Prague

day 29 (9/30)
a five and a half hour drive brought us to Prague in the Czech Republic. wow! this is a huge city, but we drove into the heart to our apartment, which is the penthouse of a very old hotel turned into a newly renovated apartment. beautiful. and get this . . . we have 2 bedrooms and free parking and free internet access and we’re only paying about $65 a night. yep, very nice apartment for dirt cheap. i think i love Prague. heh.

the Czech Republic is not on the Euro so our money isn’t good here. we found a bank and grabbed about $5000 of their money — roughly the equivalent of $300. it’s really weird to see the cost of things. for example, Paula and i got a very nice dinner for 2 of 4 meats, 3 sauces and veggies for nearly $500, but it factors out to a little under $30 total in US Dollars. i constantly have my iPhone calculator in use (the price divided by 16.7 for the US price).

it took us some trouble finding tram tickets as the tram is at the end of our block, but we figured out how to get tickets and jumped on a tram . . . the wrong way. we figured it out about 10 minutes later and jumped off and grabbed on the other way. if nothing else we were able to see more of the city this way. we got near the city center after crossing the bridge and jumped off and walked. i had the map backwards still so we again went the wrong way before correcting ourselves. this city is beautiful.

prague

we made it to the city center and to the Astronomical Clock (above), which was built in the 1300s. it’s an amazing piece of work and is still running strong. but more than anything we noticed the incredible architecture of this city. Ellie noted that it looked like something out of a fairy tale . . . and it does. Paula was happy to grab a Starbucks coffee for the first time in a month as we sat in the center of the old town and watched people. the kids had fun walking around and just seeing the city’s beauty, but they also saw the giant castle up on the hill and we are now going to be forced to there tomorrow. should be fun. and we have 3 days to spend in this city, which wasn’t even on our original agenda for Europe.

Happy 7th JD!!!!

day 28th (9/29)
what a day we had today and JD had 7 things planned for his 7th b-day. we started off in the indoor swimming pool (#1) — it’s big and we had it all to ourselves. it was warm and i even jumped off of the giant boulders twice before being told that i wasn’t allowed to do it. heh. we moved on to the Alps next. we rode a tram 1/2 way up and then took a hanging gondola up to the top (#2). well, it was about 1/2 hour hike to the actual top. instead of riding down, we decided to hike (this was #3). everyone thought it’d be easier to hike down. it’s not. you are constantly trying to slow yourself down so every step is really working your calves. and in many stretches the gravel was loose so it was easy to slide. Ellie ran into me many times to keep herself from falling and Paula helped JD as he squatted down and slide and found other strategies. it took a few hours to get 1/2 way down and we decided to ride the rest of the way. that’s when we found out that we didn’t have tickets to get back. JD and Ellie about had a heart attack. fortunately, i was able to buy tickets and we rode the tram down. whew.

off to mini golf (#4). this was fun for everyone though we failed to get any hole in ones. i will say it was the toughest mini golf course i’ve ever played. it was on cement with no felt and the railings had no angles off of them as the ball would hit the railing and stick so you had to be straight on. and then they’d have 3″ bridges and ramps, etc. impossible stuff. but we enjoyed it.

the kids then did an obstacle course (#5) around a nearby lake and then we found a playground (#6). we finished the day by going back to the same eatery as last night so JD could order wienerschnitzel (#7) again. Paula and i ordered a deer soup and then a duck goulash. mmmm. we all had dessert and they brought JD’s out with a candle. ahhh. perhaps ending to a perfect day.

