It’s been weeks since I posted due to internet problems here in Italy.  It is June 5th today and tomorrow I go to London to start my couple of months in the UK.   I left California for Europe on May 10th and here’s the retelling of part of my month here.

It’s Sunday, May 25th, 2014 and I’m sitting on a train from Verona to Vernazza, with a change in Milan, and I realize it’s been a while since I wrote about my adventures.  First, just about a month ago, I was back in California taking care of some business before returning to continue my European adventure in Italy.  I had to go back because my French Visa was expiring and I needed to straighten things out.  I took advantage and visited family, friends, work colleagues and also got a massage!  Oh, ok, I also went and saw my doctor and filled up on my medication, insulin.  There was a bit of a heatwave when I went back to Cali, but luckily I was at a friends house in Laguna Niguel and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been had I been a bit more inland.  Those couple of weeks went by quickly and it was time to continue my dream year off in Europe.  
A couple of observations on my way back, first, Long Beach airport is pretty nice and convenient to make my exit.  I had a stopover in Las Vegas and I got my last Mexican food fix there.  I’m not a Vegas fan and can only handle a weekend of it every couple of years, so an overnight stay was due since it had been a couple of years since my last visit.  I stayed at the Luxor, because despite it being a Friday night, they had an $89 rate.  The guy at the counter I think read that I was not there to party and upgraded me to what I would consider a quieter part of the hotel.  If you don’t want noise, don’t stay in the pyramid!  I walked those hallways and it’s totally open to the casino floor where they also have the restaurants and shops.  You could hear everything from the hallway.  I also luckily was not near any late night revelers.  It was a pleasant stay and a pleasant late breakfast was had before I finally left about 1p.  I also got a last Bloody Mary in as well.  I have to say, the idea of Vegas was truly brilliant.  It really is a Disneyland for grown ups.  A fairly absurd idea where having a good time involves putting your money into machines that make a lot of noise, going out to drink until you puke, not knowing what time it is and eating buffet food until you burst.  Excessively excessive!  And, judging by how busy things were at the Luxor, that idea is still paying off big time for the owners of Las Vegas establishments.
My flight was then from Vegas to London Gatwick, non-stop.  As usual with Virgin Atlantic, I had a very pleasant flight in Premium Economy.  I highly recommend this service on that airline.  I arrived at Gatwick on Sunday just about midday and was staying at a hotel at Gatwick that is in the South Terminal.  It’s called the Bloc hotel and it’s modern, clean, no nonsense and very conveniently located.  I didn’t go all the way to Italy that day because the later flights were going in to Rome and I’d have to take my stuff to the Center of Rome and then take the train to Florence and I would have arrived Rome late and Florence even later so I opted to stay overnight in London and leave mid-morning the next day in to Pisa airport where I took a bus that went from the Pisa Airport to Florence’s main train station in just over an hour.  I bought that ticket over the internet and it was only 5 Euros.  A real bargain.  I quickly made my way over to what would be my apartment for the week and had a smooth check in.  
What can you say about Florence? If you have not yet been there, I suggest a trip.  Such a beautiful city with so much to offer.  I would also suggest you stay either behind the Santa Croce area or in the Oltrarno area.  These are still walking distance from the tourist area but far enough away that you are not in the crazy tourist center at night.  Plus, the Oltrarno has some really great, reasonably priced eateries.  I was here by myself for about 3 full days and went to a couple of sights I had not been to before.  The Palazzo Strozzi had a great exhibit that I really enjoyed and the Bargello museum, which is mostly sculptures and decorative arts, was also very nice and uncrowded.   
My friends arrived on Thursday and I made a nice dinner for us the apartment.  They had booked a bed & breakfast about a 10 minute walk away and went to go get some rest to gear up for their busy itinerary in Florence and Rome.  Florence is a city that to me is one large museum so you really don’t have to go inside of one.  Climb either the dome or the tower of Santa Maria del Fiore, AKA the Duomo, walk over the Ponte Vecchio, go hang out by and tour Santa Croce, go up to Piazzale Michelangelo and if you have time, San Miniato al Monte and then just wander the streets eating gelato and stoppin for wine from time to time.  Rome can also be done in such a way, on a larger scale, however.  You can do the stroll from the Colosseum to the Imperial Forum to the Trevi Fountain, to the Pantheon, to Piazza Navona to Campo Fiori and then cross the Castel Sant Angelo bridge over to the Vatican.  Given a decent amount of time, I’d suggest the Castel.  There are museum elements and it has also been a fortress and prison throughout it’s life.  If you are going to do the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Dome and Church, that requires a day.  Go to the Dome first and the exit leads you into the church.  After your tour of the church go to the Museum.  The extra 4 Euro is worth skipping the line.  As a matter of fact, the same is true for Florence.  If you buy the Firenze card, you skip the line at almost all the major attractions, the main ones being the Uffizi and climbing the Dome at the Duomo.  

Next up on the agenda was Verona, Italy.  Yes, the Romeo and Juliet Verona or the 2 Gentlement from Verona Shakespeare fame.  Verona was a lot more charming than I think most people give it credit for.  Spend a couple of days there.  It’s quaint, the people are very nice, the food is good and reasonably priced and there are plenty of things to see.  I would actually make that a base to see Padova, Venice and maybe a few other places that are not far away.  On the fast train, even Milan is only 1 hour 20 minutes.  Verona is where I parted ways with a couple friend of mine.  I was headed to Lake Como town of Varenna and they were headed to Innsbruck.  They were great traveling companions.  Very easy going and open to seeing everything.  I will miss them.  Part 2 to be posted soon.

Here were some photos of my tome with Mai and Tom

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