July 1, 2019: Firenze

Monday. GT2 Day Twenty Three. Montecatini Terme, Italy.

Last night’s test of careful sleep technique, combined with Dominica monitoring me closely, and using the nasal strips from the pharmacy was successful (at least for one night) and I got a full night of sleep. The most sleep that I have gotten since being in Tuscany, for sure. I slept for a total of nearly eight hours, with nearly two hours of that being deep sleep. That’s not bad for just any random night. For sleeping with a huge level of stress, using nasal strips for the first time, without my CPAP for white noise and Pavlovian Effect, on the floor with an insanely uncomfortable mattress, and being too warm it was amazing. And to add to that, when Dominica got us to use the bathroom in the night (she is sleeping on a couch just above me) she fell on me and woke me up, so I was full on awake for thirty minutes right in the middle of the night. If that had not happened, I might have had quite a bit more sleep, perhaps.

Bottom line, last night was about as successful as it could possibly have been. According to Dominica, she never heard me snore a single time, and never heard me stop breathing. I would know if I had stopped breathing – that either wakes me up, or it doesn’t, and either way we’d really know. But snoring I only know about some of the time. I know that I snored once, but it was while I was awake and changing positions and I moved immediately. So it sounds like this really worked. A large factor is likely that I lost a bit of weight before coming to Europe, about twenty five pounds, and from what I can tell I think that I have lost a little more, maybe five pounds, while here. We have no scale, so I am just guessing. But I have been eating healthily for the most part, in much smaller than usual portions, spread out over the day more, with very little dessert, while exercising quite a lot.

It was six thirty when I woke up, having gone to bed quite early. Dominica woke up a little after me. We assessed the situation with my sleeping and decided that we are safe and I can go with the family to Firenze today, all day. The plan now being that I will shower and get ready, while Dominica who already got ready will do one last load of laundry before we go, then we will wake up the girls who claim that they only need fifteen minutes for both of them to go from woken up to ready to walk out the door (I am going to time that this morning), and then we will drive to Villa di Costanza where we will park the car and pick up the Firenze city tram at its farthest point and ride it into the heart of the city. Then it is bus touring and pasta making today! By eight Dominica and I were fully ready having had our coffee, bags packed, camera ready, batteries prepped, daily update made, Instagram posted, showers done… all we have to do is throw on shoes and we are ready to go.

It should be noted, that when Dominica and I say that we are ready, we mean that we are ready to start the day and head to whatever we are doing. When the girls say that they can be ready, they mean ready to start getting ready and need to them start discussing what they want to do for food and need to go do food activities before being ready. So the actual amount of time that it takes them is longer between their “ready to go out the door” and “ready to start doing things” than Dominica and I have to get ready in total. So it is a bit misleading.

Laundry is a big deal on any trip of any length. For us, Montecatini is one of, if not the last, place where we have access to do laundry. We have a washing machine as part of our apartment, there is a big garden in which to dry the clothes, and there is enough time in one place for things to get washed and have time to dry. That’s pretty hard to have come together as a combination and why the last few days have been so much rushed laundry every time that we are at the house. Europe almost universally does not use dryers, which is great for the clothing and the environment, but really bad for timing. We need to have a drying rack full of clothes outside in the breeze at all possible times of day. At night, things do not dry outside. We have to have all of our clothes ready tonight to make it for the next full week. We have one week of Europe left and no guarantee that we can wash anything again for all of that time.

We woke the girls at eight fourteen to get them up and ready. We will see how well their fifteen minute claim holds up.

While waiting for the girls to get ready I got caught up on SGL blogging, and did some system maintenance for the company while I had the time and just a tiny, itty bitty, bit of Internet. Rodrigo was sick over the weekend and just two hours ago had five feet of hail fall on his home city, so he is going to wake up to being completely buried in ice. Doubtful that he will be online today.

They did not make their fifteen minute claim. The final time when they claimed that they were ready was eight fifty three. But they weren’t actually ready to go out the door at that time, that’s just when they thought that they could say that they were ready thinking that we were not ready, not realizing that we had been totally ready before even waking them up. They didn’t even have shoes on yet at that point nor had considered food, nor were ready to leave their room. Actual time that they were ready having gotten water, shoes, left their room, grabbed food was eighty fifty nine. Forty five minutes, three times as long as they thought that they took. They’ve been claiming that they are always waiting for us, but I don’t think that that is true.

I kicked off an upload of a video giving an update to the CPAP status to go to the YouTube channel that over a hundred people are watching to keep up with our travels. Fingers crossed that it actually updates while we are out. I set it to publish when uploaded and to add to the channel. So if things go well it will post while we are traveling into the city.