Austria!

day 27 (9/28)
we had a slow morning in Lazise and got on the road about 10:45 AM headed towards Austria — so long Italy! i had a place reserved at a youth hostel in Innsbruck, but it was still expensive, so i set the GPS to take us to a smaller town about 20 minutes away and up higher in the Alps. we got there and this place was everything you’d expect from a village in the Alps. some of the people are even dressed like the stereotype. well, come to find out there was a festival and parade going on so that explained that. in any regard, the GPS had me turn onto a dirt road in the village. i was leery because of the weirdness this GPS has already taken us through, but i followed it. well, this wasn’t a driving road; it was a hiking path and the path does go right to the hotel i had identified. but the path got more narrow and more narrow. just imagine me on the side of a mountain on a hiking path that is smaller than the car and i come across a meadow (slanted because this is the Alps). i pull out into the grass going up hill so that i can complete my turn going down hill. it works and i make it back out without incident. whew. the hotel is closed for the summer. apparently this is a ski resort town and you can see slopes all around. the people at the closed hotel (more like a bed and breakfast building) send me towards the center of town for lodging. i get there and a parade is going on so i can’t drive to the hotel. i have the kids and paula go watch the parade of horses and horse drawn carriages and people dressed up traditionally, etc. — pretty neat stuff and i find a hotel. this is a 4-star hotel with a multi room apartment available for us and this place has all of the extras like a sauna, massages, hot bath (in a half barrel thing) and all that jazz. AND, it’s well under $200/night. i have been pricing places in Innsbruck and this village is way, way cheaper. whew!

we decide to eat lunch at our hotel. keep in mind that none of the hotels in this town are giant like in the USA; rather, these are just 15 or so bedroom buildings. we explore the town and the many shops and look for a playground. the kids buy some rocks at a rock shop and we find a single playground thing which satisfies the kids for now. we also discover an incredible indoor swimming pool. we plan to go back tomorrow for JD’s birthday. this pool has giant boulders in it and you can climb up on the rocks and jump or dive into the pool. should be a thrill. stay tuned for that. in the meantime, Paula came across a playground and mini golf place. so we headed off and played on the playground — not too shabby. then we had dinner. JD got wienersnitzel and fries and loved it. Ellie had spaghetti. Paula had something with potatoes and beef or something. i had sauerkraut and a bacon dumpling thing after having goulash for lunch. i don’t think i’d have ever grown tired of Italian food, but it’s nice to have variety again and i am trying the most traditional Austrian foods . . . and they’re good thus far. cheers for now.

updated photos from Lazise are now available here.

Lake Garda

day 26 (9/27)

another day on lake garda . . . and today we drove up to the city of Garda. i was there on bike yesterday and there were vendors everywhere, but today there weren’t any other than the shops in the city, and there are quite a lot of those. Paula and the kids shopped and then found a school playground (not realizing that the kids actually go to school on Saturday mornings here — ah well). they played and found a rope slide thing that was loads of fun. they took me back to this playground to show it off after i finished . . . doing laundry. i did a few loads to get us all up to date as we prepare to move on. we drove back to the castle (Lazise) for lunch.

in the afternoon we walked back to the hotel. i took a nap while Paula took a walk and the kids played with their toys. for dinner, we decided to make reservations at Midieval Times for dinner and a show. this is set in the year 1096 or so (i read it and forget the specific date now). you are given a crown as you enter and your crown has a color — 4 total colors. we had blue on our crown and we sat in the front row of our section. they adverstise that it’s all you can drink — pepsi, beer, water, or wine. i chose the wine and drank 1 glass and didn’t even finish. same with Paula. they don’t give you a small glass of wine, they fill a king and queen’s cup. and they would have brough more if we had finished. the kids had pepsi. they star by placing your metal plate and very sturdy plastic mug in front of you. people bang their mug on the plate and plate on the table very loudly and it’s quite the commodation. Ellie and JD weren’t sure what to think as this noise was taking place. but then the show starts and the food starts arriving. the show has 4 Knights competing for the hand of the princess (to marry). they compete in various events while riding horses around the arena and dressed in costume. for jousting, they had a ring that was just about 5′ in front of us and the ring was only about 2″ in diameter, yet these 4 guys could be going full speed on their horses and get the ring on their joust stick. i think they got it about 10 out of 12 times between them. i was amazed. they also competed in archery (many bullseyes) and sword fighting, etc. the show was quite elegant . . . and interestingly enough, they announced everything in Italian, then in English, and then in German. so just about everyone could listen in.

