Florence Day 7, then Day 8 – Tuscany!

Sep 24

Florence Day 7, then Day 8 – Tuscany!

So yesterday was Sunday and it was a really boring day. We walked around the streets of Florence for awhile looking for a nice cafe to sit at and write in our journals while drinking cappuccinos. The place we wanted to go was unfortunately closed (big surprise, it being Sunday and all). We wandered around our area then down to the Ponte Vecchio and over to the Duomo. The cafes near the tourist spots were crowded and expensive. We stopped at one spot for sandwiches and water then continued searching. By 4pm we gave up and headed back to the apartment to write. Well, at least we got some walking in…

Today ROCKED! Ryder surprised me with plans to go horseback riding in Tuscany through vineyards and olive groves as an early one year anniversary present!! We got up early and walked down to one of the piazza’s to get picked up for the tour. Our guide, Jacapo, was super friendly and talkative. He drove 8 of us in a van out into the country. We switched vans and continued on to the horse stables. The ride was a bit crazy and the road really curvy and rutty.

We burst out of the shaded, walled city scape into breathtaking Tuscany with rolling hills and valleys full of vineyards, orchards, and dotted with ancient stone villas. We stopped at the stables, looking out over acres and acres of vineyards, orchards, and forest. We met the other people in our tour – there was a couple from London who had come over just for the weekend, another couple from D.C. who had been traveling through Italy for 2 weeks, a gal from Florida who had been traveling for a month, and another gal from New York who was also visiting for 2 weeks! Everyone was super friendly and we all hit it off splendidly.

We were fitted with helmets and then introduced to our horses. Ryder got on the first horse named Naomi who lead the pack of tourists, next were the couple from London, then came me on Danny. The gal who set me up on my horse said, “If he stops, give him a hard kick.” Well, lucky me, I got the MOST lazy horse of the group. At every single hill, Mr. Danny decided to come to a dead stop and eat some grass or stare lazily ahead. All of my kicking and talking to him hardly made a dent! He would only move when the tour guide at the back of the line shouted, “Danny! Vai!” and the occasional, “Danny! Mamma mia, impossibile!” Silly horse. Well, he was very friendly and easy otherwise. We had such a grand time climbing up and down the hills along side the grape vines.

We finished the horse section of the tour at the Villa le Corti where we were served a three course Italian meal complete with two glasses of wine to taste. We sat with Lisa from New York, Daniela from Florida, and our tour guide Jacapo. The food was as excellent as the company and we all shared a bottle of our favorite wine. After the meal, we went on a tour of the wine production facility.

This winery is famous for its Chianti Classico, a type of Tuscan wine that can only be considered true Chianti if it is grown in this specific area of Tuscany; just like Champagne in France. The Chianti Classico is a blend of 85% Sauvignon and 15% Merlot grown from 49 hectares of vineyards. It is fermented and aged in the seventeenth century cellars located in the large rooms built beneath the villa garden. The house blend of the Chianti Classico is aged in large concrete vats, much to our surprise. The “good stuff” is aged in French and American oak.

The olive oil mill is also located below the gardens. We were able to get a tour of these facilities as well. The Chianti Classico DOP Extra Virgin olive oil is made from hand-picked olives grown from 13,000 trees. The olives are pressed within twelve hours of harvest and the olive oil is certified organic. They had only two jars left over from the 2011 harvest and are geared up to press the 2012 harvest beginning next month.

After the tour we were able to purchase a bottle of wine and then were taken back to Florence. The tour was really fantastic and lots of fun! Later in the evening, Lisa and Daniela came by for some pasta and salad dinner! We stayed up talking until midnight, drinking wine, and having such a fun time! We hope to have more adventures with them in the next few days.

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Florence Day 5 & 6

Sep 22

Florence Day 5 & 6

Yesterday we spent some time hanging around the flat. At around 2pm we decided to walk over to the Accademia delle Belle Arte where the famous David sculpture by Michelangelo resides. We hoped to purchase reserved tickets at the box office for the museum instead of going through a third party. When we arrived there were two queue lines, one for entrance with a ticket at a certain time and one without a ticket. We got into the without-a-ticket line as it looked rather short and thought, “We’ll we’re here, might as well try and check it out today.” A lady came down the line and informed us that for only € 20.00 each, she could help us by-pass the line we were in that could take 2 hours and bump us up to the with-a-ticket line. We declined, decided we didn’t want to wait 2 hours, and walked up to the ticket booth instead.

