Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No blogging tonight- I'm wiped out.  I subbed for the Phys Ed teacher today... it wasn't easy but I got through it and I'm pretty sure the kids had a good time. 

Anyway, all I wanted to say on this freezing cold evening is that I shall worship the inventor of the electric blanket for the rest of my life.  I haven't used an electric blanket since my senior year of high school (didn't need it in the dorms and I slept next to a space heater in my apartment) but I am EXTREMELY happy that my mom bought new ones. 

Now I can eat my espresso chip ice cream, and take my freezing-cold self straight to a warm, toasty bed.

Things to Look Forward To: (Can I abbreviate this as T2LF2? Or would that be obnoxious? )
-4th Graders say the darndest things: a list of all of the mind-boggling things I've heard 4th graders say this year
-Recap of Christmas Parties galore (including an Ugly Sweater Party!!)
-What I will be doing when my youngest sister gets home from college in a week and we have a full out war battle over who gets to stay in what was originally MY ROOM.  ahem.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

There's too much blood in my caffeine system...

If you know me personally, you know that I drink coffee.

A LOT of coffee.

The caffeine is a serious added bonus- but not the main reason I drink coffee.  I love a good, strong, steaming hot cup of coffee for the taste.  You can understand my anger and sense of betrayal when my coffee maker fails to make a good pot of coffee in the morning.

I need ten solid hours of sleep every night to wake up, be functional, and not feel tired.  Most of the time I don't get the ten hours because I feel like I'm wasting too much of my day sleeping.  Needless to say, the first thing I do in the morning is stumble blindly across the dark house, shivering, and head straight to the counter.  Sometimes I'll get all the coffee makings ready the night before.  I'll measure out the grounds, fit the filter in, etc. etc.  That way in the morning all I have to do is pour in the water and turn the thing on.  Lately, however, my darling little kitten will paw open the coffee maker and eat the coffee grinds.  Thanks to her, I have to get up earlier to grind the coffee and do the whole routine.

Some days I get a seriously delicious cup of coffee- I mean out of this world, perfect blend of flavors, just the right amount of sugar and creamer, piping hot... but other days (namely days like today) my coffee maker experiences what I can only describe as an epic.fail.  I get to work, and my coffee is lukewarm at best, something tastes bitter and the taste is far too weak.  I chalked it up to the coffee being decaff (I'm slowly trying to wean myself away from that wonderful drug).  But then I realized, "Well no, it can't be the decaff because the cup I had on Saturday morning at swim practice was decaff and it was perfect.' 

How can I explain this travesty?  Well for starters, the people who make the coffee pots must be shooting straight caffeine into their veins to make themselves freakin' loopy, or something... I have 4 different coffee makers (don't judge me).  One is a Keurig, one is an espresso machine (stop judging!), one is a mini "4 cup" machine, and the last is a 12 cup machine.  Have you ever looked at the cup markings on the coffee pots?  I don't know in what world the cup designations on my coffee pot are correct, but they certainly don't make sense here in my own little world.  I'm not a smurf, or a Keebler elf, nor am I the size of a tiny human child.  My mini maker says it brews four cups.  It's actually more like two cups.  If it were four cups, I'd have to be a 16th of the size I am now to experience any kind of caffeinated effect or to appreciate the taste. 

And another thing- some coffee companies say one level tablespoon per ounce of water.  Another company will say one heaping tablespoon.  I'm sorry, but a heaping tablespoon in my book is more like two real tablespoons.  I haven't the foggiest how many ounces are in those "cups" marked on my coffee pot, so how on earth am I supposed to know how much coffee to add?  I blame this partially on the snobby idiots who denounced the use of the metric system in the United States.  I'm pretty sure my coffee pot counts one cup as 6 ounces.  But correct me if I'm wrong- isn't a cup 8 ounces?!  If I use my small coffee pot (with the water filled to "4" cups) I will add about 8 or 9 tablespoons of coffee.  Mother then yells and carries on... and the coffee still won't taste strong enough to me!

 There are things in this world far worse than my ability to make a consistent cup of coffee every morning- but right now, when the real feel temperature is 17 degrees when I leave my house... By Jove I want my cup of coffee, I want it hot, and I want it to taste good!  Is that really so much to ask?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't forget that you work for us, not the other way around.