well, the food started arriving and it started with a bowl of soup — no silverware. you just tip the bowl up to your mouth and drink/eat. they also provided a piece of bread with toppings. but you should have seen JD’s eyes when the big part of the meal showed up. they actually gave each person his or her own chicked that had been cooked, obviously. the whole chicken. they weren’t large chickens, but for kids like JD and Ellie these things were giant. they also threw down some fries and squirted some ketchup if you wanted. an apple topping and ice cream desert finished things off (and Italian coffee for Paula and me — not American coffee, mind you — they’d laugh at our weak coffee). but the show is what Ellie and JD loved (here’s a youtube video if you want the gist of it). they really got into cheering for “our” Knight and booing the other 3 Knights. they were standing and yelling and raising their thumb and then lowering it, etc. they really got into it. the whole show and dinner lasted about 2 hours so it was quite the experience.

JD cheering
 

 

i am up late trying to figure out where we’ll go tomorrow. probably Switzerland or maybe back to Innsbruck, Austria. if we go to Innsbruck then we’ll probably hang out a few days and then head over to Prague in the Czech Republic. if we go to Switzerland, we’ll hang there a few days and then up to Luxemborg or something (i don’t know). it’s really getting hard to find lodging for a family of 4. 2 double beds like you find nearly everywhere in the USA is very, very uncommon here. many families who travel end up taking longer “holidays” (vacations) and they rent an apartment for a week or so, which we’ve done a few times when i had more time to research. we might try a youth hostel again to try and save money??? i hope we’ll know more when we wake up tomorrow. heh.

Northern Italy

day 23 (9/24)
Padova again and we spent the morning learning the metro bus system so Paula can reach her meeting tomorrow. i bought a Swatch watch so i could be more like the kids . . . i got tired of asking Paula for the time — or maybe she got tired of me. heh. we had to be out of our youth hostel by 9:30 AM and we couldn’t return until 4:30 so we kept ourselves busy shopping and exploring. we returned to do a load of laundry and work on some school work stuff. we met some people from Holland and a guy from the USA staying at the hostel. they were older like us whereas most of the folks at the hostel are closer to 20.

day 24 (9/25)
paula had her big meeting at the University of Padua (Padova) and the kids and i explored a bit and walked a lot. we all met at the huge Piazza after Paula’s meeting and grabbed lunch before jumping in our car and heading to Lake Garda — a giant lake in north central Italy. we found a hotel near the castle city of Lazise. you’ll have to check out our photos to see the castle — the entire old city is in the walls of the castle so it’s pretty cool. it’s right on the lake as well and has shop after shop after shop. big plans for the kids tomorrow.

day 25 (9/26)
Gardaland Adventure park. Paula will have to fill you in on the details as she took the kids and it’s a lot like Disneyland. i rented a bike and rode and rode and rode along the lake. they have a bike path around it, i assume as i only rode about 50 kilometers today (i am working on my metric system for all measurements as that’s used here). i had a job of finding a new hotel for 2 nights that has internet access and is affordable as last night we spent too much but it was getting late and we couldn’t spend time searching. i rode all over asking hotel after hotel about this stuff and found one that’s quite nice and reasonable right across the street from the castle town. we all spent the evening in Lazice eating dinner and enjoying gelato and walking.

