Friday, March 1, 2019

Florence and Pisa

Main cathedral of Florence.Our next stop in Italy was Florence. Since our Milan hotel was so close to the train station, we did not need to take a taxi or bus to get there. We just walked and then waited for a while inside the station to see which platform our bullet train will depart from.

Train to Florence.The ride itself was not especially eventful. We were all pretty impressed to see that our train was going over 300 km/hour at some points. We played a guessing game using complimentary magazines laying around, the children felt and behaved well.

From from our hotel. Duomo is on the left.Our hotel in Florence was unfortunately quite far from the center. However, we got a spacious room on the top floor, free breakfast, access to the executive lounge and this hotel had a mega whirlpool. The whirlpool was pretty much the size of a regular pool, it had nice little areas where you can lie down and get your whole body massaged by water, plus it had a traditional jacuzzi area and a waterfall. I’ve never seen pools like this one, and the water was so warm that we could stay there without much motion for two hours and not get cold.

Massive hot tub.Plus, there were very few people in the pool, so oftentimes we were the only ones there. Kids LOVED it, although I think swimming had a mild negative effect on Anna’s ears. She just finished drinking antibiotics for acute ear infection which she developed as a complication of a viral infection, and her ears started bothering her again. Luckily, garlic ear drops helped to keep the pain at bay and to heal faster.

Our women.In order to get to the center of the city, we had to take Hilton’s complimentary shuttle and then a tram. The shuttle was going once every half our or so and there were longer breaks, so it was a little annoying at times, but still the benefits of Hilton for us outweigh the sub-optimal location.

View from the top of cathedral tower.When we got to the center of Florence, we walked around, enjoying the beauty and special historic flavor of its narrow streets and old dwellings. We admired Duomo for a while.

Anna and hers and mine Florentine steak.Then we went to ZaZa — which we visited on our last trip as well — and had a nice dinner. Daniel and Anna got a Florentin steak, which was much better this time since it was more cooked through per our request. The steak itself was enormous — the size of a soccer ball. After that we walked around some more, grabbed a cab to the hotel and hit the pool.

At the stop of 414 step high tower.We dedicated the whole next day to more Florence exploration. We took 414 steps to the top of the bell tower. Everyone did a great job climbing by the way! It was really windy at the top, but the view was magnificent.

Florence.We ate lunch at some restaurant in the center. There was a Russian hostess inviting us in, and we thought that we might as well try it. I got a risotto, and it was quite delicious.

414 steps up and down.We walked for a while after lunch. Visited famous Ponte Vecchio, tried to take in the beautiful views of Arno river, window shopped little jewelry and souvenir stores.

Ponte Vecchio.We tried to find a good gelato, but for the lack of options settled on the overpriced mediocrity at the end. The only plus side was that we could eat the gelato inside, and that’s exactly what we did. We took a cab to the hotel again, and after a light snack at the executive lounge hit the pool again.

Gelato!Our last full day in Florence was supposed to be spent on visiting the world famous Ufizzi gallery. However, Aaron made us change our plans. The thing is that he heard about the tower of Pisa before visiting Italy, and was under impression that he’ll get to see it on this trip. When he found out that we were not actual planning to go there, he got a little upset and really asked us if it was possible to do it.

A LOT of gelato!When we were making our plans originally we explored that option and decided that an hour trip each way on the train was too tiresome for the children, but as I said, Aaron really wanted to go. So that’s what we did. We got to the station, bought open-ended tickets and took a train to Pisa. We had to walk for a while to get to the tower, and it was drizzling, but the children were excited.

Tower of Pisa.After looking at the tower and taking pictures, we ate lunch at the nearby restaurant, and headed back. Daniel had gnocchi with pesto and Arosha was brave enough to try them. He liked it so much that he ordered them for himself at some point later in the trip instead of his meal of preference — pasta with marinara sauce.