As a future educator, I have A LOT to say about the state of education, the UFT, the NYCDOE, etc.  What irks me the most this week (and the past few weeks) is this business with Cathie Black.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (or Dictator Bloombag as I so affectionally have taken to calling him) nominated Cathie Black to replace Joel Klein as the NYCDOE Chancellor of Education. 

Now, wouldn't you expect someone in such a position to have a degree in education? In administration? To have spent many years as a teacher or a principal?  That would make sense.  However, Ms. Black has NONE OF THE ABOVE.  Sure, she may be a good manager, but at this point in time, we don't need a manager.  We need an experienced educator who will put Bloombag in his place.  Mr. Mayor is another case and point- what credentials does he have that qualify him to be in charge of the largest public school system in the country? 

In order for Cathie Black to become the Chancellor, she needs a waiver since she lacks all the necessary and required credentials.  When she was denied such a waiver, Bloombag appointed A SECOND CHANCELLOR.  Essentially what I believe this to mean is that "Shadow Black" will run the show, while "Actual Black" is the face. 

So now the city has to pay the salary for TWO chancellors, when every day more and more teachers are in danger of losing their jobs.  Like I said before, it makes COMPLETE SENSE...
The whole educational system is a mess.  Do I know how to fix it?  Absolutely not.  But if I were given the task, the first thing would be to remove Hizzoner from his pedestal atop his mountain of money, and delegate him to tasks appropriate to what he is able to do, being in control of the NYCDOE isn't one of them.

Still not convinced that Cathie Black is a poor choice?  Let me put it to you two different ways. 
1- By allowing Cathie Black to proceed to the post of Chancellor, you are also giving me the same allowance to, oh, lets say open my own medical practice.  I don't have a degree that allows me to practice medicine?  Who cares, Black doesn't have a degree that allows her to be an educator.  Or I'll open my own architecture firm.  I've never taken an architecture course or an engineering course in my life, but what difference does it make if the buildings I create come crashing down because of some extremely critical foundational error?  You can't fix the DOE from the outside in.

2- I received the following in an e-mail forward some time ago, when former President Bush enacted No Child Left Behind.  I often pull this e-mail up when I am feeling discouraged because it makes me ANGRY! That anger motivates me to be the best teacher (or substitute) that I can be.

No Child Left Behind --The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No exceptions will be made for interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL.

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind.


A parent wouldn't bring their child to a doctor who didn't have the appropriate knowledge to treat them.  So why are parents sending their children into a school system where the people in charge don't know the first thing about education?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore!

November 15, 2010

I'm fresh off the plane from Roma Fiumicino l'Aeroporto!  I just spend two glorious weeks roaming around Italy with the best grandma in the whole world :)

Timeline:
Monday Nov 1- depart NY @6:30pm.  We got to the airport at 2:30pm, waited on line for a long time, waited on the security line for a long time, then waited on the boarding line for a long time.  (Seeing a pattern here?) Julianne Moore, actress, was on our flight.  We flew Alitalia- the plane was huge! Biggest plane I've ever been on.  Alitalia's computer system was down when we checked in, so our boarding passes were handwritten and in a total shambles.  It took the flight attendants a half an hour to get everything sorted out.  And, of course, my Uncle Francis was the only person without a seat on the plane.  After some finagling they found a seat for him.  We took off at 7pm, with an ETA in Rome 8:00am.  Everyone had their own tv screen on the seat in front of him/her, which was totally my saving grace.  I watched Letters to Juliet and some movie with Gerard Butler (yum) and Jennifer Aniston.  We had crazy tailwind speeds upwards of 100mph, so we made it to Italy in record time.  Of course, with the time change, it was already Tuesday.