Pozzolengo

day 22 (9/23)
we started off in Parma and set off to find a UPS type store to ship some stuff home. we found a Mailboxes, Etc. we shipped home a bunch of high definition photo posters of Perugia that were given to us by Loretta in the Sister Cities office (maybe 15 posters). Paula also tried to ship home a box of souvenirs but it was going to cost $90 (that’s Euros). we decided to find somewhere cheaper; though, now that we’ve thought about it, that’s probably not a bad deal. ah well.

we then set off towards Padova. on the way, we stopped in Pozzolengo for lunch. Pozzolengo is where my biological father’s family was originally from. i asked my aunt Deb about her cousins in this town and had some first names. i asked around and was directed to head a certain way (nobody spoke English so it was difficult). after lunch we walked around and met the Brunati family — a delight group of people and these are my relatives. we just happened to find them in this town. they own a shop and also a big outdoor-type shop like a Home Depot or Lowes. Gino is the first person i meet and i show him a little family tree i had drawn on a napkin. he recognizes his mom’s name and his name and points to himself. i point to me and we give each other a big hug. Gino is my mom’s age, but he has a son my age who speaks a little English and provides translation. we talk about the history of the family and how the sister remained in Pozzolengo and 1 brother moves to Rio de Janeiro and the other moved to San Pedro (Los Angeles). this would have been my biological great grandfather. after a few hours, they gave us a ride back to our car, which we’d walked fairly far from. come to find out, my car had a flat tire with a little piece of metal sticking out of the tire. Gino Brunati jumped on his cell phone and 2 minutes later his son was there with a portable air compressor in his hatchback. the tire was aired up and Mr. Brunati drove off with my car and we followed in another car off to their workshop. they had the tire fixed and plugged within 5 minutes. it was amazing what they could do in their shop. a great bunch to meet and they wouldn’t accept any money for anything. what good fortune that came out of bad fortune. what a great little stop this was.

we then stopped by the San Martino tower, which we saw from the highway and was something we intended to check out. this tower is much taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and it was open. we climbed to the very top . . . and that was no small chore. though, it wasn’t many steps as most of the climbing went round and round inside the Tower up ramp after ramp after ramp up. the top was amazing! you could see for 20 – 30 kilometers in every direction. JD was a bit nervous (remember, he wouldn’t go up the Leaning Tower), but he came around and started to enjoy the view.

next we were off . . . back to Padova as Paula has some work to do here with teachers. we found a youth hostel this time. they are much cheaper than hotels and we managed to get a private room for 4 people. a bargain, but it’s certainly not the high life. heh. we have a curfew (as if it mattered as there’s no chance we’d be out past 11:00 PM — heh). and bargain is putting it mildly; this place is cheap. however, there are no towels. you remove your sheet off of your bed and use that. hmmm. more to come from Padova over the next few days. cheers!

Parma Italy

day 21 (9/22)
off to Parma. yep, that Parma . . . as in Parmesan cheese and ham. this is what JD has been looking forward to more than anywhere else we’ll go. he loves Parmesan cheese. well, we arrived in the town mid afternoon. the first thing we did was head to a Parmesan cheese and ham shop where we bought a big block of cheese to ship home and also bought a bunch of sticks of extremely fresh cheese. JD was in Heaven. to top it off, the coffee shop we went to next was the Nutella Coffee shop. the second favorite thing JD likes about Europe is Nutella. he couldn’t have been happier to have his two favorites back to back. if you don’t know what Nutella is then you might ask your grocery store. they might have it as ours does in Grand Rapids. so this part of the trip was a major success for the boy.

we found a Holiday Inn Express so that was a nice taste of home. we then set out to buy some warmer clothes. we found a mall and a shopping district. finally some affordable clothes. i loaded up on a few sweaters and a warmer coat, etc. it figures that today warmed back up again. but there will be cold days ahead off into the Swiss Alps and beyond. we decided to eat Sushi for dinner. i don’t think i could ever get bored with pasta, but JD and Ellie wanted Sushi so that was fine with Paula and me. all and all a pretty good day.

