I’m predictably buried at work after almost three weeks away, but I know people want to hear how it went. For better or worse, my computer has me locked out of email while it backs things up and generally goes about the business of getting back to work, so here goes… hopefully David can add more later, and we can upload our (admittedly paltry) pictures from along the way.
The rest of our time in Florence was lovely. We ate twice at an astounding little place called Trattoria il Contadino, with a fixed-price 9 Euro lunch that just totally blew us away. Totally a local place, with workers and students grabbing a quick lunch. We had a much more expensive, and not quite as good lunch at another place the Rough Guide recommended, which precipitated a completely lost evening as our 3:00 nap turned into complete collapse back at the B&B. At about 9 David decided he wouldn’t be able to sleep without some dinner, so he set out and brought back this amazing Florentine hamburger (on foccaccia, of course) from a street vendor. All the proof we needed that you really can’t get a bad meal in Tuscany. Before leaving, we also did the bus tour of Florence, which was great, including a trip out to the old Etruscan town of Fiesole. So many places to go back and visit in the future… you could spend several weeks just in Florence and environs, and someday I hope we can.
Oh, just so everyone knows, we missed the newly-cleaned David (Michaelangelo’s David, that is!) by a day… it was still scaffolded when we were there. Florence is replete with replicas, and we have several postcards of everyone’s favorite marble stud, if anyone wants one. Next trip, right?
Our next stop, Montecatini Terme, is the oldest of the Italian spa towns. It’s small, pretty, and overrun with old people. Also, it apparently believes that if the process of getting your relaxation arranged is stressful and confusing, the relaxation will be all the better. In short, I should have booked my desired mud-and-massage appointment weeks in advance, because when we got there we were SOL for anything other than a not-very-appealing soak in a mineral pool with All Germany’s Grandmas. But we ended up having a lovely evening, taking the funicular up to Montecatini Alta… the ride was breathtaking and the village easily one of the most picturesque and unspoiled places I’ve ever been… just imagine cobblestone perfection overlooking your dream of sweeping Tuscan views at sunset. Plus, a really nice light dinner with an amazing Brunello di Montalcino.
The next morning we were off to Viareggio for the “lie on the beach vegging” part of the trip. If I had it to do over again, this would have been a good way to start the trip… it was beautiful and relaxing, and just what we needed after wedding, travel, etc. And if the spa experience was trying, I have to give the Italians credit for really knowing how to do beaches. Almost none of them are public… instead, the strip is lined with beach clubs (“balaeri,” from the Italian for whale, as in “beached like,” I suppose) that get expensive in the high season. But for us, 5 Euro for a beach umbrella and two sun chairs was a bargain. We spent the better part of a couple of days doing lying there reading, getting beer and potato chips from the bar, etc. It was just what the doctor ordered. We also ate at an amazing new-Italian place called Quinto Elemento (my restaurant-radar find of the trip, not listed in any guidebook) and Cafe Margherita, originator of the eponymous basil and tomato pizza.
Our silliest adventure of the trip had to be our effort to find the strip of gay clubs in Torre del Lago, the next town over. Versilia, the subregion the comprises the “Tuscan Riviera,” is apparently Italy’s gay-friendliest region. Torre del Lago is home to several well-reviewed dance clubs, restaurant, and even a gay beach club. So David and I set out by bus, only to find it dropped us in town, not at the beach. After a 30 minute trek through what was basically a mosquito-infested forest preserve, we reached the beach… which was mostly shut. Apparently, Wednesday in late May is still not high season. There were a few restaurants open, but it was a shellfish lover’s heaven and therefore almost entirely unfit for David consumption. We finally found a pizza place open and had a nice meal. We went on to check out Mamma Mia, the one open club, which was hosting basically a karaoke version of the Eurovision song contest. The Italian boys were cute in a completely standoffish sort of way, continuing our trend of meeting almost nobody on our whole trip. (We were hoping to meet landed gay gentry who would find our newly-married status touching and invite us to come back every summer to their beachfront villas, of course.) After some confusion, the bartender was able to summon a cab for us back to our hotel (a great, campy combination of Art Deco, Liberty, and Austin Powers style)
During our cloudy day in Viareggio, we hopped a bus for Lucca, which is a magnificently preserved renaissance town with its siege-proof fortifications intact. We had a nice lunch and a lovely walk along the walls, and visited (more) lovely old churches.