Tuesday Nov 2- Roma to Firenze.  We had to take a short 30 minute plane ride (on a teeny, tiny plane) from Rome to Florence.  We had to walk about 25 minutes across the entire airport- and then our flight was delayed!  It was soooo hot in the airport, and there was no place to sit or rest.  Just enough bodies to fill 6 flights in one small area.  Once we got to Florence we were met by Guisseppe, our taxi driver.  The taxi was actually a van (we were a party of 8: Grandma, me, Uncle Francis, Christine, Joyce, Sue, Emil and Carolyn), and the only English word Guisseppe knew was catastrophe- pronounced castastrophe.  After a 20 minute drive we arrived at the Hotel Delle Natzione, right across the street from the Sancta Maria Novella train station.  We got all of our luggage into our rooms, and decided we needed to nap and then eat- PRONTO.  After a two hour nap, we tried to find a bank to change our dollars into Euros.  All of the banks in Italy are weird- they don't have regular doors- they have space pods (I kid you not.)  You can only go in one at a time, and of course, we couldn't get them to work.  We went to three banks (and 9 rounds of Uncle Francis saying "Beam me up Scotty!" every time someone went in the pod) before we found one that would change our money.  The conversion was miserable, $500US got me 341 Euros.  Once we had our money we walked back towards our hotel, walked down the block and ate at a very nice restaurant.  My first meal- Spinach ravioli al pomodoro... now when I say I was in absolute heaven eating those ravioli, I really mean it was a culinary nirvana.  The ravioli were fresh and perfect, and had just the right combo of ricotta cheese and spinach.  And the sauce, oh dear god was it the most perfectly balanced combination of tastes.  I liken this to my first otherworldly food experience.  We planned out our next day, explored the city a little in the dark, and the hit the hay around 8pm local time (3pm NY time).

Wednesday Nov 3- Firenze.  We stayed in Firenze on the 3rd, exploring the markets, the sites, and the culture and history.  We went on a guided tour of the Accademia, home of the original David sculpture by Michelangelo.  VERY impressive.  There was an entire room full of plaster and marble sculptures (mostly made by one LORENZO BARTOLINI... you will understand the significance of this name if you have ever seen the adorably cliche Letters to Juliet. ) I wish I had been allowed to take pictures in the Accademia, because the statues were incredible.  To think that these artists were able to create such lovely, life-like details with a chisel and a big hunk of marble is mind-blowing- cue otherworldly artistic experience number 1.  The artists would make the sculptures out of plaster first, using iron rods as supports inside the plaster to prove their worth.  Patrons would hen pay for the marble to have the artists create the actual statues.  We also explored the Duoma, the Bascilica, and the market- MILLIONS of scarves (my favorite) and lots of leather.  I bought a lot of scarves here, mostly just for me.  The market was great because we got to haggle with the sellers.  Lunch that day was delicious, of course.  That night I had risotto for dinner, quattro formaggio.  Except I didn't know that one of the four cheeses was gorgonzola- read: blue cheese. GROSS.  I picked it out, but the risotto still had the flavor of it.  Not that it was all bad, don't get me wrong.  I loves me some risotto.

Thursday Nov 4- Siena/San Gimignano... oh wait.
We got up at the crack of dawn on Thursday (we left our hotel at 7:30am) to go on an all-day tour to Siena and San Gimignano, two other cities about 45 minutes and an hour and ten minutes away from Florence, also in the region of Toscana.  Our wonderful, intelligent travel agent screwed things up (the first of her many indiscretions), and between her and the tour Baspi Tour Group, our reservations for the Siena/San Gimignano trip and the Pisa trip were backwards.  Baspi wasn't able to re-arrange our tour, so we had to wait until, oh, you know, 2:00 pm to go to Pisa.  Great.  We explored Florence some more, took another walk through the market, and had a really nice lunch at a little cafe.  We split up so that everyone could do what they wanted to do and met up at the cafe.  After lunch we met our tour guide and headed to Pisa- home of the Leaning Tower.  It took about 50 minutes to get to Pisa, and then we had a 15 minute walk to the Piazza dei Miracoli- The Square of Miracles.  The "miracles" aren't the religious zen-type of miracles, but architectural miracles.  The land that the Baptistry, Cattedrale, and Tower are built on is very sandy.  Pisa isn't too far from the Eastern coast of Italy.  Hence, everything built on that land leans.  Two of the buildings lean to the right, and one leans to the left.  We didn't go inside the Baptistry, nor the Leaning Tower (15 euros and a 2 hour wait to climb, yeah right).  We did go inside the Cathedral, which of course was beautiful and stunning, like all the cathedrals in Italy.  They did have one slightly creepy part of the cathedral- a coffin with an incorrupted body of a Saint.  ew.  If you don't know what incorrupted saints are, hit up google.