Last day in Perugia

day 20 (9/21)
last day in Perugia. we slept in until 8:00 today and it was refreshing. we took off to make some movies around town and grab some coffee. the kids made movies of our apartment, the streets, the city and some of the neat features, including the very new and futuristic Mini Metro. i’ll try and get the videos edited and placed online during this trip, but i make no promises. we had lunch at the place where i ate alone the other night. everyone loved it. in fact, we decided to eat there again for dinner. we shopped a bit in the afternoon and walked around just enjoying the town. it was cooler today so we wore jackets . . . and i even stopped and bought a few long sleeved shirts. i never figured i’d need them in the Italy portion of our trip. now i am worried about the Swiss Alps. heh. we just had a fun day being a family so there isn’t much to report today, but we lived it up. tomorrow we’re off to what JD hopes will be the highlight of his trip. more to come when i can get online again.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

day 19 (9/20)
we woke up at 5 something in the morning to catch the 6:30 bus to Rome, which is about 2 hours away by bus. we jumped off the bus and bought a super 4 Euro ticket for riding all public transportation for a day — great bargain. we took a bus to the Piazza del Campidoglia. this is a beautiful area and left us with a short walk to the Roman Colosseum and ruins along the way. we found a line of about an hour to get into the Colosseum already, so we purchased tickets for a guided tour in English. this was just a few dollars more than the cost of admission and we got to skip the line and go right in with the tour. cool. the tour also filled us in with lots of facts and history of the Colosseum so it was well worth it. and, when it was finished we were allowed to stay in the Colosseum as long as we wanted to take all sorts of photos, etc. we then headed over to the Arch of Constantine and decided to find some lunch. this took some time and a lot of walking, but it was a beautiful day and we did finally realized success at a nice sidewalk cafe.

after lunch we found a bus to the Pantheon. whew. we jumped on . . . little did we realize, but the bus went about 1 block and we were at our stop. i am serious — it was 1 little block. heh. ah well, we jumped off to a few odd stares and we were soon staring at the Pantheon, which is the oldest building in Rome dating back in the B.C. days. Paula and i grabbed a coffee at the Caffe Sant’ Eustachio as they have the best coffee in Europe because of the spring water they exclusively use. mmmmm.

we then walked over to the Piazza Navona and had some other things on our agenda, but i decided i’d rather see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. we figured out buses to the Vatican and decided to first head to Saint Peter’s Square and then into Saint Peter’s Basilica. beautiful place. to get to the Sistine Chapel, there was about a 10 minute walk. we arrived to find that it had closed just a few minutes before we arrived. DOH! so we explored around a bit and decided to take the metro subway to Piazza della Repubblica. from there we walked to the Piazza dei Cinquecento — the train station. we asked around and figured out where to catch our bus back to Perugia so we jumped on a different subway and found the bus station and we were able to get one of the last seats on the last bus back to Perugia. whew! what a long day it was, but it was exciting to see Rome and the various sites. if all roads lead to Rome then this isn’t a bad place to end up — well worth it.

The photos from Rome are available here (well, some are uploaded, but this internet cafe isn’t working well for uploads so i may have to wait for better connection in the days ahead — there should be 12 from Rome).

kids at Roman Colosseum

Perugia

day 16 (9/17)

we headed off to Perugia, which is in a region just below Tuscany and is about 5 hours from Milan. very pretty driving. going through Tuscany was mountainous but they provided tunnel after tunnel to get through the mountains as easily as was possible, it seemed. Perugia is a sister city to Grand Rapids so Paula had visited the sister city office in Grand Rapids who got us acquainted with the sister city office in Perugia. they set us up with an apartment for 5 nights and it’s located right in the city center (again, no cars allowed). this city is amazing as it sits on top of a hill just short of a mountain and the panoramic views are incredible. incredible. parking is at a premium but the person who rented us the apartment had private parking down the hill where our car was locked away. she had a small car so she loaded up our bags and me and we delivered things to the apartment (she has a pass to drive there) and then she went back to get Paula and the kids. i mentioned she had a small car . . . well, it was necessary as the roads to the apartment were incredibly small. my old Jeep could not have fit. not even close. the biggest vehicle you’ll see on these roads is a Mini Cooper. but, our apartment is right in the thick of things.

