Friday, January 31, 2014


Before leaving Italy we headed up to Florence (or in Italian, Firenze) to see Maggie's host family from the semester she spent there during college. But first, we went to her favorite cafe where you could get a scoop of gelato in amazingly thick hot chocolate.

Maggie was in Heaven.

We met up with Maggie's host family and they took us to their restaurant, Cantina di Toia, for dinner. They own a beautiful restaurant outside of Firenze that is inside Leonardo DiVinci's Grandparents house, which he possibly grew up in (or at least that's how the story goes). It is a great example of how old things are in Italy, it wasn't Leonardo's house, but his grandparents'. Leo was just a young buck compared to this place.

There, we were lucky enough to have the whole amazing restaurant (and its even more amazing chef, Maggie's host mom Francesca) to ourselves for the evening. We had multiple courses, from delicious meat and cheese and house-made preserves like only Italy can do it, to lemon risotto, to the most tender, delicious Florentine steak. And of course, wine--the restaurant is in an area called Carmignano, known for its wine, and we were lucky enough to sample the wares.
The original fireplace, that once lit, stays warm for two weeks. Take that, modern technology.

Between that and more delicious food at the Raugeis' home and around Florence, they did their best to fatten us up while we were there, and it worked.

Maggie with her host mom, Francesca, and sister, Margherita.

When in Firenze, you can't not see Dave (as Andrew calls him). Of all the amazing things we have seen, the David, for both Maggie and Andrew, is the most impressive work of art ever to grace God's green earth. There's no picture that can do justice to what he looks like in person... so here's a picture.

His best angle, in Andrew's opinion.
We thought we had escaped China without having to eat stomach, but Francesca told us it was a street food delicacy in Firenze, so we gave in (we knew Italy would make much better stomach than China anyway). And it was pretty tasty, we had to admit.

Stomach sandwich--lampredotto, it's called. Sounds much prettier in Italian!

papa francesco

Since we were snubbed on Christmas Eve by the Vatican, we decided to head back for a second trip and see the Pope in person. We heard that every Wednesday, the Pope does a service where he blesses Holy Relics - and who doesn't have a few of those laying around they need blessed by the Pope.

So we headed off to the Vatican to meet up with Papa Francesco (as he is called in Italy).

The bridge leading into Vatican City.
First we headed into Saint Peter's Basilica to take a look at the opulent glory of the Holy See. And it was quite impressive. Maggie had been there before, but it was Andrew's first time - and Saint Peter knew how to impress.

Next it was off to see the Pope in his Pope mobile. On a side note, we learned an important lesson about Nuns. After a few elbows to the side, we learned never to get between a Nun and her Pope.

The Pope went around waving at the crowd, kissing babies and even posing with a few soccer teams as he made his way around before the service started for real.

He glows with holy light up close... or the lens was left open too long, I can't remember which.
After he was done making his rounds, he headed up to a throne that looked like it belonged to the Emperor in Star Wars and the service started for real. It was Andrew's first Catholic service and when it ended with a circus performing for the Pope, he assumed that was how all Catholic services went.

The circus preforming.
At the very end, the Pope did his blessing and all of our Holy Relics were blessed. Always good times with old Papa Francesco.

The blessing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

when in rome

We were in Rome for three weeks, but since both of us had done the sights of Rome before, we spent many of the days just hanging out like normal Romans in our neighborhood. We did however, on occasion, go out to have a drink or get dinner in the center and take a look at the historic parts of our Roman city.

Where we caught the trolly from our neighborhood to the center of the city. Just another two thousand year old ruin.

Andrew waiting for the trolly.

The trolly let us off right by the Coliseum... so you have to take a picture.

To really get your finger on the pulse of Rome, you must go to the kitties.

christmas in rome

We purposely left Asia in time to be back in the Western World for the Christmas holidays, and what better place to spend it than the city where it was invented - Rome.


We weren't let down. Rome was done up in its Christmas best. We saw Santa and his Italian Christmas companion, La Befana the Christmas Witch, who on the 6th of January brings all of the bad children of Italy coal.

The streets of Rome were done up in lights and people were out and about everywhere. We walked around and soaked up being back in the Western World.

Since we were in Rome, we decided to go to the Vatican for its midnight Christmas Eve service. But before going out we had to get in the festive spirit... and warm up.

Then it was off to the Vatican in all of its splendor. The service took place inside of Saint Peter's Basilica but since we were rejected by the Vatican when we faxed them for tickets, we had to watch it from Saint Peter's Square outside.

