brute strength to move them once they were inside the space. Each crate measured about 6ft x 2-3ft x 3ft, and each weighed about 200lbs and there were 4 crates total.

Alfio and I then took the next couple hours just to open and unpack the paintings from the crates. We needed a Phillips screwdriver to be able to open and unscrew the tops of the crates, but we only had a flathead screwdriver. We tried using the flathead on the Philips screws, but to no avail. So we took a break to run an errand to the local hardware store to purchase two Phillips screwdrivers and an electric power drill (where’s the local Benny’s when ya need one?). After that, we stopped at the local printshop to order banners and posters for my art show, and to give hi-res photo files of some of my artwork to the designer. Then we returned and continued the tedium of opening the crates, this time with the proper tools. Then we unwrapped the paintings carefully so that we could reuse the packing materials for return shipping.

By this time it was around 2 or 3pm so we took a lunch break to go to a local caffetteria, where we ordered some flat pasta in a red wine sauce, some caprese salad, and then wine. We chatted a bit about some logistics for the exhibition and about our different cultures. Then we returned to the gallery to continue our work on the exhibition. It was at this point that I realized that Alfio didn’t have any other staff to help him install the exhibition, so I stayed a long time with the expectation that I would help hang the show and we would be done by evening with time enough for me to still have dinner with my parents back in Rome.

We moved the paintings from the ground floor holding area to the actual gallery space upstairs on the 1st. Then I noticed that the previous artist’s artwork was still up on the wall, so I asked Alfio if we had to take down that artwork, but he said not to touch it because only the artist could take them down when he came this afternoon. Because of this, our ability to put my paintings up right away in the right spots on the right walls was compromised.

We first put up some paintings by other US artists in the small room I the back, moving some of the existing paintings. It took us 2 hours just to hang 6 paintings, so I was beginning to worry if we would have all the paintings hung in time for the exhibition opening reception, which was happening tomorrow. The hanging system is not one I’ve seen before, a structure of scaffolding holding up the lights and a white canvas backdrop. In order to physically hang the paintings, we had to tie a line from the top of scaffolding and then tie it on the back of the painting’s hook, making the hanging process of each individual canvas even more tedious than the hanging of paintings in a gallery already is.

The gallery closed at 8pm so we were rushing to try to hang paintings. The other artist finally cleared out all of his artwork from one room only about an hour before closing time, so at least then we could start to hang my own work on the walls in this room. I wish the other artist had instead just removed all his paintings at once and consolidated them to another space of the gallery that wasn’t crucial to hanging mine, and then he could wrap them each there. But no, instead he took each down from the wall, carefully and tediously measured bubble wrap to tape and fold every bubble wrap package around his frames perfectly. I would normally understand this in any other situation, but we were only crammed for time to hang my exhibition because he was taking his sweet time to take down his — and my opening reception is only tomorrow night!

It was getting down towards the end of the night with only one hour left and we still had only hung 3 of my own paintings, out of fifty! Alfio advised me to go around the remaining gallery space and lean my paintings against the wall in the order and spacing that I would like to see them. He assured me that he would come back tomorrow morning with a friend to finish hanging them, while I had existing reservations for tours and activities in the Vatican City with my parents. I just hoped that he would have enough time tomorrow to hang the remaining paintings before the reception started at 6pm.

Once 8:00pm arrived, we put the crates and packing away and we left the gallery. On the way to drop me off at the train station to catch the commuter rail back to Rome, we stopped to get a gelato to cool off after doing all the hard work today in the gallery. Then he dropped me at the train station and I waited for the 9:15pm train back to Rome, about an hour and a half trip. On the way to the car, Alfio and I put up the signs and banners up advertising my exhibition.

The train ride itself felt like riding any double-decker commuter train between Providence and Boston, but the announcements for each stop were in Italian. At one point in the train ride there was a group of teenagers that were clapping and singing and stomping. If I wasn’t so exhausted and hot then I would have enjoyed the music, but I only felt that it was pounding into my headache, so I moved my seat to another train car where it was much quieter.

I arrived at Termini Roma, where I was going to find the Metro stop back to the Spanish Steps, but I couldn’t locate the right platform, so I got in line to wait for a taxi cab back to the hotel by the Spanish Steps. All together I didn’t get back to the hotel until around 11:30pm. I was tired and exhausted and went right to sleep after letting my parents know that I had made it back safe and sound.

