A Doctor’s Visit – Italian Style

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Well, if you are living temporarily in Italy, eventually you have to do regular, everyday things like go to the doctor. I’ve had a cold, which isn’t so bad, but I have to be a more careful since my breast cancer treatment. Colds can be more serious and also wipe me out faster. So we decided to go to the doctor. Now, this normally would not be a highlight that I’d record on the blog – but it was such a pleasant experience and so different from back home – that I thought you might find interesting.

Our apartment guide listed an English speaking doctor who is from the UK and is now an expat in Florence, treating tourists and students. I called one morning, and he answered himself and said he could see me in a couple of hours.

Frank and I know our way around by now so easily located his building a few blocks from our apartment. The sign on the door said “STUDIO MEDICO DEL CINGHIALE,” which means “Medical Studio of the Wild Boar.” OK – I hoped that this was named because there is a pig statue in the square across from the office (the one whose nose we rubbed the other night that is supposed to mean you will come back to Florence). Maybe this doctor just had a funny sense of humor.

We opened the door to a tunnel-like hallway (kind of like the Vassari Corridor) and then had to go up, up, up 5 flights of winding staircases. I thought it was good that I just had a cold and not heart problems!

We got buzzed into his office and were the only people there. After filling out a short form, I was escorted back. The doctor examined me, said my lungs sounded clear (a relief since radiation can impact your lungs), and gave me a prescription for an antibiotic and signs of what to look for if I need to return. I thanked him, went to the reception desk, and paid 50 Euro cash for the visit.

We climbed back down the stairs to the street, where there was a farmacia (pharmacy) in the same block. I handed the lady at the counter my prescription, she opened a drawer, and voila – I had my prescription for just 10 Euro. No lines, no phone calls, no insurance cards.

So the whole experience – doctor’s visit plus prescription – took less than 30 minutes and only cost 60 Euro. Amazing!

PS- I am now taking my medicine.  I cannot tell you what it is since all in Italian, but feeling much better.  : )


Firenze: Secret Passageways & Volpi Wine!

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We are settling into Florentine life. I’ve been working a little more than I had intended and poor Frank has been super patient waiting for me to finish up each night so we can finally go to dinner (in the meantime, he has joined a gym and seen a variety of museums on his solo jaunts around town). But we took a well-deserved day off together and went sightseeing. What a day!

Monastery of Painters

We started at the Museo di San Marco, which is a former monastery full of painting monks. They painted frescoes everywhere – including in their individual cells (43 of them!).  We could walk all around from cell to cell and see an original 15th century fresco in each. The monastery also housed Savonarola, a radical figure of the day who drove out the Medici Family and then was turned over to a mob (right in the courtyard) and later hung and burned at the stake at the Piazza della Signoria, in the center of town.

Lunch on the Piazza

All of tht led us to the Piazza itself, where there is a plaque commemorating Savonarola’s fateful demise. It was a beautiful day so we sat outside at a cafe that has been there for over a hundred years watching the world go by – and having a much better time than the controversial monk.

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Vasari Corridor

Then it was time for a tour. We like being on our own, but sometimes it’s good to have a guide, too. And we needed one for this tour – it was to a secret passageway, the Vasari Corridor, which runs across the top of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from the Palazzo Vecchio (Medici Family offices) to the Pitti Palace (where they lived) so that their subjects wouldn’t see them. It is locked and closed to the public, unless you have a guide. We were lucky to snag a spot with about 15 other people.

Our guide led us through some of the highlights of the Uffizi Gallery first (more on that in another blog) and then – opened an unobtrusive wooden door to reveal a stone staircase descending down into the secret passageway. The door closed loudly behind us as guards watched our every move. And so we began our walk on the same path as the Medicis.

There were iron-barred windows every now and then so we could see the tourists on the bridge below who had no idea we were up in the secret tunnel. The tunnel even runs by a church with a window where the Medici Family could watch worship services sight unseen.

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The corridor also houses the world’s largest collection of self portraits. One of the Medicis started this collection of self-portraits of the important Renaissance artists of the day. The collection evolved so that later artists, including those of today, donate their self-portraits to the museum hoping to be included.