Our women.The children bought little souvenir towers and were extremely excited about those. We had to hurry though to make it to the train in time in order not to lose another hour for being a few minutes late, so I grabbed Anna in my hands and we ran. Unfortunately, Anna was partially obstructing my view and I managed to bump into a short pole near to the train station and fell down. Luckily, Anna was not hurt and I just got a nasty bruise on my right knee.

Pisa.We made it in time for the train, then took a cab from the train station, got light dinner at the executive lounge and finished the day with the pool again.

The next morning we headed out to Venice.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Our Day in Milan

Milan Duomo.The biggest Milan attraction for us was the Milan Cathedral. I remembered what it looked like really well, and was hoping that the children will be impressed by the Duomo and by the fact that they could get on its roof.

Inside the cathedral.A week before the vacation I finished reading a book about Italian resistance during World War II “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. It is based on a real story of Pino Lella, who was a Milanese native, so a big part of the action took place in Milan. My reading about the city and its people made visiting the city more interesting and somehow nostalgic. Milan took heavy bombing during those years, but I’m glad that the Duomo is still standing.

Rose windows.After a substantial Hilton breakfast, we took a subway to the Milan Cathedral. On a side note, there are a lot of shady looking characters who volunteer to “help” with entrance ticket purchasing, but we just asked to be left alone, and luckily they did not persist, although a young guy was eyeing Daniel up and down for a few minutes, while I was eyeing him in return.

View from the roof of Milan Cathedral.There were a lot of people by the Duomo. A lot of pigeons too. There was a huge line to enter the cathedral and a separate huge line to buy entrance tickets. Luckily, we got preferential treatment in both lines on account of kids and skipped both of them. I think that saved us 1.5-2 hours of waiting. Hooray such an attentive and kind attitude to children!

On the roof.Interesting thing is that both Aaron and Anna remembered being told about the cathedral during art classes which they took in Brooklyn. Aaron told us that he recognizes the rose windows and some of the statues. When we were inside, I saw remains of cardinal Schuster, and it was such a strange experience, since I was just reading about him in the earlier mentioned book.

On the roof.After appreciating the beauty of the Milan Duomo from the inside, we proceeded to the rooftop of the cathedral. There was an elevator going to the top, but we picked an option of taking 250 stairs. We all think that a little effort only enhances the experience — you feel the sense of achievement (however small) and endorphin rush because of that. I knew that for adults and Aaron this should not be a difficult task, but we were a little worried about Anna and her ability to make it to the top without my carrying her.

Top of the roof.To our surprise, not only she made it to the rooftop without any complaints, but she was not even out of breath. In fact, she and Arosha practically ran all the way! Another thing that was on our minds is Arosha’s mild fear of heights, especially on top of man-made structures. To our relief, he was not afraid! He and Anna had quite a lot of fun, and I even had to stop them from running since it did not seem appropriate and very safe.

All of us.After Duomo we went to get lunch. Last time we were so impressed by buffalo mozzarella pizza in Charleston restaurant that was located nearby, that we decided to revisit it with Arosha and Anuta. The food was as good as we remembered. Our waiter, an older Italian man who could speak some English, liked our kids and called Anuta a “principessa”, which is princess in Italian. We took liking to it right away and were calling her our principessa a lot during the trip. We still call her that now and then.

Streets of Milan.After lunch we decided to see Sforza Castle which is located in the walking distance. Got our first Italian gelato on the way. I think it was the best gelato of the entire trip. I don’t remember much about Sforza Castle since we did not get inside any of the buildings. I do remember the surrounding walls and the fact that Moscow Kremlin was originally modeled after this castle. Maybe next time we’ll explore it in more detail.

We ate light dinner at the executive lounge again and went to bed early.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Arosha’s Italy Notes

Arosha was writing down little things about his days all throughout our vacation to Italy. We decided to post them to the blog under the tag of this trip as well, with some small editorial notes — in brackets.