From Viareggio Friday morning (5/28) we hopped the train to Pisa for a quick tour of the town before leaving for London. Quick summary: the Leaning Tower is impressive and leans even more than you think. The rest of Pisa: a pedestrian-unfriendly, dirty, and generally unsatisfying stop on the tour. And yes, let me confirm my status as American-on-holiday by saying, “why did they put the three things you want to see on the opposite side of town from the station?” Generally exhausted by Pisa, I was infuriated by the airport, Ryanair’s extra-baggage shakedown tactics (which cost us like 80 Euro, almost as much as one of our tickets), and the worst-designed airport cafe in the world. But our flight to London was fine (after a delay). Ryanair is probably great if you’ve got carryon bags for a three-day beach weekend; for anything else, I’d say skip the only carrier I’ve flown that somehow manages to make Southwest Airlines seems luxurious by comparison.
Anyway, I may have more time later to talk about London, but the summary of our time there is pretty easy: great rugby, horrible organization. The second Mark Bingham Cup international gay rugby tournament featured some great rugby, good socializing, and easily the worst attempt at pulling together an event I’ve ever witnessed. It was ridiculously overpriced (more than $500 for the two of us) yet we got one meal, two parties with admittedly good entertainment, and not even a single free drink. Given London’s crushing expense and the Pound’s overwhelming (almost $2) strength, just enjoying a beer with our rugby brothers required serious financial planning. Being there with the Quake was great–confirming for both of us that we’ve made some wonderful friends through the team–but for a lot of the guys it was a struggle to get there, and I felt really bad that the tournament’s stingy chaos made their time there something of a nightmare.
Probably the best part of our visit to London was getting to spend more time with Woody and Sara Robinson and their lovely daughter Ellie. Woody (Mike, to most people) was of course David’s best man at the wedding. They had just returned from Canada on Wednesday, but managed to come spend the afternoon with us Saturday at the tournament and see David play. Afterwards, we went for an authentic pub dinner. It was more time with them than we got to the wedding weekend, and it was a great visit. Everyone knows how much David has come to love my old friends, and for me the feeling is just as strong about his.
Someday I want to go to London at the beginning, not the end, of a marathon European vacation… this is my second year in a row to get there already worn out, and it just doesn’t make for a fun stop. London is exhausting under the best circumstances, and feeling tired, broke, and ripped-off isn’t the best way to experience London, or end a honeymoon. Friday night, furious that as things happened I wouldn’t have a chance to play even five minutes with the Quake the next day (due either to the absence of a loser’s bracket, or the Quake’s unwillingness to play in one, depending on whom you ask), I had a minor meltdown after a tour of several of London’s loudest, smokiest, sweatiest gay venues, and was a really pissy about it to David (whose fault none of the above was). But being the prince that he is, he forgave me, we made up, and we enjoyed a day of window-shopping in Covent Garden before headed to the tournament to watch the finals. (My knee-nemesis, the SF Fog, won the Bingham Cup again, in a crushing defeat against the Manchester Spartans.) In all fairness to the tournament, David got to play in three great games (which I tremendously enjoyed watching), and it was a great chance to meet rugby players from all over. But by Monday morning, we were definitely ready to return to Casa Nonfamous and our very own bed. Thanks to an unexpected upgrade to World Traveller Plus on BA, our trip home was really, really lovely.
I (or better yet David) will write in a separate post the great news we got upon our return… but it was the perfect end to a honeymoon that was perfect in its own way. David and I enjoyed much of the best the world has to offer, in terms of food, beautiful sights, and amazing art–and so much the more for being together, really together as “husbands for life”, for the first time. At the points in the journey that were rougher, we never failed (after a fashion) to look at one another and realize that whatever happened, we were together and would get through smiling at the end. And if that is not a great introduction to married life together, I don’t know what is.