day 17 (9/18)

we headed up to the nearby Piazza (an outdoor square area where people hang out) and found a tour bus that provides tours of Perugia to get acquainted. it is actually a convertible mini bus so that it can fit. we were provided with headphones and we turned the dial to English and it gave us a guided tour as we drove. perfect little tour to learn the city better. we had lunch at a Ristaurante and then met up with Loretta — a woman from the local sister city office. she was Very helpful to us. she provided us with tips and tricks for staying in Perugia and she also helped Paula with the business she has to conduct here in Perugia. she also gave us maps and literature. i wasn’t feeling well so i went back to the apartment and took a nap while Paula and the kids headed to the museum of Archeology. they say it was awesome. afterwards, we all headed out to explore some more. JD bought some star wars figurines and he was content to sit in the Piazza and play with his characters on the steps of buildings, etc. Ellie played with him and Paula and i took turns exploring the city. i heard 2 girls speaking English and asked them about an Internet cafe. they weren’t sure but they were able to give me the login name and password for their university wireless network and told me to go to their Piazza to try it.

addendum, i took off after the kids went to bed but i was unable to locate the Piazza and i never did ask which university they attend — there are many here. doh. so asking people was futile. perhaps tomorrow night i’ll break down and buy some time at a cafe if i find one.

day 18 (9/19)

rain! Paula woke up early to head off and meet with teachers. the kids and i slept in. i felt much better today so the kids and i took off exploring again and tried to find the museum of Archeology. i let each kid lead the way since they’d been there, but the end result was that we walked in a very large circle up and down stairs. heh. ah well. we did find a cave area which was developed inside. it scared Ellie so she stayed close by my side. i’ll have to go back and take photos as it was a neat area. the kids were troopers in the rain, but we had rain gear so it wasn’t a big deal. after we gave up i bought a cappuccino for 1 Euro. the same drink at Starbucks would be $3. who needs Starbucks, eh?

after Paula’s meeting at the school, she walked back with Loretta from teh sister city office. she let Paula borrow and umbrella and also said that i could use the internet in her office, which is how this is now being posted. she also gave us some high definition poster photos of the city. like i said, she has been very, very helpful to us. well, it’s time for a late lunch. more to come . . .

okay, we had a decent lunch and the woman who served us grew up in Colorado near Aspen (Carbondale). we decided to take the mini metro, which is a small subway like car but it’s a single car instead of a train. we rode it to the end and then nearly back and we jumped off a stop short of completely returning. we then took escalators up the hill and walked part way to discover another part of town. we shopped a bit and i bought some English books for late at night when we have no internet and no television — i like staying up much later than everyone else so this is good. i also bought a 5 disc set of the best of Buddy Guy — less than 10 Euro — for the car. whew! for dinner, JD wanted a hot dog, which we found. Ellie got some sort of panini sandwhich and Paula opted for Middle Eastern food. i went to the Italian restuarant nearest to our apartment to try it. whoa! it was incredible. i decided to get the full 3 course meal. first came Penne pasta in a spicy red sauce. then i had a steak. and then the mixed vegetable salad arrived, and it was big. add some bread and olive oil, etc. and this was a real meal. all for 12 Euros. i will be taking the whole family back in a few days . . . and that’s because we have HUGE plans for tomorrow. stay tuned.

Check out the updated photos here.

Milan

day 14 (9/15)
our hotel had a terrific included breakfast. they also have a coffee bar included and my cappuccino was one of the best — the barista will custom make any kind of coffee drink you want as part of the breakfast — like having our own Starbucks.  we headed into the city centre of Milan and shopped a bit and then visited the giant Duomo (Massive Cathedral). the detail and ornamental structure of this building is incredible. after lunch, i took the kids shopping while Paula and her parents went to the top of the Duomo (it’s her parents’ last day as they fly out tomorrow AM). the kids and i visited a Mercedes apparel store and then back to the Ferrari store. JD couldn’t resist. and he bought another Lego thing with his money. I even bought myself a shoulder sling pack with a Ferrari logo on it for urban hiking (e.g., to hold my camera and a light jacket, etc.).