November 17


Airport lunch.Today I made it to the first stop. It is Milan. We flew out of JFK, which stands for John F. Kennedy. I was flying for 7 hours and then for 2 more. What I didn’t really like [on the plane] was food. Another thing I didn’t like is that they did not give us room for hours [when we arrived to Hilton Milan]. I have not slept on the plane, so when they gave us our room I have not slept for 25 hours.

November 18


Milan Cathedral.Today I did a lot of interesting things like eating combs [honeycombs at breakfast buffet]. Another thing is that I saw a big cathedral [Milan Cathedral] and I was on the roof. It took 600 years to build the cathedral. There were lines [to get inside the cathedral] for one hour, but we are kids, so we skipped them [got priority treatment].

After the cathedral we went to a restaurant. I had pizza and spaghetti.

Then we saw a castle. It had holes in its walls. Also we tasted gelato. I picked lemon and coconut [flavors].

November 19


Bullet train to Florence.Today I’m going to my second stop. It is going to be Florence.

First we woke up and ate breakfast. Then we walked to the train station and waited for bullet train. When we got in, we realized that we came in from the wrong side of the train car because we got [seats] number 3 and 4 and we came in where numbers 18 and 17 were. The bullet train was so fast that it went 300 km/hr [at some points].

I saw Florence Cathedral in the evening. Then we came to the pool [in the hotel]. We really liked it. It was a giant hot tub.

November 20


At the top of bell tower in Florence.We went on top of the bell tower [in Florence] today. It has 414 steps and me and my sister made it to the top. It was so high that I was scared.

Then we went to eat.

November 21


Leaning Tower of Pisa.Today I went to Pisa. There I saw a cathedral and the falling tower.

Then we ate at a restaurant where my sister liked my food less than hers. I got a souvenir [tower of Pisa].

November 22


Waiting for a water bus in Venice.Today I am excited because we are going to Venice. Today is also a Thanksgiving.

First we traveled on a train. When we made it to the water, I knew it was Venice.

Then we checked in [to our hotel, Hilton Molino Stucky] and went out to eat. Oh, and before that I traveled on a water bus. The first bus that we saw did not travel to the hotel.

After the restaurant we went to look for gelato, but we found none and an hour! At the restaurant I ate home made spaghetti.

Then we went to the hotel and went to sleep.

November 23


Gandola ride.Today is my mom’s and dad’s wedding anniversary.

Also, today we got a gondola ride. I really liked it, though it was expensive. It cost 100 euros.

Right after that we ate gelato and looked at Venice. Here are things that I noticed: not a lot of trees, lots of bridges, lots of glass stores.

After that we went to a fancy restaurant. Me and my sister had vegetables and spaghetti. It was very nice, and I also tried black spaghetti [which my mom was having].

A bit later we found a mask store, but I did not buy any [masks yet].

November 24 and 25


Venetian masks.Today we ate our breakfast and went on a ferry [from our hotel on Giudecca island]. Venice was a little flooded.

We went to into the [Venice] cathedral. It was pretty, and inside on the floor there was a mosaic.

After that we looked for masks. I was looking for sun and moon masks, and I bought one of them.

Then next we rode [by elevator] to the top of the Venice tower. It was a wonderful view.

It was raining all day, so we went to the hotel.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Italy — Flight and Day 1

Us on a plane.The day before vacation it was snowing in our part of the woods. Children were dismissed from school early, and if we knew any better, Daniel would have left work in the early afternoon too. Long story short, it took him over 5 hours to get home, and he was stressed and tired. So was I to be honest.

On that same day we also realized that both of our medium sized suitcases were broken, so Daniel had to stop at a store on his way from work and get a new one. When Daniel was leaving the parking lot of the store he noticed that his wedding band was missing! Oh no! He ran back in and by some miracle found it inside one of the suitcases that he looked at earlier. Phew!

Anna and dad.Anna was on day 6 out of 10 of antibiotics treatment for ear infection. Having our vacation in mind, I asked the doctor to prescribe them in chewable form as apposed to the liquid that is usually prescribed and needs to be refrigerated. Anna had a terrible virus a week before that, with her temperature rising sky high and not going much down for 3 days. I have not slept a bunch of nights during that time because regular fever reducers helped very little, so I kept rubbing her with water and vinegar solution for hours at a time to bring the fever down.