Friday November 5- Siena and San Gimignano.
If I had to pick one city to spend the rest of my life in, Siena would be it.  By far Siena was the most beautiful, quaint, historically adorable (I'll explain later) city we visited.  Not to mention our GORGEOUS tour guide (who spoke Italian, English, Spanish, and French fluently and studied literature in college).  Siena is a medieval, Tuscan hill town.  The historic, walled center of town is broken up into different districts, called Contrade.  The most well-known contrade are the 17 neighborhoods that race in the Palio (more about this in a second).  Each contrada is named after an animal or symbol and each with its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations.  The 17 contrade are the (italian/english): aquila/eagle, bruco/caterpillar,  chiocciola/snail, civetta/little owl, drago/dragon, giraffa/giraffe, istrice/crested porcupine, leocorno/unicorn, lupa/she-wolf, nicchio/seashell, oca/goose, onda/wave, pantera/panther, selva/forest, tartuca/tortoise, torre/tower, valdimontone/valley of the ram.  Once a person is born into a district in Siena, they belong to that district forever, even if they move away.  Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada (only Oca has no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor.  The Palio di Siena is a  horse raise that is held twice each year on July 2 and August 16. Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen contrade.  The race circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt is laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for some of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.  People cram themselves into the Piazza del Campo during the two hottest months in Siena and stay there all day.  Everyone eats and drinks and it is a good time.  Something interesting- the horses are led into the church (yes, you read that right) and are blessed by the priest before they race.  Not the jockeys- the horses.  Crazy.

We also visited the Duomo- my favorite duomo out of all of the ones we visited (and we visited a lot).  Siena's Duomo was begun in the 12th century and is designed in a Romanesque-Gothic architecture.  The main fa├žade was completed in 1380. The Duomo was originally intended to be the largest cathedral in existence, but the money ran out, there were architectural mistakes and the black plague killed off nearly half the town as the cathedral was being built.  Hence a great deal of the cathedral was never build.  The remnants of what was started does still stand today, had it been completed the Cathedral would have been in the shape of a cross.  It really is absolutely immense and SO beautiful that words can't even begin to describe the sight that it is.  If you are interested in the Duomo- take a look at the Wikipedia page.  It is pretty accurate compared to the notes I took, and it has a lot of pictures. My favorite part of the Duomo was the library, and the ceiling.  Just incredible.  The frescoes in the library look like they were painted YESTERDAY.  Stunning, just absolutely mind-blowing.  This was definitely my second otherworldly art experience, and my favorite one in Tuscany.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duomo_di_Siena

We opted to take part in a special lunch in Siena.  We were served a three course meal (appetizer, pasta and desert).  The appetizer had delicious bruschetta, some kind of mushroom thing, prosciutto, salami and pepperoni.  Everything was just fresh and delicious.  The pasta (oh, god the pasta) was out of this world.  We were served a penne with fresh basil pesto sauce, and another type of pasta native to Siena called pici.  The pici was served with a pomodoro sauce (fresh tomato).  The pici is hand-rolled and is thicker than spaghetti, but the same shape.  Unbelievable.  Desert was cheese- the most perfect pecorino romano cheese in the world.  It was served with apples and pears and I seriously thought I had died and gone to heaven.  If I could have stayed in Siena with my amazing tour guide and the food from that restaurant, I totally would have, in a heartbeat.  I'd even get back on a plane right now, at this very instant and go back if someone gave me the chance to do so.

After leaving Siena (tear, tear) we headed to another medieval walled city up on a very high hill called San Gimignano.  Here I impressed my tour guide (score) and the locals by actually being able to pronounce San Gimignano (gee-mein-gna-no... think of the gn making the sound like the "nio" in onion).  The view from the hill was amazing.  The actual city itself wasn't all the impressive.  The main attraction/piazza has seven towers, which you can see from all angles.  And then we had this little tiny gelato place- home of the world's BEST gelato, I kid you not.  They have won all kinds of contests, and are very reasonably priced for gelato, especially in such a touristy shopping spot like San Gimignano is.  I had coffee and caramel gelato and I swear I reached my second food nirvana of the day.  (I had 5 food nirvanas in all, one in Florence, one in Siena, one in San Gimignano, and two in Rome).  However... there were two very small peanuts in the caramel gelato that I didn't realize until I had already bitten into the second one.  Not so good for someone who has a peanut allergy.  Almost immediately I got all itchy and my chest was covered in hives (thank goodness for my scarf).  Took some benadryl and was a zombie the rest of the night/the next day.  Totally worth it though.  We had a long ride back home from San Gimignano because we hit traffic.  (Oh, by the way, people drive like LUNATICS in Italy).  We slept very well that night.  After getting up at the crack of dawn two days in a row, we were exhausted.