Much to our surprise, we were able to purchase tickets at € 15.00 each for the next entrance time at 2:45pm, yay! We stood in line for about 15 minutes and met a couple next to us who were from Melbourne, Australia. They had quit their jobs and were traveling just like us! They had flown west across Asia, stopping in Dubai, then on to Europe. It was really interesting to meet another couple doing the same thing as us! They plan to spend time in France over winter as the gal was able to land a job at one of the ski resorts. We wished them luck and headed into the museum.

Most of the paintings and sculptures in the Accademia delle Belle Arti are from the Renaissance period. Among them sits the original David by Michelangelo, a monumental sculpture, that has been housed in this museum since 1873. David was created between 1501 and 1504 and stands at 17 ft. tall. The statue represents the Biblical hero David after he’s defeated the Goliath. It truly is a masterpiece of high Renaissance work. We were both struck by the shear size of the sculpture and the delicate attention to detail. We weren’t too impressed with much else in the gallery, apart from a handful of unfinished sculptures also by Michelangelo, but that could be because we have seen SO MANY PAINTINGS on this trip.

We exited the gallery and headed back out into the streets towards our next destination, Santa Croce. Our main reason for visiting Santa Croce was to see the robes of Saint Francis of Assissi but we learned (thanks to Google) on the way there that the robes themselves were carbon dated at 100 years too early to be worn by St. Francis but the robe tie matched the correct time period. We were delighted to find out the basilica houses the crypts of Machiavelli, Galileo, and Michelangelo, among other famous Italian Glories. The church was about to close by the time we made our rounds so we headed home for some yummy Italian pasta.

This is Ryder now, for today’s post.

Well, there has been construction next door going on all week starting at 7am. Last night we rejoiced that in the morning, since it would be Saturday, we would be able to sleep in without being woken up to debris crashing through a make-shift three story garbage shaft at a consistent interval of 1 minute and 45 seconds.

Little did we know that Italians don’t stop construction just because it’s the weekend.

I severely hope they take Sunday off, just like all of the rest of Italy does, so we can get some good sleep in the morning. It didn’t help that “Italians” (ok, fine, fine, I’ll stop generalizing. “Italians in Florence that happen to walk by our street at 2am”) kept us up by yelling and partying on our street late into the night.

But we’re loving Florence, I promise.

We slept in, as much as we could, today before heading off to the Mercato Centrale to see what that was all about and get supplies for dinner and food tomorrow.

Four Euros and twenty cents. That’s all it took to buy:

  • One crown of broccoli
  • One head of butter lettuce
  • Two bunches of spinach
  • Three huge golden delicious apples
  • Three nectarines
  • A large yellow, and partly green, bell pepper
  • Two tomatoes
Definitely found where we’ll be buying all of our groceries for the rest of our time in Florence.

In the market, we found a place that sold freshly made pasta. We were stoked on finding that place and picked up way too much tortellini for two people to eat in one night for 4.65 euro.
Again, the market was just about to close as we finished our shopping (or was it we finished our shopping just as the market was about to close?). Getting to places just in time seems to be happening to us more often these days as our sleeping schedule has shifted a little thanks to Mr. Noisy Construction Company two doors down. We ate pizza slices we purchased from the market, I grabbed a cappuccino and Amanda had some water, and we headed back home to rest and do some work. We made a huge salad with our market spoils and cooked half of the tasty tortellini for dinner. Sleepytime!
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Florence Day 4

Sep 20

Florence Day 4

We booked tickets to tour the Duomo for today, requiring us to be up and at the church by 9:45am. Ryder rolled me out of bed at 8:45am, we had breakfast, and walked down to the Duomo. The cathedral was built over a 170 year span beginning in the 13th century. Made to rival the cathedrals of Pisa and Siena, the Duomo is quite a site to behold.

 

The famous dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in just 16 years. When we arrived about a thousand people were already milling about in the Piazza del Doumo at the entrance as the cathedral did not open until 10am. We discovered, after talking to a cathedral guard, that entrance to the church is free…

Side note: In Italy, well at least in Florence, most tourist destinations do not have their own online websites and if they do, you cannot purchase tickets in advance through them. All tickets for touring sites have to be purchased through third parties if you want to avoid the lines or through the Italian government website which, according to Rick Steves, is a waste of time.

…. so we got in line at the dome, hoping the tickets we purchased weren’t a waste of good money! Luckily, the tickets were for the dome so we entered the side of the cathedral and immediately up steep flights of stairs, some winding and some flat, to the absolute top of the dome!

We couldn’t believe it! Along the way, we walked along a very narrow catwalk that ran along the base of the great dome on the inside, giving us an up close view of the amazing painting on the inside of the dome. The fresco was created by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari between 1572 and 1579, and depicts the Last Judgement. It was entirely restored between 1978 and 1994 and covers 3,600 square meters of space.