Italy Trip 2019: Day 1 (Wednesday)

I started my journey to Italy on a Tuesday morning, arriving at Boston Logan Airport around 11am to ensure that I would have plenty of time for my flight out at 4pm. Going through security went without incident and then I found my way to the Sky Lounge in the B wing where my flight to NYC/JFK would depart. I knew I’d have a while so I just watched people, had lunch from the offerings, and got a glass of wine. I typed up a couple things and checked some of my reservations and plans for Italy.

My flight got delayed from the original 3:58pm departure time to 5pm and then finally again to 6pm. Originally I would have had a roomy 4-hour layover in JFK, which I had intended to use the lounge there to get some work done, but suddenly my 4-hour layover was now only a 2 hour layover, which would be just barely enough time. But then after we landed, our plane remained on the tarmac for one more hour waiting, for a gate to clear. Now my 2-hour layover was now only a 1 hour layover, with boarding started a half-hour into that, giving me only 30 minutes to get from gate to terminal on time to not miss my flight, I’d be cutting it very close.


The second we pulled up to the gate and were allowed to leave the plane, I grabbed my carry on and ran as fast as I could. I asked a gate agent where I would find my Alitalia flight to Rome at Terminal 1 and they told me that I’d have to leave the checked airport area, claim my baggage, and re-enter through security check all over again. This aggravated me for the inconvenience, but I had no choice, so I ran in the direction of the baggage claim and exit as fast as my feet would carry me. This involved running by about 20 gates along the way after coming in at B42.

Midway through my sprint to the baggage claim, my parents called to confirm that they had just landed from Buffalo to JFK and that we did NOT need to claim baggage all over and that there’s a shuttle to Terminal 1 at Exit 53. With this knowledge I turned around and sprinted by the 20-or-so gates that I had already passed, backtracking ground I wouldn’t have needed to cover had I seen any sign saying “Shuttle to Terminal 1 at Gate B53.” I made it to the shuttle just as it was ready to leave. I took the second stop and followed signs to Terminal 1, then asked an agent who directed me to exit the outside door, walk along a shady alley at nighttime, and then re-enter the terminal where other people were dropping off friends and family at Departures.


I had to go through security again, but the “boarding pass” that I had printed at Logan didn’t include a seating assignment for Alitalia, just a voucher that said I needed to get seat assignment at the gate. But in order to get to the gate through security, I needed a seat assignment — what a double bind! They directed me to the Alitalia desk about 500 feet away, and the agent very quickly went through providing me with a seat assignment and more legitimate boarding pass. Then I still had to wait in the security line, and then I was one of the lucky few to be chosen for a light pat-down, for which I may had had a few “colorful metaphors” that I expressed to the TSA agent because I was so frustrated/anxious I was so very close to missing our flight.


At this point I only had 5 minutes until they closed the gate to the jetway! Once I got my bag, I grabbed my sandals and belt and phone and ran down the terminal, barefoot, just trying to use every extra second to get closer to the gate.

I ran in the direction looking for the right gate number, Number 9. Then my dad called saying that they were up ahead trying to delay the closing of the door, and directing me to the right way to find the gate. The sign to the gate was obscured so it was not easy to see, so I missed it the first time and then backtracked until I saw it and booked it full-speed to the gate. The gate agent smiled and scanned my boarding pass and it felt like I had finally, finally crossed the ribbon of the finish line to the Boston Marathon. I boarded the plane barefoot, looking beet red in the face, panting and sweating from exhaustion, and with a severe side-stitch starting. I found my seat and sat, and asked the flight attendant for as much water as she could muster! One lady across the row from my mother asked my mom if I had gotten sunburnt!


The four cups of water that I very quickly gulped after boarding brought by the flight attendant.

Before we officially took off and while I was still cooling off from my run, I went into the airplane restroom (since I didn’t have a chance this whole time after running through the airport), and just as I closed the door behind me, the knob to open/lock the door popped off and landed in the sink, locking me into the restroom! This was just too much of the last straw on the camel’s back, so I had to calm myself down from a pending anxiety/panic attack and focused on trying to manipulate the the knob to go back onto the door and thankfully so I could escape and return to my seat to calm down.

