I've decided to make this a bit of a photo essay. We'll see what happens.
This is The Vatican, on Christmas Day. We actually expected it to be a lot more of a scene. See if you can spot the Pope. If you can, then I'm going to feel pretty silly for missing him. Note the manger scene on the right. We saw lots of manger scenes.
This is a travesty. Imaginary American Tourist: "Good thing there's some American frozen yogurt in Rome. I hate gelato." Best gelato we had in Rome was at San Crispino, right off a street called Via Lavatore, which I'm certain isn't pronounced the same way I was pronouncing it. Best gelato we had in Florence was at a place called Grom, near Il Duomo. I had their flavor of the month, which was Dark Chocolate flavored with Orange, and studded with little pieces of candied orange peel. It was really quite good. The worst gelato we had was actually chicken served on the flight to Rome on Alitalia. The difference between the Alitalia flight to Rome and the Delta flight back from Rome was pretty astounding. The Delta plane was newer and cleaner, and the food was almost edible.
Speaking of food that's almost edible... this is actually one of the meals I had in Florence. The food on the trip was a mixed bag. We had some very good meals -- most notably at a wine bar in Rome called Vineria Il Chianti and a restaurant in Florence called "Fish Restaurant" (it was right near the Mercato Centrale, which was filled with fresh fish, and so I figured it was worth a shot... it was). But too many of the meals felt wasted, even when I used guidebooks and message boards to help pick the place. I think part of it was that we weren't looking to spend crazy amounts of money to go to the real standout highest-end restaurants in either city, and part of it was probably that it's not the high season for tourists or in-season for a lot of the produce... compounded by the week we were there, when food deliveries probably weren't completely regular... when I went to Paris I remember really being blown away by the food... the bakeries on every corner, the crepes, the restaurants providing food that was really significantly better than what I was regularly eating in law school. I think Rome and Florence have more trouble meeting that standard in some respects because Italian food is probably more about the ingredients than the cooking -- pasta and pizza aren't that hard, and there's a limit to how good each can really get -- and it's so ubiquitous that there really are lots of New York restaurants that can get it right. I also think I've become a more exposed eater living for the past year and a half in New York and trying to eat interesting and new things and seek out good food moments. So my expectations couldn't possibly be reached. But this meal in the picture: truly terrible. Trattoria Zaza, in Florence, in case you want to cross it off your list. The picture is actually of the better half of the meal, believe it or not. I also ordered a caprese salad (mozzarella and tomato). The tomato, which is pretty much the whole dish, was somewhere on the spectrum between overripe and rotten, and I actually sent it back (I'm not sure I've ever sent food back anywhere, let alone in a foreign country). They took it off the bill, but, really, inexcusable and a waste of a meal anywhere, let alone in Italy.
This store window is typical of Florence. We didn't see where in the city real people live. It was pretty much all museums, churches, and stores designed to appeal to English-speaking tourists. I'm omitting the picture of the Foot Locker...
We took these pictures through the window of a pharmacy. Over-the-counter Botox. And all sorts of pills in bottles that look a little lost in the past. We also saw some pharmacy products in the Science Museum in Florence. Beakers and flasks and that kind of stuff, filled with powders and liquids, with colored gas escaping from the top. Reminded me of my grandma's medicine cabinet. Or the back of her refrigerator.
This is the synagogue in Rome. The museum and tour were worth the price and time. Interesting stuff, like these stone tablets from this month's issue of the synagogue newsletter. Next week is Salvatore's Bar Mitzvah!
Just for a change of pace, here are some not-retarded photos. From left: the Spanish Steps (Rome), overlooking the Forum (Rome), and a main shopping street at night (Florence). I've been mostly pointing out stupid things in this photo essay, but overall things were pretty cool, and it was neat to see Italy.
Finally, the front page of an Italian newspaper on Saturday. Translation: "Saddam buys fake Prada handbag in Florence central market." We missed a big week of news, but were lucky the hotel had CNN International. Coverage of the Hajj beat out coverage of President Ford by about 100-to-1. I'm not sure I ever saw any coverage of the Hajj on CNN Not-International.
And this concludes my photo essay, backdated so it's my last post of 2006. Happy New Year!