Saturday Nov 6- Florence odds and ends... and the day of the leather.
We split up (Kathryn, Grandma, Uncle Francis, Carolyn, Sue and Emily // Chris and Joyce) and walked around Florence for the last time, buying some more stuff (stuff=scarves and leather bags).  We had a snack, and then walked around this little market that was set up in the piazza near our restaurant.  All of the vendors had olive oil, wine, and CHEESE.  Including my favorite pecorino romano!!  As we were getting ready to meet up with Chris and Joyce, a very well-dressed many accidentally stepped on Carolyn's foot and apologized profusely.  Carolyn said "Oh, well that's alright", and turned to keep walking. The man got all excited because we were Americans.  Turned out he spoke perfect English, as his parents were both born in Florence but worked in the same restaurant in New York, where they met.  He introduced himself as Nicolo and asked us how our trip was.  We chatted, he recommended a local restaurant to us, right over the Ponte Vecchio.  He then started to tell us about his family's leather business.  Which of course led to an invite to his leather store, to browse and for a glass of wine.  If only we had seen where this was leading... we walked to his leather store once we found Chris and Joyce, and went inside.  The young woman (who was gorgeous) working the store got very nervous when we walked in.  I'm pretty sure it would have been like a homeless man in NYC walking into Brooks Brothers.  We were a huge group of 8, dressed in jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers, looking like a bunch of ragamuffins.  We browsed the VERY expensive merchandise while we waited for Nicolo to come down from his office.  Grandma of course started to eye a red leather coat.  Nicolo gave us each a glass of wine, and then introduced us to Filippo, his designer.  Filippo saw grandma eye the red coat, and persuaded her to try it on.  She instantly fell in love with the coat, and when she went to look at the price, Filippo and Nicolo told her not to look, that they would make her a deal.  They told her 950 Euro instead of 4200 Euro.  Uncle Francis handed the cashier his credit card and bought it for her- Grandma was speechless.  Then Filippo convinced Sue to try on a jacket, and Chris... both of them bought jackets too... and I wasn't going to try one on, because I knew that I would want one and I didn't know if I would be able to afford it.  Filippo charmed me out of my hoodie and into a black, Prada leather jacket.  Of course I loved it, and he custom fitted me for the jacket.  He told me the price (775 Euro) and I kind of just closed my eyes and sighed.  Then when Grandma said she would buy it for me, Filippo told me that if I cried, he would take another 100 Euro off the jacket.  I didn't need any kind of provocation or motivation, and the tears flowed freely.  I really am so unbelievably lucky.  I have the BEST Grandma in the whole entire world.

Sunday Nov 7- Our last day as a group of 8.  We decided to go and see the Palazzo Pitti, over the Ponte Vecchio.  The heavens chose that day to open up and pour upon us, so we took the bus.  Public transportation is just like it is here, except the buses are smaller with the same amount of the people and the drivers are maniacs.  The Palace was sort of a bust because of the weather.  We walked around to find somewhere to eat, and we found a great restaurant.  I had a spinach calzone (imagine that, I learned to like Spinach) and it was goooood.  After that we went back to the hotel, changed into dry clothes, and packed our stuff.  We played the Italian version of Monopoly for a while, and man oh man was it a hoot!  So much fun, even though Carolyn ruined the game.  We didn't finish the game (since when do I ever finish a game of Monopoly??) and went to have a farewell dinner.  Our server was a cute Asian dude who spoke English and Italian, he had been our server a few times in different restaurants, so he brought us each a glass of prosecco (omg heaven in a glass) and we ordered our favorite dishes (I got the spinach ravioli again!).  We ate, went back to the hotel, and went to bed.  Everyone except for me, Grandma, Sue and Emil left to go back to the states very early the next morning. 

