Category Archives: Italy 2015

A Month in Tuscany

Eleven days in Italy was not enough. So, tomorrow we are going back, five years after our first trip.  Staying longer (almost six weeks) and in one area (Tuscany), we are looking forward to experiencing more of la dolce vita, the sweet life of Italy.

May, 2010

Rome, May, 2010

Advance plans include a Chianti tour, cooking class and day trip to Rome. We printed hiking routes and self-guided walking tours, downloaded a menu decoder and translator, and reviewed other possible adventures in the area.  Good friends will be visiting, and we look forward to sharing this beautiful country with them.

Let the Italian holiday begin!

 

Florence Arrival

After a few stressful moments wondering if we would make our tight connection in Paris, we arrived in Florence this morning-on time and with all our luggage.  Our charming landlady, Maria, met us at our apartment and helped us get settled.  The entrance to our apartment, like many in Florence, would be easy to miss.  The beautiful landscapes and lovely gardens are all on the inside, hidden from public view.

The view from our apartment window.

The view from our apartment window.

After unpacking, we explored our neighborhood and found the local market.  The first day in a new country overwhelms me a bit as I try to navigate finding  my way around and communicating in a new language.  But it doesn’t take long to start to feel at home.  The great translate and map apps on my phone were a great help.  By the time we ate lunch at a little cafe by out apartment, we were starting to feel settled in our new home for the month of September.

Paul's first lunch

It was fun to walk some of our favorite streets from the last time we were here.  Although much looked just as I remembered it, we noticed a new trend in displaying gelato-as if they needed to make it look more delicious.  Now, it is often piled high in elaborate towers,

Gelatto towers

Gelato towers

We ended our first day in Florence dining al fresco.  Our wonderful dinner included homemade buratta and olive oil from the restaurant owners’ family groves.

burattaEVO

Opera in a Church

Lesson learned-don’t close all the wooden shutters when you are adjusting to a major time zone change.  We were surprised to learn it was 9:30 when awoke this morning because it was so dark in our apartment.  So with a very good night’s sleep, we were ready for our first full day in Florence.  My first cappuccino of the trip and a luscious pastry were a great way to start the day.

cappucino

In the early afternoon, we walked to the train station to meet our good friend Scott who was coming  to enjoy Florence with us for the week.  After lunch and a little walking tour of the Santa Croce neighborhood, we all took a little rest.

First stop for the evening-a great bottle of wine from a small local winery and some tapas.  Often the bars in Florence offer free tapas for those who purchase drinks.

pre-opera

From there we went to a church to listen to love arias from well-known operas.  The pianist, soprano and baritone were amazing.

pre-opera 1post-opera

On our way to dinner after the opera, we ran into our landlady and her two sons in one of the piazzas.  it was quite a surprise to have someone call out to me.  We had a wonderful dinner and enjoyed a great conversation with our waiter who was a classical pianist and expert on the Italian language.

Paul and Scott

Soccer, Italia vs. Malta

I went to my first professional soccer game tonight.  Our friend Scott is a huge soccer fan and going to a game while he was in Florence was his only request.  Lucky for us that team Italia was playing Malta in Florence this week.  It was fun to be surrounded by Italians enjoying their favorite sport.  I noticed that when the band played the Malta national anthem, about ten percent of the Italians stood.  When the Italian national anthem was played, all the Italians stood and the small group of fans from Malta all remained standing.

soccer

The game started at 8:45, so we had time for lots of adventures during the day.

After another great al fresco breakfast, our first stop was the San Ambrogio market.  Recommended by our landlady, it is patronized primarily by locals.  Like they do at the French markets, the vendors select the produce for you.  You just tell them (or in my case point to) what you want.

Market

After the market, we embarked on a walking tour of the Oltrarno, area.   Across the Arno river from the central part of Florence, the Oltrarno is primarily home to artisans’ studios, antique shops and bars and little restaurants.  The Pitti Palace was our first major stop.  The amazing and abundant treasures in the Medici family home illustrated the richness and accomplishments of the Renaissance. We walked up the Boboli Gardens incline and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the gardens and palace below.

petti palace

Forte del Belvedere, a 16th century fortress, sits right next to the top of the Boboli Gardens, so we were able to visit it without walking another steep climb.  Sculptor Antony Gormley’s exhibit “Human” of more than 100 human figures is currently installed throughout the fortress.

antony-gormley-florence-designboom-501

A few more sights, and it was time for lunch.  Often at small restaurants in Florence, the outside tables sit right on the edge of the road.

lunch P and S

We then hiked to Piazza Michelangelo for the best view of Florence , had our daily gelatto treat and returned to our apartment to rest up for the big game.

