Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Italy 2011- Final Days in Florence

Our last days in Florence were spent more casually. Florence is very laid back and has a smaller town feel. Everything was much quieter, the people were less tolerant of tourists and it was much easier to navigate.
On Monday, we went to the Galileo Museum (no photographs allowed) which was very cool for the scientist in me. It was three floors of scientific instruments and discoveries. I quite enjoyed it. Then we made our way to the Mercato Centrale, or Central Market by way of San Lorenzo Market. San Lorenzo Market is the 'street market' for clothes and leather. Florence is known for its leather factory. Some of these stalls are attached to permanent stores and some are temporary and just sell standard tourist trinkets. We meander through...a coat catches my eye.
We make it to the Central Market which is more of a farmers market, filled with stalls of produce, oils, meats, etc for local shoppers.For those of you who follow me on Facebook, it was in this market where the mean Italian man yelled at me (not the one pictured). It was the only 'bad' thing to happen and it wasn't that bad..I am sensitive so it hurt my feelings but that is OK.
We made our way to Nerbone which is a VERY popular spot in the market (every guidebook and travel site mentions it) where Jason stood in line and pointed at what he wanted while I found a spot on the communal benches.And he returned with tripe, pasta and wine. Staples of Italian cuisine.After lunch, we meandered back through the San Lorenzo market and 'happened' back upon the aforementioned coat. To soothe my wounded feelings, I tried it on..and fell in love! Luckily, they haggle. Victory! The tag says it all. (Firenze=Florence)
That evening we had scheduled to participate in a cooking course at the local cooking academy. It was fun, but we had hoped to make pasta..but we did not. But we had a good time regardless. While walking there, I snapped a few photos of the Vecchio bridge The kitchen was professional!Jason tried not to 'do it all' but did get to show off a few skills.One of the finished products, Chicken something....On the way back to the hotel, I got some of my FAVORITE shots of the trip..the lighting was perfect and IMO they turned out well. The Tiber River and Florentine bridges.
The next day we did a bit more sightseeing. First, the Duomo Notice the little white part at the top of the big orange/copper dome...We walked up there..and they didn't exactly plan for elevators during the Renaissance period. So we walked up 463 steps...straight up. It wasn't easy at all. This is a shot of us going down so you get an idea of how small and steep they were.
but once there, we were rewarded with amazing views of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.The first photo of the Duomo from the ground shows this towerFor the pain, he was rewarded with gelato
After this, we visited the Accademia, which houses the original David by Michealango. it was amazing..but of photos allowed. The detail was breath item not to miss if visiting. Then we went through the Uffizi Gallery which houses the Birth of Venus painting among other great works. it too was great.
our last night was spent with the our friend at Pitti Gola e Cantina. he treated us so well and the food was so amazing, that we had to go back. he again showered us with good wine, great food and great company.This steak tartare had sooo much fresh black truffle grated on it..Overall, Italy was awesome. The food was fantastic, the people were inviting and the structures were amazing. it was a great trip. Thank you for reading my blog about it! The trip home was long and tortuous but it was worth it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Italy 2011- Tuscany

We took a day tour in to Tuscany. This was an awesome excursion.
The bus was driven by one of the Mafia's hit men..he was straight out of the Soprano's but in real was accentuated by the fact that he was on the cell phone the ENTIRE trip. You know cell phone talking bus drivers wouldn't last a minute here..but his phone rang constantly and he was on it 95% of the time while driving along small back roads in a huge double door bus. He had skills and we weren't going to question his driving abilities for fear of sleeping with the fishes. I casually snapped a shot of the landscape and 'accidentally' got him in the rear view..oops. ;-)
But we did make it through the day and he smiled at us..even though he was missing many of his teeth.....
anyway..first stop Pisa!
Known for..well..the only thing there really..this is the entire town of PisaThis is surrounded by medieval walls (we have left the Renaissance of Florence and moved to Medieval areas)The Duomo is spectacular..every figure is different and this place was massive!And the main attractionAnd we ARE tourists..and EVERYONE else was doing it.............

So we leave Pisa and head to a winery and olive farm in San Gimignano which is a region of Tuscany near Chianti. the winery is called Sovestro in Poggio which means 'something' on the hill. it was very small and luckily so was our tour group. They gave us a great home cooked lunch and did a wine tasting and olive oil tasting. LinkWe did buy quite a bit of wine and olive oil from this farm.And it was gorgeous..Tuscany is the place I want to return to visit..and of course it was the ONE day it rained. But you get the idea nonetheless.

Then we went to the town of San Gimignano which was very small and medieval. The doors were huge and had massive iron gargoyle knockers. they had a great shop with a lady sewing leather products right there..bought a few items from her. There was also a great overlook of Tuscany.
the last stop of the day was Siena..I also would like to return to explore this little town. Of course, the sun comes out now..better late than never! there is large piazza where they actually still run horses races every year. And of course, the church..this one was probably the most extravagant and over the top of all the churches we saw.This inside was just as marvelous.
That was a big day. I had thought this might be my last blog post..but I think I will save my Florence photos for another post. I got some great night photos, I think. Thank you for sticking with me..I hope you are enjoying my vacation recap!
so again..and for the final time.. To be continued......