That same day I finished my course of antibiotics too — I was treated for viral bronchitis, which I most probably got when Anna was sick.

Airport lunch.The night before Arosha’s nose started running, so I’ve decided to pack his nebulizer and use it during the vacation. We ended up completely ruining it by the way, because it slipped my mind that voltage in Europe is different from the one in the USA, and unlike all the Apple devises that are designed for dual voltage, the nebulizer needed an adapter. Luckily, Arosha got better pretty quickly and the nebulizer was not needed throughout the vacation.

Overall, everyone was healthy enough for the trip, but I was a little anxious that everyone stays this way.

Our flight.On the day of the flight, which coincided with my birthday, we got up around 7, ate, finished packing little things like snacks and books and went to Daniel’s parents. It seemed that the most sensible thing to do would be to leave the car near Daniel’s parents, and get a cab to the airport. It worked out even better than that, because we did not have to get the cab — Daniel’s dad drove us to the airport. He was not sure in advance if he’ll be able to do it because he recently had a minor surgery and was in recovery, but it all worked out. Daniel’s mom was at work that day, but she cooked us delicious lagman and even bought cheesecake for desert, so we had a nice lunch and got some rest after a ride from home to Brooklyn.

Yellow tram of Milan.The flight itself was pretty uneventful. We were lucky to get 4 seats together in the middle section of the plane, so me and Daniel took isle seats with the children seating in the middle. Arosha and Anuta both behaved wonderfully. Neither one of them liked plane food though, so they barely ate anything. Anuta managed to snooze for about 2 hours on our flight to Paris, where we had a stopover. Arosha slept for about an hour on the plane from Paris to Milan. That smaller plane did not have 4 seats together in a row, so Danya was separated from us by the isle. However, the flight was short, so it did not matter much.

In front of Milano Centrale railway station.When we arrived to Milan, everyone was pretty spent. We took a cab to our hotel. Funnily enough, the first people who tried to sell us their transportation services were nice up to the point when we said that the fixed price of 65 euros seems a little excessive and that we’ll try our luck with another company. They became somewhat rude, but it turned out that it cost us just 25 euros to get to the hotel by a metered cab. No wonder the price seemed high!

We stopped at the same Hilton as last time we visited Milan. It is very conveniently located by the train station, which made life a little simpler for us.

Window view from Hilton Milan.When we were booking the hotel room, we had to book the big family room on account of children. Sadly, there are much fewer such rooms in hotels, which makes sense I guess. As a consequence, Hilton was not able to check us in early as we had hoped. They were kind enough to let us use the executive lounge, which still served breakfast at the time of our arrival. Unfortunately, all of the rooms like ours were booked and we had to wait for the people to check out first, and then for the room to be cleaned, which apparently takes about 2 hours.

Sweet sleep.We ate breakfast at the executive lounge, then we walked to the train station and got tickets for the trips to Florence and Venice. We had to wait in line for over 30 minutes, but it was worth it, since the clerk was able to book us better seats at lower/deal prices, which were not available from the automated booth.

Sweet sleep.When we returned to the hotel, the room was still not ready, so we just stayed in the lobby falling in and out of sleep in turns. The adults that is. The children were not falling asleep, but in fact were pretty active and were playing different loud games. By the time we finally got into our room, we have not slept for 25 hours. I am still amazed at how well the children endured this whole hard day.

Window view.It was a little after 2 in the afternoon, so we went to bed and put an alarm clock to wake us at at 6 in the evening. It made sense to break the sleeping cycle for a few hours in the evening, lest we woke up in the middle of the night rested and unable to sleep. We went for dinner to the executive lounge. It had light snacks and drinks, and it was just enough. We went to bed shortly after that and slept until the next morning.
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