Piazalle Michaelangelo

 

Pisa

Day trip to Pisa! We walked to the train station, bought our tickets at the biglietti machine and an hour later were walking the lovely streets of Pisa.  Rather than heading right to the Leaning Tower, we followed Rick Steve’s advice (and guide) and took a leisurely, one-hour walk to the tower.  Rick always gives good advice, and just as he promised, the walk was a great way to get acquainted with the non-touristy parts of Pisa.

It was interesting to see a huge mural painted by American Keith Haring right in the middle of the town.  Haring is credited with bringing New York City graffiti into the mainstream.  His mural, Tuttomondo (Whole Wide World), is a celebration of diversity, chaos, and the liveliness of our world.

Pisa mural

Walking from the train station on the south to the old city wall on the north, we turned a corner and there it was- the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  It looked just like all the pictures of it.

Pisa tower Deb

Almost from the beginning of construction in 1173, the Tower leaned.  But the builders kept on building and then suddenly stopped.  The Tower remained unfinished and still leaning for a century. The next architect tried to correct the problem by adding the next three floors angling away from the lean.  A century later another architect added the belfry on top.  Numerous attempts to correct the problem were unsuccessful until 1990 when they sucked out 60 tons of soil on the non-leaning side, allowing the Tower to sink back about six inches.

The Tower is one of five beautiful buildings on the Field of Miracles, a large square of beautiful green grass and lovely walkways between the buildings.  The other buildings are the Baptistery, the biggest in Italy, the Camposanto Cemetery, where the grass grows on dirt brought back by the Crusaders from Jerusalem’s Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified, the Duomo, and the Museum of the Sinopias.

Pisa cathedral

After seeing the sights, we found a lovely little restaurant for lunch, hiked back to the train station and returned to Firenza, our home for the month.

Pisa lunch

We had the loveliest dinner at Osteria de Pazza, a wonderful local restaurant about three minutes from our apartment.  For some reason the owner did not have my reservation.  After apologizing and kissing my hand multiple times, he told us he could have a table for us in about fifteen minutes.  The singing owner, the wonderful Italian ambiance and the great food all made it worth the wait.

Dinner with Scott

Chianti Wine Tour

Chianti is not one of my favorite red wines, but we’re in Tuscany and a Chianti tasting is a must.  So off we went to Greve, Pansanno and the Montecchio winery to learn about and sample some Chianti and Tuscan olive oil.

Greve-Paul, Scott and Deb

Before getting to the winery, we made a stop at Greve, one of the main wine producing towns in the Chianti region.  They were getting ready for the annual Chianti festival, setting up displays and crowd-control ropes in the town square.  We visited a traditional butcher shop recommended by our guide.

Greve Paul and Scott

We stopped along the way to get an up-close look at the grapes and olives. Although the olives were a few weeks away from being ready to harvest, the grapes were ripe and some had already been harvested.  The grapes are harvested by hand, and the olives are harvested by machine.  The grapes are grown in such a way that they hang at the bottom of the plants in big bunches that are easy to pick.

Greve-grapes

The Montecchio Winery was beautiful.  At one time it was a family hobby but now has become a business.  After walking around the estate, I wanted to live there and help harvest the grapes.

Greve-winery

We learned about the governmental regulations for wine to be designated as Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Resirva.  The classification Super Tuscan means that the winery has a great deal of freedom in making the high quality Tuscan wine.  The winery we visited was experimenting with making a Super Tuscan that is aged in terra cotta pots.  Terra cotta had been used many years before to age wine.

Greve-Terra cotta vats

After the tour, we had a wine and olive oil-tasting lunch with  local cheese and salami.

Greve tour guide 1

Then it was back to the apartment for a little rest before our good friends Sylvia and Marilyn arrived.  They arrived in the late afternoon, and the five of us had dinner at a favorite restaurant and gelato at our local shop.

Dinner Florence

 

Day Trip to Rome

We loved Rome five years ago, so we had to share this beautiful city with our friends who are visiting.  The wonderful Italian train system made it possible to go from Florence to Rome for a day.  It was a day of revisiting favorites, starting with our favorite pistachio cookies from our favorite Roman bakery.

Rome-pistachio cookies

Our next stop was the Pantheon, my favorite site in Rome.  A Roman temple dedicated to the gods built in 27 B.C, the Pantheon became a Christian church after the fall of Rome.  It may be the most important building in art history.  Its dome was the model for both the dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s.

Rome-Pantheon

One of the most interesting features of the Pantheon is a 30-foot opening in the top of the dome that is completely open to the outside.  The floor slants toward the edges to let rainwater drain.

Rome-Pantheon opening

We visited the Trevi Fountain which was still undergoing renovation and the Spanish Steps.  Then we strolled to the Piazza del Popoli for lunch and a lovely walk in Pincio park.  From the top of the park we could see the Vatican, our next destination.