After a few claustrophobic moments (well for me at least) we climbed the last bit of steps and up to the top! We could see all of Florence from our view and even into the hills of Tuscany. Everything was red roofs and green hills set against a deep blue sky. I couldn’t believe how high we were! We took some photos and walked the circumference. On the way down there was lots of crowding and a bit of a bottle neck, as those coming down had to go the same route as those going up! Not the most comfortable. When we reached the bottom, we exited the church to get some lunch and our daily gelato before touring the Baptistry of San Giovanni.

We made our way to the Baptistry just as it was opening and were able to get in with the first group. The baptistry is the oldest building in the square, the original thought to have been erected in the 5th or early 6th century AD. Interestingly enough, tradition holds that the baptistry was once a Roman temple because the spacial arrangement recalls the Pantheon and it is enriched with pillars and carvings taken from ancient monuments. The floor, however, looks Islamic while the mosaics of the dome reveal Byzantine art influence. We wandered around the interior, taking photos, and then made our way out.

We could see a large open air market from the top of the dome and decided to head that way. The market was full of stall selling everything leather, scarves, and some odds and ends. We poked around a bit, bought a few things, then went back to the apartment for a bit.

We went out again to another cafe around 2pm. We stopped at a market to purchase food for dinner, walked back to home base, made a good meal of pasta and are now relaxing for the night!

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Florence Day 3

Sep 19

Florence Day 3

It rained all day today. We woke to the soft sound of rain outside the window and the loud screech of construction two apartments down. Because of the rain, we stayed in and watched a show, read, worked, and lounged about.

In the mid-afternoon we ventured out to a cafe a few blocks down for some cappuccinos. While we sat talking and drinking the warm beverages on the second floor of the cafe, the sweet sounds of an accordion drifted through the open window along with the soft patter of rain. It was very magical and romantic 🙂

It started to pour as we made our way back, but became a slight drizzle by the time the sun set. We hadn’t gotten in our daily gelato fix, so after dinner we made our way back toward the Duomo for dessert!

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Florence Day 2

Sep 18

Florence Day 2

Today we got a bit of a late start. We decided to walk from our flat down to the river and make our way to the famous Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square) which offers panoramic views of Florence. On the way, we checked out shops and crossed the river at the Ponte Vecchio.

We got a little lost and ended up at an entrance to the famous Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens). The area was set to close at 5:30pm, giving us enough time to explore the gardens and exhibits in the Palazzo Pitti. The gardens were a bit overgrown, but beautiful the closer we got to the palace. The view of Florence was the best we’d seen, with the dome of the Duomo rising above the city. We entered the palace and toured a few exhibits, including the Galleria del Costume in the Museo degli Argenti. This exhibit housed clothing from various era’s and included a section dedicated to the Native American’s of the United States. It was very interesting to see the point of view of Native American’s from a foreign country’s perspective.

We left the Palace and gardens, back the way we had come, and ventured down a steep road toward the Piazzale. Around a bend, and up another street brought us to a very large and steep flight of steps to the top of the Piazzale. Ryder and I decided to race to the top of the steps and of course he beat me, but I did sprint ahead for a second! At the top, the views were spectacular!! We spent some time admiring the view and exploring the little stalls full of tourist trinkets set along the sides of the Piazzale. In the center, we found a large bronze replica of the Michelangelo’s Statue of David sculpture accompanied by a few Florentine artists painting the cityscape. As the sun began to sink below the horizon we made our way back to the apartment for the night.

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Florence Day 1

Sep 17

Florence Day 1


We both woke up a bit later than planned this morning and had to scramble to be packed and out of the hotel on time. We said goodbye to the Westin Palace in Milan and walked back to the train station. We had a quick breakfast at the station and some gelato (oh Italian gelato, how you tempt us and win every time!) before boarding the train for Florence. I must take a moment to mention how utterly fantastic every single scrap of food is in Italy!! Even packaged pastas and salads taste like manna from heaven!! Everything in eateries is fresh, cooked to order, and so positively delectable! But, I digress.

The train ride was about an hour and 45 minutes. On the train, we received an email from our airbnb host, telling us that he would pick us up at the station! We reached Florence, gathered our belongings, and schlepped off the train. There to greet us at the end of the platform was a smiling Italian gentleman named Paolo with a big sign that read RYDER. Paolo is the reason we fell immediately in love with Florence! He was so kind, bringing us groceries to get us started and helping us bring our bags into his flat that we are renting for two weeks! After showing us the ropes, we bid Paolo goodbye, hoping to see him later in the week for dinner, and spent some time reading and relaxing in the flat. Around 6pm we ventured out for dinner.


