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Florence, how you disappoint me so

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Back to Italy…

Our second day in Florence started out just fine but it wasn’t long before all of our plans went down the drain. You may recall reading one of our previous entries about the museum workers striking…

Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s statue David, opens at 8:15am. The plan was to be in line at 8:15 when the doors opened. Approaching the museum, we expected to see a long line of people who had the same idea. Immediately we knew something was wrong when we saw maybe a handful of people milling about in front of the main entrance. They all seemed to be crowded around, looking at a sheet of paper on the door. It was a note: “The museum will open today at 10:45 due to a staff meeting.” Great. Now what do we do? Galleria dell’Accademia is one of, if not THE, top attractions in Florence. We thought we would check out the Uffizi in the meantime; maybe we would be able to get in there. We found the same note on the door there, in addition to a very long queue of people who did not seem fazed by the notice. We thought we would check one more place, just to make sure this was really happening and it wasn’t just some cruel joke, that all of the museums were not opening. Felicia and I walked from the Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti and guess what? Another notice declaring the museum would be opening later in the day due to a staff meeting. This “meeting” was just an excuse; we heard on the street that the museum workers were actually striking. Of course. Things like that only happen when I’m in town, I’m sure. We gave up on the museums and found other attractions to keep us occupied. The highlights included Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio. The latter is a bridge spanning the banks of the Arno River. It is the only bridge to have survived German bomb attacks during World War II. Some stories claim that Ponte Vecchio was spared as a result of Hitler’s direct orders not to destroy it; the beauty of the bridge supposedly captivated Hitler himself. Felicia and I spent a lot of time on and around Ponte Vecchio, and up and down the banks of the Arno. It is quite a picturesque area but I felt compelled to stay there probably because of all of the history it contains.

Felicia and I were scheduled to leave Florence the following evening, and David was at the top of our list of must-sees, so we decided to give Galleria dell’Accademia another chance. By this time, it was approximately 1:00pm. When we arrived at the museum, there was a line snaking all the way down the street. After standing in that line for thirty minutes and not moving an inch, we once again said, “Forget it,” and headed back to the hostel. I had read that visitors have the option of making advance reservations for some of the more popular attractions in Florence, as well as in Venice and in Rome. Felicia and I did not take advantage of these services initially because most charge a fee on top of the regular price of admission (we were trying to save some Euros anyway we could). But we were not leaving Florence without seeing David, so we called Firenze Musei (+39 055 294883) and made reservations at Galleria dell’Accademia for the next day. I was given a confirmation number, which I was told to bring with me to the museum at the designated time of our reservation (12:30pm). The price of admission at Galleria dell’Accademia is €9; we had to pay that plus an extra €3 for the advance reservation. I recommend making advance reservations to avoid the extremely long lines and to guarantee entry.

That night we had dinner at Osteria Vineria i’ Brincello (Via Nazionale 110, phone +39 055 282645), a small restaurant close to the hostel. A past guest at the hostel had left a written recommendation on the bulletin board in the hallway, encouraging visitors to dine there. When Felicia and I walked into the restaurant, there were a lot of open tables. We ordered a bottle of their house red along with our entrees, and sat back and enjoyed the show. It was the most fun I’d had at a restaurant, anywhere, in a long time. The food was excellent, too, but Max and Gabry, the two servers, were the highlight. With Italian pop music blaring on the radio, the two of them jumped and danced around the restaurant, singing along with every song. And when they really liked a song, they turned up the volume even more! By this time, the restaurant was pretty well packed, mostly with older tourists who really didn’t know what to make of the spectacle. But after a few cocktails, even the old folk were laughing and clapping and toe-tapping to the music. If you go to Osteria Vineria i’ Brincello and Max and Gabry are working, it would be impossible to not have a good time.