Monday Nov 8- Onto Venezia!
Grandma, Sue, Emil and I hopped onto the train from Florence to Venice.  We had Eurail tickets, which are very confusing.  We had to get them validated at the ticket window (which took 20 minutes to find).  We thought we were done after that.  We boarded the plane, sat in our seats, and waited.  After about a half hour, the conductor came to check our tickets.  This man was inexcusably rude, and I wanted to punch his lights out.  I refrained, however, because I didn't want to get thrown in Italian jail.  He told us that our tickets weren't valid because we didn't write down the dates we were traveling, and that it was equivalent to riding without tickets! He told us we had to pay a fine, took our tickets and ran away!  Our ticket book had our tickets for THE ENTIRE WEEK and we pretty much freaked out.  The conductor didn't explain and we were very angry and upset.  We thought that he wasn't going to give us our tickets back!  We looked in the instruction booklet to see if we were right or wrong, thinking we were right... but we ended up being wrong.  Emily payed the 50 Euro fine and the asshole conductor gave us our tickets back.  He kept rolling his eyes and you could tell that he was saying "stupid Americans" in his head.  EW.  If you know me, which you probably do if you have this link, you know that I do not in any way, shape, or form stand or tolerate disrespect.  I seriously hated this man's guts, and I do not hate many things.  Anyway.
We finally got to Venice and had to take a water taxi down to Piazza San Marco, where our hotel was.  It was raining in Venice too- not so good when the city is, oh, you know... IN THE WATER.  I was trying to take pictures as we sailed down the Grand Canal but I got seriously sea sick.  Once we finally got off the water bus, we walked up and down these stairs and noticed that there were platforms set up everywhere.  We didn't really know what they were.  Grandma led us straight to our hotel (she has been to Venice before), and it was beautiful!  Except our assinine travel agent didn't make reservations in the right hotel like Grandma had told her to do.  So we traveled on to another hotel, and then a third hotel, and finally a fourth hotel that we actually had reservations for.  We were hungry by the time we finally got in our rooms (I had issues with the key and the door knob and the door in general), so we headed down the the restaurant attached to our hotel.  We had another delicious meal with some delicious vino and by then, the rain had stopped so we decided to walk around.  Venice truly is magnificent.  I really loved it.  Everything is quaint and charming, and oddly incredible for being a city built on water.  We browsed and did some shopping, and called it a night.

Tuesday Nov 9- Venice.
We woke up to pouring rain- and high tide.  We had quite an adventure getting around on those platforms.  We tried to see all the sights but it was very difficult in the rain.  The platforms ended up being our lifesavers.  They are about one to three feet off the ground, and about four feet wide.  The issue?  People walking in both directions, with luggage and umbrellas.  You seriously have to play chicken so that you don't fall into the water which was either ankle deep, calf deep or knee deep! (yes- KNEE DEEP in spots!).  We visited the Doge Palace which was HUGE, walked in the prisons, and across the bridge of sighs.  I wish they had guided tours in the Doge, because it was really hard to understand everything they were saying.  We had to wait until 11:30am to go into Saint Mark's Cathedral, because they only light the Cathedral for one hour a day.  The entire ceiling is made up of tiny, individual gold-painted glass mosaics.  Really beautiful.  I got some decent shots inside- we weren't supposed to use our camera flash.  We walked all the way up to the top and I was able to look down into the Piazza which was pretty awesome.  We did some more shopping, and called it a fairly early night, since we had to get up early the next morning to hop on the train to Rome.