Elsewhere, Ellie bought some back to school outfits even though the kids first day of school won’t be just just over a month. but, even i thought the outfits were quite cute and how can a little gal visit Milan and not get caught up in fashion? towards the end of the day, i also bought some Ray Ban aviator glasses as my prescription glasses i had brought cracked. JD refused to go shopping for clothes for himself . . . i think that once he bought his Ferrari Lego thing, it was all his mind could think about. heh. oh yeah, when you buy 2 things at the Ferrari store you can sit in one of the Ferrari Indy cars. both Ellie and JD got to sit in one and i took their pictures. i’ll post photos soon, i hope.

day 15 (9/16)

Paula’s parents take off early today. i drive Paula to the American school of Milan. we all go in but JD, Ellie and i leave to head into the middle of Milan. i have a woman i met online years ago who has invited us to stay with her family. i end up driving into parts of Milan where only locals with permits are allowed. ah well. we finally figure out how to find my friend’s apartment in the city and she directs me to park my car in their garage space. Ana introduces us to her two little boys and takes us up to their apartment — very nice. this apartment has 4 bedrooms and JD and Ellie get one and Paula and i also get one.

Ana gives us a key to her apartment and the kids and i take a subway into the city centre. we explore around a bit and then meet Paula who has take a subway from the American school into the city centre. i should point out that a bunch of Africans are waiting on the steps up from the subway and they grab JD’s arm and put on a string bracelet before he knows what is happening. they’re yelling “free” “free” so i let them put one on me, too. that’s when they then ask for donations. i say, “i thought you said ‘free'” but they’re too busy asking for money . . . and they are much bigger than me. so i give them 2 Euros. this upsets JD and he rips his off.

after another fun day in centre and around the big piazza we take the subway back to Ana’s house for dinner. we had planned to take her family out but Ana decides to make dinner at her house (she uses a Bimby — Paula wants one, badly). we feed the kids and get them to bed and then stay up eating and talking late into the night. Ana’s husband, Gianni, is in advertising and had a big meeting with a new client earlier today. the new client was an expensive Brut maker and gave 2 bottles to Gianni. he opens one after our dinner and we all taste a very nice Brut — not my favorite kind of drink, but it’s still good. Ana’s English is pretty good and Gianni’s is even better. we spend time talking about the differences in our countries and life and our personal histories. this is a very fun evening. even though we’ve all just met today, i felt like we were hanging out with longtime friends. of course, Ana and i have known each other for a decade in online forums, so there’s that.

High society

day 13 (9/14)
we had our last cup of coffee in Cinque Terre and hit the road today. i am getting better at mountain driving and Ellie didn’t get car sick. the weather was gorgeous and we were treated to some great views driving up the Ligurian coast. off toward Milan, Italy. we stopped at a rest stop and ate at the little roadside joint. not bad panini. we found a 4-star hotel on the outer edges of Milan. it’s nice and the price is reasonable for the quality. we have to ride a bus for 20 minutes to get to the town center, but that’s worth it. i checked a 4-star hotel closer to the city center and it was more the double the price. MUCH more. so 20 minutes on the bus is fine. and Ellie and JD are getting to be pros on the busses and trains during this trip. the highlight of our evening was finding a Ferrari store. this place was amazing . . . and far larger than i could have imagined it to be. they have 2 Indy cars in the store and 5 different stories (or more). JD spent some of his money at this store on a Lego Ferrari kit and Ellie even bought a deck of cards, but she was much more amazed that you could buy the keys to a ferrari (non working) for $150. i am starting to get hungry for tiramisu, which i have yet to try here in Italy as gelato has always been my top choice. maybe tomorrow.