Rome-view from Popoli

I ordered our Vatican tickets in advance, so we were able to bypass the long lines and go right in to the Vatican Museum.  The  museum is filled with treasures such as the Belvedere Torso, a 2000-year old sculpture that had a profound impact on Michelangelo’s art.

Rome-Vatican museum

The Sistine Chapel was as beautiful as I remember, but it was much more crowded this time. Following Rick Steve’s advice, we took a short cut to St. Peter’s Basilica and saw my favorite sculpture, Michelangelo’s Pieta.

RomePieta

As we left St. Peter’s, we saw the Swiss Guard who have been guarding the Pope since 1506.

Rome-Swiss Guard

At the end of the day, we bid farewell to our friend Scott and took the last train home to Florence.

Rome-farewell dinner

 

An Easy Day in Florence

After a busy day in Rome yesterday, it was so nice to enjoy a relaxing day of wandering the streets, shopping and dining.  After a lovely al fresco lunch, we explored some of the many delightful little shops.

Deb lunch

It was fun to look at the beautiful jewelry in shops on either side of the Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval enclosed bridge over the Arno River.

Ponte de Vecchio-shopping

The bridge is lined with jewelry shops on both sides, and it is not apparent that you are on a bridge until you reach the opening in the middle and see the beautiful Arno River.

Arno river

We had the most delightful dinner at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Osteria de Pazzi.  After a great experience a few nights earlier, we wanted to share it with friends Sylvia and Marilyn.  This evening was even better than our previous visit.  Our waiter recommended wine, starters and secondis, and everything went together fabulously.  Our meal was so great that Sylvia visited the kitchen to express our appreciation to the chefs.

Oesteria de Pazzi chef

It was a great evening, made even better with a stop for our daily gelato on our way back to our apartment.

Oesteria de PazziOesteria de Pazzi friends

We capped off this wonderful evening with a stop for our daily gelato on the way home to our apartment.

 

Il Latini

Last night we revisited Il Latini, a favorite restaurant from our last stay in Florence that serves traditional Tuscan dishes.  Five years ago we didn’t have a reservation but took our chances in the long line that forms before they open.  This time we had a reservation and felt more confident we would get in as we joined the waiting line of hopeful diners.

Il Latini-entrance 2

We were at the end of the longest line until we realized we could get in a different line because we had a reservation.

Il Latini-line

Getting through the door and being escorted to our table felt like going to a big Italian party.  The four of us were seated in the courtyard at a table with a huge bottle of wine and encouraged to drink as much wine as we wanted.

Il Latini-us

Soon after we sat down, our three-hour Tuscan feast began.  The restaurant selected the dishes and served them family style.  We started with antipasti of prosciutto and melon, caprese and some kind of grain salad that we couldn’t identify but loved.  The primi consisted of three kinds of pasta with three kinds of sauces: pomodoro, bolognese, and rabbit.  Florentines take preparing and eating meat seriously, and the secondi was more meat than I have ever seen on one table: Florentine steak, veal, chicken, lamb and pork.

Il Latini-meat

Not being a big meat eater, I was a little worried about this course, but I tried everything and it was tasty.  The contorni were sauteed spinach, roasted potatoes and beans.  Then we started our four-course dolci.  First they brought a plate of biscotti and small glasses of the Tuscan dessert wine vin santo.  Vin santo,  saint’s wine, has been made since the Middle Ages and comes from grapes harvested in the fall and air-dried on straw mats until the start of Holy Week.  We dipped the biscotti into the wine.

vino santo

The star of the dolci show was a tray of four desserts: Tiramisu, almond pastry, raspberry tart and Tuscan grape harvest cake, a traditional dessert made at grape harvest time.  A glass of Moscato and then a glass of Limoncello completed our lovely meal.

We especially appreciated the lovely walk back to our apartment.

Il Latini-street on way home

Market Dinner

How lucky are we that our friends Sylvia and Marilyn took a cooking class while they were visiting us and shared what they learned?  Using their new market savvy, they took us with them to the market in our neighborhood to shop for ingredients for the dinner they were going to prepare that evening.  Mercato Sant Ambrogio, the oldest Tuscan market in Florence, opened in 1873. Now we know all the best vendors at the market. The produce is amazing here, 90% of it is organic.

Market 1

The cheese vendor gave us samples, helped me get the right cheese to recreate an antipasto we loved at a local restaurant and told us where to get the best bread.

Market cheese

The meat vendor kept giving us samples, as well, and the pasta vendor explained to us in Italian how long to cook the fresh pasta we got from him.

Market pasta

That evening Sylvia and Marilyn made an amazing meal prepared totally with ingredients from the market.

market antipasto

market-S and M cooking

market dinner dining

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11, Florence and New York University jointly sponsored a special event in Piazza della Signoria.  Even though I couldn’t understand the Italian parts, it was a lovely and moving program of readings, songs, dance and a candle light vigil.

Peace vigil