We piled into the car and were on the road by one after nine. I was on a mission to get us out to Firenze and get this day going. We drove to Villa Costanza which is a highway exit directly into a giant parking lot with the Firenze city tram stop. It could not possibly be easier. Anyone wanting to visit Firenze needs to know about this. It was just one Euro and fifty cents each to ride the tram from Villa Costanza all the way to the downtown train station. And you get ninety minutes of municple transportation for that price, so we could have gone much further or switched to another line or taken the bus or whatever. Really nice system. Comfortable, cheap, quick, and easy.

We got to the central railway station and found our way to the City Sightseeing bus stop to start the hop on, hop off bus tour. For the four of us it was like ninety two dollars for twenty four hours. We got on at the beginning and rode around for the full route. The route that we were on was just one hour long, and for us that was quite long enough. None of us were happy with this tour. The bus was super uncomfortable for one thing, especially for me. The seats were set up in such a way that I either had to sit upright in a really awkward manner that required me to constantly hold myself up, or else I would slide down and my knees would not even come close to fitting. Either way, it hurt to sit there.

But the bigger deal was that the tour audio was not very good. Or maybe the route was no good. Or maybe Firenze has nothing worth seeing? But basically the tour took us past a bunch of things that we didn’t care to see, and the audio told us basically nothing of interest, and what little bit it tried to tell us, the bus operator talked over and the audio did not pause. Often the thing that we were being shown did not line up with the audio and we never got to see the thing. And then, after a really long, boring ride with nothing of importance being able to be learned, there was a really long and detailed explanation of a bizarre and wholly uninteresting foot fetish museum that was irrelevant. We were so unhappy that we immediately decided to skip the longer two hour route because if it is anything like this, we will be unable to sit through it.

So we rode to the famous bridge in Firenze and got out to look for an early lunch before our pasta making class this afternoon. Dominica has been in the mood for Chinese food since yesterday, so that is what we are looking for. I am the only one who isn’t tired of Italian yet, which is odd being the only non-Italian of the bunch.

We found a nice Chinese place called China Town. The people were great. The food was quite good. Dominica and I both got vegetable fried rice. I asked for mine very spicy, it was spicier than Dominica’s, but not enough that I could tell that it had spice if I hadn’t known to look for it. Everything in Italy is so bland. Even spicy foods totally change what they make for the market. You can’t buy hot sauce here, I can only imagine. People would have a heart attack. I know that they do this for the US market, too. But the degree to which they do it for Italy is just crazy. Emily got pineapple fried rice that came in half a pineapple. Madeline got sweet and sour chicken.

After lunch we did some walking. We had a bit of time to kill before our class. The temperature today was not nearly as hot as it has been, but still hot. Walking around was pretty sweaty. We walked the famous bridge, and while it was neat and historic, it’s also white trash central – nothing but tourist and the trashiest, overpriced tourist shops. Dangerous, crowded, uncomfortable, and pointless. Sad, because as a structure it is really cool. But I wanted to get away from it as quickly as possible.

We got away from the tourist zone a little and found a nice gelateria and got gelato for everyone. Dominica and I both got ricotta with pear, so good. Madeline got fruity stuff like peach and mango. Emily got a sorbet, so non-dairy. It was all really good and refreshing.

Our pasta class started at three thirty. It is an AirBnB Experience with Vivanda Firenze. We started across the street from the restaurant. There were two classes going on. We were in the one that turned out to be with the restaurant owner and we learned to make lasagna, ravioli, tortellini, and spaghetti, all by hand. It was awesome. We had such a good time. There were eight of us in our class, the four of us, plus a mother and daughter from Seattle, and a couple from Washington, D.C.

First we learned to make the fresh pasta by hand. That was really cool and I feel really comfortable making my own at home already. It takes a bit of work but is not complicated. This is something that I really hope to do all of the time. It tastes so good, and you can make anything.

It was really fun and we learned so much about pasta. And we learned how to make some of the sauces. Once we made the pasta, which probably took between an hour and a half and two hours, then our hosts ran it across the street to the restaurant where they prepared it all for us. There was not time for us to do everything outselves and this was only a pasta making, not a pasta cooking, class / experience.

We all then went over to the restaurant, and had our pasta creations, wine, and desserts (that we were not involved in making at all.) It was all so excellent. We had so much fun. Definitely one of the best things that we have done on our entire trip. Really, for me, the only thing that we have done this entire time that is in the running with this is the Folk Dancing Night at Cretan Corner on Crete a couple of weeks ago. Those two things really stand out as far and away our best things of the trip. I am not sure what else would even be in the running. The wine tasting yesterday was fun, but not on par.

After our pasta experience we went and did Rick Steve’s walking tour of Firenze to make sure that we got to see the most important things before calling it a day. So that took us until around eight thirty and we were all done. Just exhausted.

We went back to the train station, got our tram back to our packing, got the car, and drove back to Montecatini Terme. It was around ten when we returned. We cranked up the air conditioning. We re-opened the bottle of wine that we had started last night. Dominica packed. I caught up SGL and copied over the media from the camera to the hard drive. The girls hung out in their room and ate some cheesecake.