Felicia and I finished off the night at The Old Stove Irish Pub (I know, I know. Why would we go to an Irish pub in Florence…), located down a cobblestone street just off Piazza della Repubblica. This place definitely caters to the foreign students, American and otherwise, who flock to Florence for the overseas study experience. The pub itself was clean and we were comfortable sitting at a sidewalk table, but at all costs, you must avoid going to the bathroom at The Old Stove. It is the most disgusting restroom I have ever seen (I used cleaner washrooms in Tanzania!) and it smells a lot like the Primate House at Brookfield Zoo. Leaving the pub that night was the only time I felt unsafe in Italy. Felicia and I were walking back to our hostel when we noticed two guys following us. They kept waving at us and whistling for our attention but we just kept walking faster and faster. They followed us for several blocks but I think they just gave up when they realized we wanted nothing to do with them. This actually happened to us a few times in Florence. Two guys at a time would come up to us and ask if we knew of any place in town “to go and have some fun”. We just said “no” each time and walked away, being careful to make sure they were not following us. Luckily, nothing unfortunate happened to us, but I definitely felt safer in Venice and in Rome than in Florence.

Posted by Francesca

I made Mom mad once on Halloween

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

It was Halloween 1990 and I was in 8th grade. I was getting ready to go hang out with my friends on Lexington Street to make fun of people who dressed in costume and play keep-away with boys who would try to hit us with eggs and shaving cream. In 8th grade we were way too cool for dress up and trick-or-treating.

The temperature was mild so I dressed in jeans and threw my Blackhawks jacket over my shirt. I had just walked past Mom folding clothes in the laundry room when I heard “What do you have in your jacket?” I froze. Her words scared me, I had no idea she was even paying attention to me. I didn’t turn around to face her. I attempted to walk again when she demanded “Felicia, what is in your jacket?” Dammit!, I screamed in my head. “Nothing,” I said and as I tried to walk away, she grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around. “Open your jacket,” but Mom didn’t give me the chance because she opened it and discovered my contraband – a dozen eggs. “Where did you keep these?” she asked. “In my closet,” I said without looking her in the eyes. She grabbed the rotten eggs and threw me out of the house, defenseless, with no weapons, no eggs, no shaving cream. I did not have very much fun that night but I didn’t get egged either.

Posted by Felicia

Colors of McKinley Woods – Channahon, Illinois

Sunday, October 29th, 2006
Being the end of October, I know the days of cloudless skies and warm-ish temperatures are numbered here in the Chicago area. Today was one of those days: crisp, clear blue skies, temperature in the low 50s; it ... [Continue reading this entry]

One of baseball’s life lessons

Friday, October 27th, 2006
Another baseball season draws to an end. Yes, it is once again time for me to slip into my annual deep, dark depression, as I impatiently wait for Spring Training to begin in February. While the close of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Our pictures from Italy

Friday, October 27th, 2006
Since our blog was switched over to this new format, I have had nothing but trouble trying to link to photos from the entries. I have been fighting with this for several days now and it's still not working ... [Continue reading this entry]

Our first day in Florence

Thursday, October 26th, 2006
In order to get our train to Florence, Felicia and I needed to make it back to the Mestre train station. We knew we could take the train from Santa Lucia but Giuseppe, the hostel employee who helped us ... [Continue reading this entry]

Venice: The adventure comes to an end

Thursday, October 26th, 2006
It has been almost a month since Felicia and I were in Venice, but I feel that I need to write about the rest of our trip before any more time passes. The following is all drawn from my ... [Continue reading this entry]

Death of a classmate

Monday, October 23rd, 2006
The city of Chicago was saddened by the sudden passing of Chicago Police Officer Mary Beth O’Dea. She was a young cop who was committed to her job and recognized by the Department as an outstanding officer. Mary ... [Continue reading this entry]

Say it ain’t so

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006
We interrupt this regularly scheduled travel blog to bring you this extremely sad news story: Zephyr Cafe is closing. This ice cream joint has always held a special place in my heart, and I know other members ... [Continue reading this entry]

Venice: The adventure continues

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006
From Santa Lucia train station, Felicia and I needed to get to our hostel on Campo Santa Margherita. The employee in the tourist office where we bought our map highlighted a route on the map to Campo Santa Margherita ... [Continue reading this entry]