Monday, May 23, 2011

Italy 2011-Rome to Florence via Miglia 1000

My third journal entry, if you have missed 1 and 2..scroll down and click on them from the history links to the right. We spent our final day in Rome conquering the bus system (OK so we rode ONE bus)..but it was a feat. We decided to go to the Priscilla Catacombs which lie outside of the city walls. No photos were allowed but there were a lot of ancient nuns and crypts. The paintings on the walls were great and the crypts were definitely chilling..not to mention the catacombs were 55 degrees since we were pretty far below the ground. Since we were in a very non-touristy area, we strolled around and found a local market. Then we found a pizzeria that had EXCELLENT pizza..didn't speak a stitch of English but we just pointed and handed him money. But again..he gave us change and we had no idea we were owed very kind. We took our local eats to a nearby park to enjoy. We saw a bunch of dogs in a whole it is a very dog friendly country (well, the parts we visited). It was 'of note' that all were unaltered and typically mixed breeds but we saw no strays. I did seethe as the strolled past me with their doo-dads..but oh well. ;-)
That night we had a reservation at La Pergola, our first three Michelin Star restaurant (Gordon Ramsey's London was "only" 2).
So we dolled up and posed in front of the Triton fountain in the Barberini Piazza that was outside of our hotel. A funny side note, Jason and i forgot to pack his jacket. The restaurant requires men to wear jackets. So we emailed them and they did have jackets for people to wear..problem is most Italians are not exactly Jason's they didn't have one for him. so we had to go in to every menswear shop and ask fi they had a jacket to fit him..and it wasn't easy...but we finally found one and he is the owner of an Italian sports jacket. After a 15 minute cab ride out of of the city walls and up a mountain, we arrive. And what a view!!!! (the Vatican is to the right..nothing can be built higher than half its height)The Coliseum can be seen next to the large white "Wedding Cake" described in the earlier post.We pose And then sit down on their porch for pre-dinner snacks and drinks (the cheese sticks were awesome!)
Once seated, Jason tries to navigate the wine list..that entire book is just wine. 53,000 different types..we ended up just getting help. Then we did the 9 course meal..they gave us a great printout of our menu and wines before we don't think this came from memory. And I didn't get photos of all of this is just a 'few'
Steak tartare with basil foamScallop with tomato and basil vinaigretteTuna Tartare with green tea sorbetBlack cod with chili pepper sauceFagotelli..which was filled with the most amazing was my favorite of the trip..amazing.Licorice flavored pig shoulder with olive sauceand along with a few other courses not photographed..they hit us with the Grand Dessert..which turned out to be a hundred items..along with all the items on the table (look around..they are everywhere) that little silver box on the right had chocolate truffles and candies in every drawer and it was four sided!Finally..a night cap to enjoy the gorgeous view..and a wheelbarrow to get our stuffed butts down the hill
So that ended our time in Rome, Italy..we traveled to Florence for our next stage. Rome was big and bustling..very much like NYC. Buses were everywhere and a 'quiet meal' was difficult..but it was still awesome and fantastic. and I think 4 days is a great amount of time..we saw everything we wanted too and more.
We arrived in Florence before our room was ready. Our hotel was perfectly located near the Uffizi Gallery and the Piazza signoria where the "Fake David" resides (formerly the location of the real David who now resides in the Accademia)So we get lunch and a gelato
And notice there were metal fences up through the middle of the piazza with a lot of people standing around in them. We asked around and found there was a race coming through Florence. After further questioning, it was a pretty big road race called the 1000 Miglia and was quite the event. Since Jason and I are very interested in cars, we found a spot on the rail and viewed in awe at the cars that passed.
There were over 1000 in the race and after 3 hours, we had to leave to make a dinner reservation.

I also managed to get a video..turn your speakers up and enjoy..they were going slowly through the piazza but would rev their engines for the crowd.

After that cool experience, we went to Pitti Gola E Cantina Wine Bar at the Pitti Palace which was across the famous Vecchio bridge (more photos of that in future posts). They had a wine and cheese tasting on Viator, so we did that. it was awesome. Our host was Zeno, the co-owner of the little store/shop/restaurant. He gathered information about our wines tastes and randomly opened bottles for our and his enjoyment. he gave us a great lesson Italian wines, focusing of course in the Chianti region.All of the cheeses were from a local sheep farm that delivered daily.We tasted a ton of wines over 3 was a great night.
We even had dinner there and after spending that much time with Zeno he made up a meal for us that was phenomenal. Fresh truffles, fresh pasta, and wine to match..we go back later in the week. ;-)
Next entry..our trip in to Tuscany- Pisa, Siena, San Gimignono, and a Tuscan vineyard.
to be continued......