Wednesday Nov 10- Train to Roma!
We got back on the train (this time we remembered to write the date of our trip on our tickets) and headed towards Rome, finally!  The last leg of our journey.  Rome is a huge city- there is so much history and culture that you really need two weeks there, and not two days.  We took a cab to our hotel... I thought the drivers in Florence were bad, but holy moly Rome was SCARY.  You literally couldn't walk across some of the streets even though they had crosswalks.  We pulled up to our hotel in the middle of a thunderstorm, complete with lightning and hail... and the doorman met us as the taxi, sheltered us with his massive umbrella, and then carried all our luggage up to our rooms.  We stayed in the Ludovisi Palace- a 4 star hotel right down the block from the world famous Savoy hotel.  Man oh man were we in a seriously nice hotel- They had bathtubs and TOWEL WARMERS.  I must get one of these.  We did some exploring and shopping, and saw a few sights, including the Spanish Steps (which were frightening because they were so slippery from the rain... even though the sun came out and the sky was blue after the thunderstorm). Pretty cool nonetheless.  We then headed to the Trevi Fountain, which I loved.  I threw in two coins... and then another one.  Bonus points to you if you know what I wished for without googling it.  We also went to see the Pantheon.  We had dinner at a small restaurant, and were all ready to order until our server told us the specials of the day... needless to say, we all changed our minds.  We had fresh pasta with a rosa sauce, with ham and zucchini.... OMG.  out of this world delicious (Food Nirvana #4 in case you are keeping track).  I will figure out how to make that sauce and eat it every day for the rest of my life.  After dinner we headed to the Piazza Navono, where there are three more fountains, in search of gelato.  The place that was recommended wasn't open, so we went to a different place.  We were frozen by the time we finished, and sticky messes.  We hailed a cab, and went back to our hotel.

Thursday Nov 11- Roma Day 2.
We decided to do a fairly expensive all day tour of all of Rome's best sights- the Vatican Museum (including the Sistine Chapel), St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum, the Forum, and the 7 Quirinal Hills.  We were picked up from the hotel by our tour group, and taken to their headquarters so that we could purchase our tickets.  On our way, it started to pour, again, lightning and thunder.  It was miserable.  We were packed like sardines in the tour headquarters while everyone tried to purchase their tickets.  We finally got on our bus, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited for an hour.  It ended up that one of the buses had broken down, and not all of the tour group passengers had made it to the bus.  It continued to pour while we were on the bus.  We then got off the bus an hour and a half behind schedule at the Vatican Museum, where we proceeded to lose our tour guide despite her warnings to not get lost.  We found her a half hour later, when we were all soaking wet, freezing, and with very little patience remaining.  I didn't like the Vatican Museum because it was WAYYYYY too crowded for my claustrophobic self.  We breezed through because we were so behind schedule.  We had twenty minutes to spend in the Sistine Chapel, and I must say I wasn't impressed.  I think it was because it was again, ridiculously crowded, and because I was wet and cold and tired and hungry.  I did however enjoy St. Peter's Basilica.  It is HUGE.  The Statue of Liberty could fit inside and still have 125 feet above her head.  The basilica has Michelangelo's Pieta statue, which is behind guarded glass doors.  No one can even get close to it, after a crazy madman ran into the Basilica and attacked the Virgin Mary with a hammer.  No joke.  They also have another incorrupted Saint--- and I'll repeat my sentiments from the first incorrupted saint- EW GROSS.  In the center of the Basilica is this underground tunnel type thing, which is apparently where Peter was buried.  I'm not too knowledgeable about Catholicism, so I'll have to do some research to fill in my missing details.  After the Basilica we stood in St. Peter's Square and waved at the Popey's bedroom window (he was in Spain).  We headed to the only store where you can buy Vatican stuff and I bought a peace cross.  I don't identify with any one religion, and most of the time, I don't even think that there is a god, but I like the concept behind the cross, and mostly I like the fact that it has the word PEACE before cross.  Anyway, that is another blog for another time.  We then went to lunch, which was included in our day, and was totally GROSS.  Well, I shouldn't say that.  It was edible, but it was like the stuff you would get at a cheap Italian restaurant in the states.  Definitely didn't live up to the standard in Italy.  After lunch we headed to the Colosseum, which was incredible.  We saw lots of gatos, and Grandma wanted to feed them.  I climbed the Colosseum and took some really amazing pictures.  The Colosseum must have been some hell of an ampitheatre in its heyday.  After the Colosseum, we took a walking tour of Rome, and made some pit-stops at the landmarks.  The Roman Forum, which I am sure was unbelievable back in the day, is really a complete ruin now.  No preservation has really been made, and I'm sure in 100 years, it won't be there anymore.  We walked around some more, and saw way more than I could have hoped to see.  I just wish I had written more down, because I don't remember everything.  By the time we finally got back on the bus to go back to the hotel, we were exhausted.  We went to our rooms, took a nap, freshened up, and then went to find a place to eat.  We were ready to eat before any of the restaurants were open, so we walked around the block slowly until the restaurant we wanted opened.  When we sat down, we couldn't decide what we wanted, so the chef came out and said "I will make you a feast, do you trust me?"  We of course said yes, and he wasn't kidding about the feast- enter Food Nirvana #5.  We left that restaurant so stuffed and so drunk!  Sue and I drank half a liter of white wine, Emil and Grandma had half a liter of red wine... and the food, just perfect!  The antipasto was eggplant, zucchini, fresh mozarella, fresh ricotta, olives, and bruschetta.  Then we were served three different kinds of pasta, one was an alfredo sauce, one was orrechiette in garlic and oil with broccoli, and the last was a pesto sauce.  Everything was cooked and seasoned to perfection, and you could tell the pasta was fresh and homemade.  It was the perfect end to our time in Rome.