Finally, the guards opened a locked gate, shepherded us through a final passageway, and out a small wooden door into the outside. We had made it across the Arno River and were in the gardens of the Pitti Palace. The door closed and locked behind us, and when I looked back, I just saw a little blue door with no name, which cannot be opened from the outside. To the rest of the world, it looks like a garden shed. But we know it is the opening to the famed secret tunnel.


The Grapes of Volpi

Before crossing back across the river – on the regular tourist path this time – we ducked into a local wine bar we had heard about – Le Volpi e l’uva (The Fox & the Grapes). We loved this since Frank’s last name is Volpe, and Volpi is the Italian spelling (means “fox”).  It had 10 seats so filled up quickly. They offered Tuscan wines by the glass and small plates of cheese and salami.  Yum!

A perfect ending to a perfect day.

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Sightseeing in Firenze

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We had our first visitor in Italy – our friend, Janet, from Annapolis! Janet flew in on Wednesday and stayed in a hotel nearby (since we only have one bedroom). It worked our great. We would meet up with her part-way through the day – since we had our work and chores to do – and then go sightseeing. It was a wonderful few days to just be tourists.

Our highlights:

Steak Florentine

We kicked off Janet’s visit to a local trattoria to try this specialty of Florence – thinly cut beef steak cooked rare. Delicious!

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Probably the most spectacular highlight – a visit to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. It is awe-inspiring every time you see it. And January is a perfect time to visit because no lines. (We took a selfie – along with everyone else. Some people even had these cool gadgets that extended their phones out so their selfies could catch more background. Ours is old school.)


Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella

A little off the beaten path – this perfumerie dates back to 1612, when monks created herbal remedies for various ailments. It is still housed in their old cloisters, complete with hundreds of year old frescoes. Over the years, the monks moved into fancy perfumes, which are still made today according to the same strict standards and recipes. Janet bought the perfume based on the scent created for Catherine Medici. I bought one of my own favorites – essence of magnolia.


The Piglet!

The old straw market is filled with stalls during the day, with sellers hawking purses and leather jackets. But it’s empty at night, except for this sculpture of a boar, affectionally called “The Piglet.” If you rub his nose, supposedly you will return to Florence. Of course we all did!

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We got out of town – by way of city bus – to the hills above Florence to the charming town of Fiesole (pronounced Fee-eh-SOLE-aay). We climbed, climbed, climbed and were rewarded with an amazing view of the city, as well as La Reggia degli Etruschi, an inventive restaurant at the top that served homemade pasta with a gourmet flair – mine had pear, roquefort cheese, and poppy seeds.

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We bid Janet farewell with a toast of Tuscan red wine at the fabulous rooftop bar at her hotel, overlooking all of the sights we had been admiring. Since it is January, they have heated floors, fur seat cushions, and white blankets to wrap up in. Very chic. What a fun time we have had!

Firenze: Daily Chores

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image Well, enough of being tourist. We came here to live like locals – which means going to work, doing laundry, and taking out the trash. All which seem much more exotic (and a little harder) in a foreign country.

All In A Day’s Work

I arranged with my office that I would work a reduced schedule – mainly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I work until 8 pm on those days so that I can have some regular office hours that overlap with Eastern Standard Time. Tuesday was my first day.

I set up my desk, got logged onto WIFI, and even was able to log into Citrix (our network). I sent emails, worked on some open questions, and re-connected with clients after my medical leave. A great first day! I posted a picture of my new office.

I was all ready to start again today (Thursday). I got my regulations and “to do” list set up and logged on – only to discover no WIFI. We called Lorenzo, who owns our apartment. He explained that the German Chancellor is in town, and her motorcade is scheduled to go right by our apartment. So the security people shut down the WIFI. I’m not sure if this is true, but eventually I gave up and decided to look for an Internet cafe. They were all mobbed (maybe Lorenzo was right), until I finally stumbled upon a Chinese take-out place with a few tables and no one in sight. Perfect. So I spent the afternoon happily having tea and working at probably the only Chinese take-out in Florence. I liked it so much, I may even go back tomorrow.