The rest of the 8-9 hour transatlantic flight New York to Rome was relatively uneventful compared to my previously harrowing airport adventure. Shortly after departure we were served dinner in several small courses along with wine. I chatted a bit with each of my parents before both of them folded down their seat to sleep for the “night” of the flight. I watched part of a movie and a couple episodes of Netflix shows that I had downloaded to my tablet, and was only able to sleep 1 or 2 hours total when I attempted to nap.

We finally arrived to Rome’s DaVinci-Fiumicino Airport, and we went through passport control, where my parents went right through the automated passport scanners, whereas I was rerouted to check my passport with an actual agent because I was using the replacement passport from my last trip to Italy (in order to get my full money’s worth for paying the full-price of replacement at $150-200 for a temporary passport, expires in 1 year). We claimed our baggage and found our taxi driver to bring us to the airport. It was about a 40-minute drive from airport to the Spanish Steps section of Rome. After we arrived at the airport we settled into our adjacent rooms, showered and freshened up.

My father and I went across the Piazza Spagna to a 100-year old tea shop by the name of Babbingtons to get lunch. It is a cozy boutique tea parlor with a broad selection of teas and also a good selection of sandwiches and pastries. We each ordered a tea and sandwich and one to take back to the hotel for my mother.

Then I called the Rome UPS because I had gotten an email saying there were some issues with dropping off the 4 crates of paintings because they didn’t accept credit/debit card to pay for the import taxes and fees, only bank transfer.

So then I spent another half-hour on the phone with my bank in the USA, only to have them tell me that they can’t authenticate a wire transfer remotely, only in-person at a bank branch. This left me with the only option in order to have UPS paid for the import taxes in order to have the paintings delivered to the gallery tomorrow, when installation is scheduled, is to pay them in cash. This meant that I had to go to several ATMS to pull the amount required.


Then I hailed a taxi that took me back in the direction of the airport and arrived at the UPS Rome office. They almost didn’t let me into the building until I mentioned the name of my contact person there. We conversed in a mix of Italian and English, and they counted the cash I had brought. I knew that I didn’t have enough to pay the total amount tonight because of ATM withdrawal limits, but I wanted to better arrive with a partial payment to let them know that I am serious about getting the shipment delivery initiated. I asked when they opened the next morning so that I could come by first thing to pay the rest with a new batch of ATM cash cache. The UPS guy said he respected my efforts to make the payment any way that was possible, and when I mentioned I would be at the gallery tomorrow morning, he told me that I could just bring the cash with me in the morning and pay the delivery driver when he arrives. This simplified my next morning by not having to make an extra stop at UPS on the way to Frosinone, since it’s not really along the way.

Once all these issues were settled, I took the same taxi back to my hotel, and I joined up with my parents and walked around the neighborhood in the evening until we found a pizzeria nearby and had dinner there. We each got some pasta and wine, and toasted to our first night here in Italy! After dinner we walked around a bit more, as it was a beautiful night (they call it Bella Note) until we stopped into a gelateria to so that my parents could try their first gelato in Italy. It was as creamy and delicious as I remember from my first trip to Italy last December. We walked back to our hotel while finishing up cones of gelato, then we settled in for the night and slept after our long trip and first day in Italy.

Two new paintings for Italy exhibition

During the Memorial Day weekend, rather than spend time with friends and family at various cookouts and barbecues, I spent quality time getting to know two new canvases of my Abstracted Rainy Moments series about to head to Italy. With a two-person show suddenly becoming my one-person solo show, I felt I needed to include a few more large paintings, so I got started on the first one of two.


After adding all of the background points of paint, I used stand oil and a progressive smattering of brushwork to help the painting to “rain” on the scene.

Then I set up another canvas on the adjacent easel and started applying colored dots of thick paint daubs to evoke the sensation of mountains and pine trees and a field.

Then I got out the stand oil and my broad brush to “rain” out the paint daubs into drips that I then let continue to drip overnight, only retouching the drips every few hours until nightfall. The next morning I touched them up a bit more.

After the main surface of the two paintings had stopped dripping then I touched up the each of the side panels, and then I let the paintings air out for a week. To help hopefully speed up their drying, I placed an oscillating fan directly in front of them. Then the day came that I had to pack them up for shipment to Italy along with the other 40+ paintings I was sending for a solo exhibition outside of Rome.