Friday Nov 12- Back to Florence we go!
We jumped back on the train to go back to Florence to our original hotel (where we stored our big suitcases).  We were going to go on a walking tour of Florence, but I was just shot.  I went to take a nap, Emil got lost and walked two miles out of the way, and Grandma and Sue went shopping.  Before my nap I carried 4 very large and very heavy suitcases up to our floor and rooms.  Once we had all re-packed and calmed down, we went off in search of a nice restaurant for our last sit-down meal in Italy.  We found a restaurant called "Il Quattro Amici"... how fitting!  So the four friends sat down in the Four Friends Restaurant and ordered our dinner.  We were immediately served prosecco (yummmmm) and a fish appetizer, which I didn't care for.  I decided on veal with asparagus for my meal, and oh.my.god. The asparagus was cooked to absolute perfection, the veal was moist and grilled just the way I like it.  The sauce on top was amazing- just the right texture and thickness to complement the veal and asparagus.  I would kill for that dish again right now!  After dinner we went back to our hotel after dinner, and settled in for our last night of sleep.

Saturday Nov 13- The plane ride home.
Our moronic travel agent booked our hotel to airport transport for 6:30AM... our flight wasn't until 11am!  We had an impossible time getting through to the agent, and ended up not even taking the transport because it was just too early.  We called a crazy cab instead, and got to the airport very quickly.  We checked our luggage, and everyone was JUST under the weight limit.  We boarded our little plane for the domestic flight to Roma Fiuimicino.  We got to Rome, tried to find Wine and Cheese and liquor in the Duty free shops... and only found liquor- no cheese.  I was very upset.  We got lunch from an airport cafe, and waited online to board our big plane.  Except this time, the plane wasn't really big.  Nor did it have an adequate number of bathrooms, or comfortable seats, or friendly flight attendants.  There was one tv in the aisle, and the headphones were crappy.  They showed Dinner for Schmucks, some movie that was in Italian with English subtitles, and Despicable Me.  I didn't watch the last movie because some (insert choice expletive here) passenger had their headphones plugged and turned on to the kid's music station.  The volume was turned all the way up so that we could just hear the same 4 songs OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER for a miserable 9 hours.  We had 90mph headwinds on the ride home, so the flight was wayyyyyy longer.  I started to lose my patience and was so relieved when we finally touched down in New York at 6:45pm.  Uncle John picked us up from the airport and we went back to his house.  He had dinner ready, we ate, we chatted, and then I passed out on the couch, dead to the world.  It was only 11pm NY time by the time Mom got to Rockaway, but it felt like 5am to me.  We drove back to our house, and I slept until 10am the next morning.

All in all, it really was the most amazing trip of my life.  Life is so different outside of NY and the United States that it truly was an incredible experience to be able to take part in the cultures and customs of another country.  I can't wait to go back to Italy!

I'm late for a very important date...

I am 100%, completely behind posting.  I'm a crappy blogger, what can I say.

I am in the process of writing a few more entries, and then I will pick, choose and post... and hopefully not put anyone to sleep in the process.

Things to look forward to:
My Italy blog
Dictator Bloombag and Cathie Black AND the UFT AND Education
Derek Jeter and his new contract, amongst other things
PCSD, Homecoming, and the Alumni Beer tent
The life of a substitute teacher
Charlie Rangel, moron.



Over and out, 10-4.