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    Florence, Rome, and Cinque Terre

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    In Florence, we started our first morning there by hitting up the market place for breakfast and lunch.  The market place was very amusing, with all the different venders wanting you to try there products and Italians talking really fast and loud even after you tell them you only speak a little Italian.  We bought fruits, bread, pesto, cheeses, and two kinds of meats, for a very reasonable price.  The shopping there was also fun.  You could bargain with any of them and Amy ended up with a really nice leather jacket and I bought several bold ties.  Also in Florence, I was taking a picture of a guy who I thought had great Italian style and he chased me down and made me delete the pictures.  I think he must have been famous and thought I was a paparazzi.  Any way, little does he know, I still have a couple of pictures of him :-)   Our place to stay in Florence was a nice surprise.  The place appeared to be an old apartment that was converted into a hotel.  It had a little kitchen and a nice little outside garden.  It was run by a nice old lady who did not speak English and her son who was studying Electrical Engineering and loved to fly fish.  He spoke great English and he was always very happy and helpful.  After walking around Florence for a while, I was starting to get a little nervous about driving from Florence to Rome.  Speed limits and road markings seemed to only be suggestions and there were soo many motorized bikes zipping in and around traffic or squeezing in any where they could.  We are still crossing our fingers on the whole car rental thing since the guy who checked out the vehicle to us was a very dishonest person and tried to slip a whole bunch of stuff by us.  But so far my bank account does not show the bogus charges.

    So we hopped in our little Fiat and headed for the Tuscan hill country.  Driving was quite different.  All the signs where different and most of them we couldn’t read.  There were no stop lights, only round-abouts with cars zipping in and out.  And out on the highway, the speed demons were fast and not kind to anyone following the speed limit signs.  The speed limit was normally about 90KM per hour and cars would frequently blow past at 150, or 160!  By the end of the drive I had masted the Italian way of driving, but was ready to be on the trains and buses again.  Tuscany was very beautiful.  We stopped in several little towns for a gelato or postcard and of course to take pictures.  The towns were each very different and interesting.  The first one had several very tall towers, the second had a large castle in the middle and was very high on a hill, and the third was on a rock plateau or mesa that was just amazing.  In the second town we had a small meal inside the castle walls.  Daniel and Rachel ordered a Olive oil tasting and Amy and I ordered a Honey tasting to go with our meal.  It was nice to try some of the locally grown and harvested foods.  I think the waiters were a little confused by the fact that none of us would have any wine, but hey, I’m used to being the odd one by now.  Dad and Mom (although, I’m sure Dad will be more excited), I brought you the left overs from the honey tasting, so you can try some honey from Tuscany.

    We dropped off the car in Rome and headed for the center of town to find a Hotel.  No Hotel that we called had two nights, so we had to stay at two different places.  Both were a little more than we wanted to spend, but they were very nice and relaxing.  We went to see the Colosseo, Arco di Costantino, and walked around all the Roman ruins.  At the Colosseo Rachel stopped us from doing what we later thought must be a tourist scam, although we are still not completely convinced either way, it looked very fishy.  There was a group of guys who were claiming that if you paid them an extra 11 Euro, they would get you to the front of the line and provide a guided tour.  What was really odd is that the exact same guys were at the Vatican museum the next day and came to talk to us, but as soon as they recognized us they stopped mid sentence and walked the other way.  Hmmm.  The second day was Sunday, so we trekked our way to Via Sannio near San Giovanni to a small church of Christ for Sunday service.  Unfortunately for us the sermon was in Italian, so we struggled to understand what was being said.  The good thing was all the songs that were sung were familiar, so we just thought the English words in our head.  It was nice to see that people in other countries are trying to follow what the Bible teaches instead of following traditions and ideas created by men.  After services, Amy and I walked to the Basilica and did a little shopping and exploring along the way. I bought some really cool clothes at a store called OBJ (I love Italian clothes, I just wish I had more money to blow).  We went into the Pantheon, walked through some really non touristy neighborhoods, across the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, and through the courtyard of the Basilica.  Along the way I found a little cozy resturant that had a hand written menu, and seemed to be out of the normal touristy areas.  We decided to give it a try that night and were very happy we did.  I had Risotto with salmon and it was amazing.  We also saw the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele, Fontana di Trevi, and the Trinita del Monti(which is where I had some awesome banana and coconut gelato).  The last day we toured the  Vatican Museum which was neat to see, but also somewhat sickening to imagine how much money was wasted on such an ornate building while all day we had seen poor and crippled people sitting outside the walls with nothing.  How could anyone feel good about that?

    Next stop was Cinque Terre.  These five coast cities are amazing.  They are built right into the cliff sides and the farmers have terraced the steep hillsides in places that don’t seem possible.  Our original plan was to go to Zurich Switzerland before flying out of Frankfurt, but Amy and I decided to stay in Cinque Terre for the remainder of the trip.  We stayed in Vernazza which is our favorite city by far.  It has the most character and is a little less touristy than some of the others.  We bought a hiking pass and hiked to each of the five towns.  The hikes to Corniglia and to Monterosso were very difficult and steep, but they provide the best views of the cities.

    I used up all the space on our laptop, my ipod, my memory cards, so you will have to wait until we get home to see pictures of Cinque Terre.  I think I took a total of about 22GB of pictures.  Yipes!  I’m going to have to buy some new file storage when I get home!!  Ohhh yeh, and my camera bit the dust on the second day in Cinque Terre, but luckily Rachel was very kind and left me her 20D since they were leaving before us.  Thank you Rachel !!!!!!!!!

    We finally landed on US soil. We have been traveling for almost 2 days strait. Yesterday was the train to Florence and then the overnight train to Munich. Today was a train to Frankfurt and then the long flight to Chicago. Now we are waiting for the flight to Houston and then the long drive home. We are quite exhausted!! See you all soon!

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