Monthly Archives: September 2015

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.


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.


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 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

The Big Three

Think of Florence and you probably think of the David, the Uffizi and the Duomo. Today we took our friend to all three. We started the morning with a visit to the Duomo, probably the most recognizable site in the Florentine landscape. Although almost everyone calls it the Duomo, it’s official name is the Catterdrale di Santa Maria del Fiore.   It is a beautiful symbol of the confidence of the Florentines. When they built the Duomo, no one had the technology to build a dome, so they left a big hole in the roof. Before long, Filippo Brunelleschi built the beautiful dome we see today.  The marble facade was added in the late 1800s.


Our next stop was the Galleria dell’Accademia to see its star attraction-Michelangelo’s David.  The beautiful seventeen-foot tall statue of the Biblical David who slew Goliath stands at the end of the first hallway you enter.  Scholars don’t agree if the statue depicts David before or after he defeated Goliath, but I think it is before his victory because his expression is thoughtful not victorious.

DavidOur last visit of the day was the Galleria degli Uffizi, home of the greatest collection of Italian painting anywhere.  We focused on Medieval and Renaissance painters.  The ceiling below is part of an addition to the Uffizi and uses 6,000 shells to achieve its luminous glow.









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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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

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.