It was very cold and after a half an hour of watching the Pope on the big screen we were ready to go (we had a hour and a half walk home through Rome).

We woke up Christmas morning to find that Santa had taken Maggie's socks right off of her feet to stuff our stockings.

After opening our presents and enjoying the day in our neighborhood of Pigneto, we cooked a Christmas dinner and finished the holiday season on a high note.

Friday, January 10, 2014

funny signs of asia

While going around Asia, you come across a lot of funny signs. While some are funny because of the translations, others are just funny in any language.

Now that we have left Asia, we thought it would be a good finale post to a strange land.

I'm not sure they know what this brand is about.

True Blood in China.

Encouraging Communist propaganda.

On the Toyko subway, if you get your hand caught in the door, raccoons* will laugh at you.

Tokyo has the best warning signs.
Fire Hydrant? What about a Fire HOSErant?

I'm glad we had this talk.

No birds on the subway.

Apparently this ramp is worried about our next ski trip.
Be specific when asking Chinese Santa for a puppy or you might get Christmas dinner.**

The Japanese even guilt trip in haiku.

Even on the top of Wudang mountain, they know we're good luck.

*We soon discovered that these raccoons are actually Tanukis, the coolest Raccoon Gods out there, and we did a post on them.
**We did not actually see anyone eating dogs in China (that we know of). We know it happens, though. Apparently they even eat cats in some places! Not cool, China.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

wudang to roma, with some adventure list thrown in

We took one last look out our hotel window in Wudang before heading out on a journey that would find us in Roma a week later.

It started off with a 26 hour train ride from Wudang to Shanghai. Enough time for a night's sleep and some work time. Also, lots of smoggy countryside.

It looks like it might just be foggy, but don't be fooled.
We were lucky enough to get to Shanghai a couple days after they had reached record pollution levels. It was still bad, but nothing like they had a few days before we arrived, we heard visibility was down to eight feet.

When the pollution subsided a little, we saw a whole skyline of buildings that you can't see here.
We had a few days to kill in Shanghai so we saw some of sights we had missed our first time around. We walked around the French Concession, which was one of the nicest city atmospheres we found in China.

We also went to the Bund and saw the world famous Shanghai skyline.

We were ready to leave China as we headed to the airport to catch a plane to Bangkok. We had a one night layover there before we headed to Roma, and we decided to turn it into a "One Night In Bankok," type of night, with the Murry Head song as our anthem.

First up was to knock some things off of the Adventure List that we forgot to do our first time around. So we started off by eating bugs - crickets to be exact.

Just another handful of crickets.

They didn't taste very good, mostly like cardboard, so we had our fill and deposited the rest in the closest trash receptacle. Next up was getting Maggie a tattoo, a Henna one. She had decided on a compass, something that plays prominently in her book.

See the compass on her wrist?
So after night filled with Khao San road, Archa beer and Hong Thong whiskey, we woke the next day and boarded a plane to Rome, with what was supposed to be a quick layover in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Upon boarding the plane to Colombo, we were treated to quite the surprise. We had been upgraded to Business Class (which is First Class on this airline). We have no idea why. The only thing we could think of was that on a plane full of Sri Lankans and dirty backpackers, we looked the most respectable (we try to always look nice for flights for just this reason, but it's never worked before!) - but who knows.

It was both of our first time flying International Business Class and we lived it up. Champagne before takeoff, seats that turned into beds, a fancy diner on plates, glasses of cognac, we did it all.

We never wanted to leave the plane when we landed in Colombo. We doubted it would ever happen again and after you've tasted first class, it's hard to go back to the ruffians in coach. But we finally got off, only to find out that our one hour layover had turned into an seven hour layover. It was 1am, which meant the plane wasn't leaving until morning, so from our luxurious beds in first class, we were now relegated to pushing two benches together to finish our nights sleep. How the mighty had fallen.

It turned out to be not completely awful, though, and after a better night's sleep than we expected, we boarded the plane to Rome. We lucked out and the plane was fairly empty. This allowed Andrew to commandeer an entire row to polish off his beauty sleep.

Maggie, who always gets enough beauty sleep, took some pictures from the plane as we passed over the Middle East.

Then finally after many days of trains, planes and a few tuk tuks, we made it to Roma. Maggie didn't look any worse for the wear. Unlike Andrew, who you'll notice we didn't take a picture of when we arrived.