Tonight we learned that Gray’s arm injury cannot be repaired. His nerve damage is at his spinal column and will never heal. He’s permanently lost the use of his one arm.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We have to be up super early. Then we drive from Montecatini Terme to the Firenze Airport where we drop off the rental car. Then the tram to Firenze Allimani Station. There we are grabbing the train to Milano where we will have about a one hour layover before catching our next train to Lucern. We will be in Lucern for a few hours so that Emily can see Switzerland for just a little bit. A mad rush for food, pictures, and shopping. We have so little time that if luggage storage is not really obvious, Dominica is kind of looking forward to just sitting with the luggage for a couple of hours and having some time to read and do nothing while Emily, Madeline, and I make a mad dash around the city. Then we catch the train out of Lucern to go to Paris, where we are spending tomorrow night and the next two nights after that. I am super excited to see Paris, it is the one place on this trip that I have never been.

Our Internet is super bad this evening. We cannot load any web pages or anything. I really can’t even talk to anyone. I am unsure if I will be able to post the SGL update before going to bed. We are all really hopeful that Paris will be better than this. It has been more than three weeks with only two days of all of that time having good Internet. It gets very tiring and very stressful. The girls are on a constant search for working wifi anywhere that we go so that they can get a moment of connecting to the world. They are super disconnected since they are stuck on useless Verizon that has no Internation coverage. Our T-Mobile means that at least we get messages regularly, if nothing else. And often we can at least do basic things. But in the apartments, we often have no wifi. So the laptop is often offline or useless. And the girls go huge periods of time with nothing, which certainly colours their view of Europe in a way that does not affect us or our kids. To them, Europe is disconnected and slow Internet. This kind of travel, and traveling without supported 4G service leaves you essentially stranded in a world where everyone around you has Internet so good and fast that we can’t get anything like it in the US. So for them, they are seeing Europe in so many bad ways.

Things that are skewing Europe for them unfairly include: only seeing it with cheap rental cars or no cars, never getting good Internet because we are in AirBnBs where good Internet is not expected, not being prepared with working phones, not doing research and expecting something different than exploring new cultures, backpacking all the time, moving place to place so quickly that there is only time to see tourist centers and highlights and never seeing actual life or treating it like a normal place, super early morning moves day after day, etc. The way that we are traveling means that nothing we see in Europe is seen in any way like we would see the US, so the impression of it is totally different. Yes, it is full of monuments, museums, famous things, sights, etc. but it is also more like an amusement park than a real place. It gives essentially no sense of what it is actually like here.

Speaking of exhausting early morning transfers: we have to be out the door at five thirty tomorrow. That is crazy early. Tomorrow is going to be such a long day. It is going to hurt. We have to manage our luggage without a car for about twenty hours. We are going to be so unhappy by the time that we are done with everything tomorrow. And then, once we are done with all of that moving and work, we are in an apartment for three days with no air conditioning, in which we are expected to be totally silent – which is going to present a huge problem as we have to talk to the girls every hour or two about being too loud here in Italy, where being quiet isn’t normally an issue. It’s like the US here. The apartment in Paris is nothing but continuous warnings about how we have to be completely silent at all times. I don’t know what we are going to do and the girls are already mad about the prospect.

I am very excited to be giving up the car tomorrow. Having been the sole driver for almost twenty days of time during this trip has been exhausting. I have to be involved in everything that we do, no matter how trivial, and every spur of the moment activity involves me having to drive three to six hours unexpectedly as if that were nothing, and doing so in Europe is not casual like in the US. So the surprise expectations are really fatiguing. I can’t wait to be carless and everyone does decision ramifications equally. It’s harder to do crazy, exhausting things when the decision isn’t made by someone different than the one that has to do the work for the decision. All of the driving has really burned me out. That, plus the CPAP situation.

Heading to bed around midnight. I’ll be lucky to get any sleep tonight. I am torn as to when to shower, tonight or tomorrow. I really don’t feel like it tonight, but I think that I have to. We have to be up SO early tomorrow. So tonight is my second night of attempting to sleep with just the nasal strips and no CPAP. Fingers crossed, again. I really need a few hours of sleep tonight. Tonight is one of the examples of huge risks that come from scheduling too much during a trip like this: if something goes wrong like the CPAP situation, then we are trapped without enough sleep and there is nothing that can be done about it. We have to be up late tonight in order to have time to be ready to go tomorrow. And we have to be up ridiculously early in the morning to make it to our train. So I have no choice but to lose even more sleep. I’ve only had one moderate night of sleep in the last three. Having little to no sleep tonight will be really awful, and a bit dangerous. Maybe, if I am really lucky, I can nap on the train just a little. But realistically that is not something that I can do.