Our flat is located right in the heart of Florence, only a 12 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio! We found a nice little eatery a few blocks down for dinner. I had a yummy salad and Ryder some real Italian pizza! Then we strolled through the streets towards the river, taking in the cobble stone streets, tiny walkways, and the bustling sounds that are Florence. The river was wide and very far down from the street level. We meandered down the road and finally caught a glimpse of the Ponte Vecchio! Well, I saw it, poor Ryder broke his glasses and I accidentally left the broken half in Germany, so he is a little blind at the moment in one eye.

We crossed another bridge and made our way to the famous Ponte Vecchio and the crowd of jewelry shops that line its main street. The bridge was a bit busy with tourists taking photos and Italians hurrying by on bicycles. The sun was setting over the river, turing the sky pale pink and soft yellow. From the other side of the bridge we could just make out the Duomo thrusting high above the block buildings the line the streets. We decided to walk there next.

Before we made it to the Duomo, we came upon an old building that looked to be part of a castle. The inside was full of painted mosaics and frescos. A sign read Ponte Vecchio Museo. We ventured into the atrium for a look at the frescos, then continued onto the Duomo. Of course the Duomo was closed this late at night, but it looked like something out of a story book. Lines of green and white stone paint patterns along the walls meeting rows of friezes and statutes. The dome itself is still the color of natural red brick, bringing it out in stark contrast to the rest of the building. We walked almost entirely around the building, soaking up its awesome hight and size.

We made our way back to our flat after that. I took a shower and unpacked while Ryder worked. All in all, a very successful first day in Florence!

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Interlaken Day 3 & Milano, Italy!

Sep 16

Interlaken Day 3 & Milano, Italy!

Looks like we are about three days behind, sorry bout that folks! Well quick update on Ryder: He is doing better, still got the cough, but we are taking it easy and he is ready to start touring again once we get to Florence! Yippeee!! Ok back to where we left off:

 

 

Friday, Sept 14: We woke up to clear skys in Interlaken!! For the first time we were able to see the peaks of the mountains surrounding this gorgeous valley. The photos really don’t do the place justice! We woke up early enough to see the sun rise over the mountains and set to packing up our luggage. We grabbed a quick breakfast, locked our luggage in a cubby at the hostel, then headed out to the train station for Grindelwald. Grindelwald is a small village further into the Alps and is the gateway to the highest point in Europe, Jungfrau.

The train ride only took about thirty minutes, passing through canyons, along rivers, and beside the gigantic Alps. Really, the views were breathtaking. We stepped off the train in Grindelwald and our jaws dropped. The mountains surrounding the village were so large and so far above us they looked slightly blue against the sun. We wondered around the main part of town for a few hours, stopping in shops along the way. I purchased a new backpack with better support straps from a outdoor/hiking store. All too soon we were back on the train heading back to Interlaken. When we reached Interlaken, we headed back to the hostel to picked up our luggage then made our way back to the train station for our train to Milan. We had to get off and change trains in Spiez.

While walking down the platform toward our part of the train in Spiez, we stumbled upon a couple who we knew through mutual friends that had also gone to Cal Poly! It was such a nice shock to see familiar faces!! We spent some time chatting, discussing our travel plans with each other. Once the train arrived, we said our farewells, and hopped on our car. They were headed directly to Rome from Milan while we are staying in Milan for a few days. The train ride was long, but relaxing. Our first view of Italy was a beautiful lake with large islands in the center covered by old buildings. So very Italian! We arrived at the train station in Milan around 4pm. The station is a lovely building, modeled after Roman architecture. We walked about five blocks to our hotel and settled in for the night.

Saturday, September 15: We didn’t do too much yesterday. We ventured out for some lunch as we had slept through breakfast, wandered back to the train station to purchase some SIM cards for our phones since we will be staying in Italy for awhile, and spent the afternoon searching for places to stay in Florence. We are looking to rent a flat… No luck so far. We skyped with a few friends and family, eating dinner from the local grocery store (MUCH cheaper, but still excellent food!).

Sunday, September 16: Today we had breakfast in the hotel and went out for lunch later. It was really hard to find any restaurants that were open today as it’s Sunday; everything is closed on Sunday. We spent a few ours on the 8th floor terrace, enjoying the view and relaxing (me reading, Ryder working). Venturing further out from our hotel for dinner, we discovered a busy main thoroughfare full of people shopping. Again, hardly any restaurants open, but we did find a pizzeria and gelateria! Yippee! Interestingly enough, the main street had crowded sidewalks and crowded streets, but instead of car congestion, it was bicycle congestion! Ryder and I couldn’t believe all of the people biking for transportation! There were hardly any cars!! It was quite a wonderful sight to behold. We walked back to the hotel and are relaxing for the rest of the evening 🙂

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