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Laundry Day

My other chore today was laundry. We have been a little intimidated by this because the washer is under a tarp on the balcony – and after all, it is January. Plus it has been rainy, so not ideal outdoor washing weather. But since I was going to stay home this morning to work, I decided this was a good time. I took the tarp off, put in an experimental load of mainly underwear (just in case), and hit the only button allowed (the others are taped up). Things seemed fine. Nothing to it.

Four hours later – the laundry STILL wasn’t finished! I thought we may just have to sacrifice this load and never get it back. So I handwashed the rest. Finally, the washer clicked off, and I strung everything on the racks to dry (there are no dryers in Europe). We may look for a laundromat for next time.


Taking Out the Trash

I am happy to report that we were more successful with the trash. We had been searching for the trashcans for 3 days. Florence has a system where residents must separate their trash into 3 categories: Organic (old food), Residual Rubbish (where the picture shows old soccer balls), and Multi-Use. We’re not sure what Residual Rubbish is, so we mainly just use Organic and Mutli-Use.

You have to carry your sorted trash to a community site with very small garbage cans that look kind of like parking meters. Oddly, we have not seen anyone else walking around with garbage except us, so we don’t know if we are the only ones who comply. But we gathered up our bags, marched to our local trash bin, and did our duty. I took a picture to document the occasion.

So we are settling in and learning the ropes of living in Italy.

Buona Notte! (Good Night!)

Christy & Frank

Firenze: To Market, To Market

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Well, our goal for Sunday had been to provision the apartment with the basics – milk, paper towels, laundry soap, etc. Being savvy travelers, we smugly packed our shopping bags (you bring your own here), wrote out our list, and set out.

Sunday Marketing

The first place we found was Eataly – which is like a very expensive Italian Whole Foods (they have one in New York, too). We were in awe of the amazing looking food but realized that, while this may be a good place for special items, it wasn’t for everyday shopping, at least not on OUR budget.

Next we stumbled upon an inviting place that had cheese and promised samples. That sounded good. They were so charming that they served us truffle salami, aged pecorino cheese, tuscan red wine, and even limoncello. It was even more expensive that Eataly, but we got caught up in the moment and bought some stuff anyway. Then we forgot all about our list and decided to just walk around. So much for toilet paper and butter.

Monday Marketing

So today – we had to face the music and actually buy groceries. We again packed our shopping bags and this time stuck to our mission, not even walking by the tempting gourmet shops. This time, we were going to the Mercato Centrale, which is a huge farmer’s market selling everything from fresh fish and meats from parts of animals you don’t want to know to vegetables and pasta. Stall after stall. We walked around even more dazed than in Eataly. Finally, we found a place that served coffee and tea and decided to take a break and build up the courage to actually buy something. I am proud to say we bought a mezza kilo of pasta fresca (a half kilo of fresh pasta) for dinner tonight and something green that looked good for dessert – we’re not sure what it is (I am assuming pistachio).

But we still had our big list. So on the way home, we found a real market that was quite big and seemed to have all we needed. We happily filled up our basket with vegetables, eggs, and staples. They even had wine for as little as 3 Euro – awesome. We felt ready for the check-out, armed with our bags and knowing we had to fill them ourselves. We were ready. Only to find out that we were supposed to weigh our vegetables and put the sticker on ourselves back where they were sold. Oh no. The line behind us was long and a little grumbly, so we bought the groceries we had, and Frank stood by with our bags as I waded back into the store to find the vegetable scale. Whew – with that done, we successfully were able to buy our lettuce and tomatoes. A shaky start, but ok. We said “Arriverderci” and headed out – only to set off the store alarms. Goodness. The flustered cashier didn’t know what to do so called the store policeman, who came and very seriously upended all of our carefully loaded bags, inspecting each item one by one while the crowd looked on. (They were kind of big-eyed, so this must not happen a lot.) Finally, the policeman determined that something we had bought at the other market set it off, so we were cleared.

So we are back home and decided we’ll just stay in for the rest of the day. We have provisions for our pasta dinner tonight and our bottle of 3 Euro wine, so we are happy.

PS – We STILL have not figured out where to take the trash. That will be Frank’s job tomorrow while I have my first day of work in Italy.


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We have made it to beautiful Florence, Italy (or Firenze in Italian). We got a taxi and gave him our address – 1 Ricasoli blue (very important because residences have a blue address and businesses have a red address). He looked puzzled and had to call his friend. Oh no. I was a little nervous because we rented directly from the owner via TripAdvisor and got a pretty good deal since we did a monthly rental in January/February. And we were to bring all cash for payment. So this could either be a wonderful find or a bust. But we proceeded on and finally came to a roadblock. He called again and, to my surprise, the barriers were lowered, and he moved on to directly in front of the Duomo, which is where our front door is. Wow.

Lorenzo & the Apartment “Paradiso”

We met with our greeter, Lorenzo, who guided us up a teeny tiny elevator to the 5th floor, opened an iron gate, and into our new home for the month. Amazing. We have one bedroom, living room, foyer, kitchen, and bathroom, with one side directly facing the Duomo and the other with a litte terrace that looks out over the rooftops to the hills of Fiesole. I’ve posted a few pictures.

“Very Important”

Lorenzo showed us around. He warned us that there are many thieves and pickpockets in this area, so we have to keep our iron gate locked at all times, even when we are inside (and this is on the 5th floor of a locked building). He said this is “very important” and wagged his finger at us. He also showed us the washer, which is outside on the terrace under a tarp (I guess we will only wash on sunny days!). He showed us how to turn on the water and advised only to use liquid soap. Again, he said, “This is very important,” while wagging his finger. Finally, he showed us a stash of Chianti Riserva in sort of a mini-bar, available for 6 Euro. He said, very seriously, that it is required that we open these bottles at least 2-3 hours before drinking and, wagging his finger again, said “This is very, VERY important.” I loved that this last instruction got two “very-s”!

So we are settling in. Our goal today is to explore, find a market, and figure out how to empty the trash. Apparently there is a community trash/recycling place a few blocks over, so we have to haul all of our sorted trash there. I’m sure that will be a story for another day . . . .

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On The Road Again

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The Two Fools are back on the road. The boats are out of the water, the housesitter has moved in, and we are headed to Italy. We will be living here for the next 6 months(!) – with a quick trip home in April for doctor’s appointments. This is the plan Frank and I hatched upon his retirement and dreamed of wishfully during my breast cancer treatment, hoping we could still carry it out. So we are pinching ourselves with excitement and a little relief that we pulled it off.

I also will be starting back to work. I have been on medical leave, mainly just answering emails and keeping things moving, but with no real schedule. So I will be ramping back up, but with reduced hours – primarily Tuesdays/Thursdays. I have my laptop, 2 phones, an ipad, and a folder of all my favorite HIPAA rules. I’m ready! (Frank will use these days to entertain himself – I think he is looking forward to them the most!)

We will be living in apartments for a week to month at a time so we can live, shop, cook, and work just like locals. Our first stop is Florence. We are a little nervous because we are renting through the owner via TripAdvisor – so who knows what we will really get. All we know is that his name is Lorenzo, we have to show up with a month’s rent all in cash, and when I looked last week, the listing had been taken off the Internet (yikes). But I emailed and Lorenzo assured me all is well. So stay tuned – our first big adventure may be tonight!

New Year’s at the Beach

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Happy New Year! The Two Fools are at the beach celebrating with Christy’s family. We had a very nice Christmas with Frank’s family in Maryland and drove down afterwards to meet up with my family on Hilton Head Island.  My parents are here, along with my sister’s family from Granville, Ohio, including my three very cute and fun nieces, Lacey, Holly, and Ashley.

We’ve had a great time opening gifts and catching up. We’ve also gotten to see other South Carolina friends who are down here.

Today is New Year’s and a beautiful sunny day.  We took advantage of it by taking a grand walk on the beach, followed by an outdoor lunch at the famous (at least in South Carolina) Salty Dog Cafe.  This is one of our favorite traditions.

We are thankful for our many blessings and look forward to wonderful adventures in 2015 – Happy New Year!

Christy & Frank

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