Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Last Day

June 27, 2009 1:05P.M.

After being humiliated by the fey flight attendant over a pen, I can write my final Italian entry. At the moment I am flying 536mph and 34,000 feet over the Adriatic Sea. The country I've spent three weeks hiking and enjoying recedes behind me. Yet, it won't be so easily forgotten. I wish I had thought to bring a pedometer to calculate the number of mile I've covered on this exploration. It feels like I walked from Rome to Venice and back. But the blistered feet and cracked heels do nothing to belittle getting to see Italy for myself.

The unique charms of the Cinque Terra town as they clutch to the rock face, the rolling hills and colors of Tuscany, the innate charm of the watery Venice, and the modern bustle of the ancient Rome were all as promised. Even the weather cooperated for the entire trip to make this an unforgettable foray across the Italian shores.

In the words of Ceasar, "Veni Vidi Vici". I too have come, seen, and conquered so much. It will always be Bella Italia.

I have arrived at 10:50P.M. Italy time. 4:50P.M. in the ATL. I have arrived with everything I left with. No one made any strange advances or even looked at us crosswise. We felt completely safe walking down dark dank alleys at all hours throughout Italy. My fears before the trip seem to be completely unfounded.

But I think I had to go through that period of trepidation in order to come out on the other end unscathed and completely in love with Italy. However, I never had that "Let's buy a villa and runaway to Italy" feeling come over me. I think I am too enamored with comforts to do that just now. Some day though, my feelings may change.

Gordon wants to try Greece or southern France next year. Hmmm

Day Nineteen

June 26, 2009 6:15P.M.

Nicola was just by to finalize things. She was kind enough to call us a taxi for tomorrow at 7A.M. (*GASP*). We whined about several things - the scaffolding blocking our view, the workers clanging at 7:00A.M., and not letting up for any possible nap, plus the seepage coming in from the windows that soaked all our souveniers- in hopes of a rebate. No such luck. I'll proably write to Ernesto to see if he will do anything for us.

Gordon just finished the evil business of paking. I'm listening to BBC once again explain how Michael Jackson died. How touching that he couldn't live in a world without Farrah Fawcett. We're going downstairs for a drink. Then maybe we'll see Angels and Demons as our last Roman Hurrah.

Today we didn't accomplish much. We planned for the Archeobus to take us out to the Appian Way. We were all coffeed and ready at the Piazza Venezia stop by 9A.M. awaiting the first bus. Yeah right. We heard from the red bus that the green bus no longer stops here at this stop. We have to race over to the Colloseo stop a half mile away and still have to wait 25 minutes. Strange business.

The ride was uninspiring to say the leat. The sporadic narration was garbled. We got off at the last stop. Walked on the original portion of the Roman Road to Herod's tribute to his wife Cecilia Metella. After he was cleaered of her death he wanted to show how much he loved her. Kinda like OJ.

Next came the worst decision of the entire trip. We both were really interested in ancient acquaduct park. Thus follows the torturous two hours of our lives. Two miles alongside speeding cars and skirting death around every corner we arrive in a very unnervy part of town. The park was full of graffiti and hardly had anyone in it.

We eat our paninis quickly while we ogle the shirtless jogger resting not far away. Then we walk back the same 2 miles again. We grab a lemon soda and an arancia fanta then go look at dead people.

The catacombs of San Sebastini were very interesting. As I strolled through the resting places of ancient Christians I had to wonder if 2,000 years from now will folks wander through our cemetaries in awe?

We only had to wait 5 minutes for the bus which we have to ride all the way to Termini since they no longer stop at Bocca della Verite. Grrrr. We hop on the No. 64 bus and get to use our Roma Pass finally.

Naps, showers, pack and Nicola. We tried that theater she suggested to see A&D but it's no longer showing the movie. Durn. So we wander around and decide on a place for dinner. I try carbonara and saltimbocca. Both were good.

the phone alarms are now set and the BBC still broadcasts MJ's demise. More tomorrow en route.

Day Eighteen

June 25, 2009 9:00P.M.

Tomorrow we're planning an early start, so I wanted to get a head start on this entry. It's been a semi-castle day since most of it was spent on a bus.

We got our cappuccino's this morning from our Piazza Eustachio. We paid only to stand at the counter today. I almost forgot there was a difference in prices for sitting at tavolos.

As we finished who do we literally walk right into? Allison and Bryson. It must be fate. We caught up with all that had gone on since we parted in Tuscany. A flood in Elba, train rerouted, disfavor with Milan, and the first impressions of our Rome streets (scary!) We walk towards the Piazza Navona to leave them at an Internet Spot. Then proceed to walk past them no less than six times. We couldn't figure out where the sightseeing bus stop was located.

With much relief we locate it 200 meters from where the Information Desk guy said it was. We ride this thing for two hours past sights seen and not. At one stop I wasn't properlly wedged in while I was taking a picture and almost flipped over the edge from a sudden stop.

We ride it through over to the Borghese Gardens stop. Picking up some paninis and lemon soda we explore the scruffy area. The lake, with boat (batiche?) rentals was the best. We walk back to the Spanish Steps in daylight. Then on back t the apartment for a nap.

If you can believe it we ride the sightseeing bus again. This time for different kinds of pictures. We were going to get off at Bocca della Verite for the famous Moment of Truth statue. But arrived too late. We ride the bus all the way back to Navona. Then drop off camera and change into long pants. We sit around til 7 P.M. then head off to a restaurant Gordon had noticed on Tuesday.

Thinking about the name, That's Amore, you would think the place would be complete kitsch. Well it did have candle dripped Chianti bottles and piped in Dean Martin. But the food was really good. The fettuccini tartufo nero and the grilled sausage were huge hits. We ended the fine feast with a a spot of limoncello and talks of what we'll take away from this trip.

Way too many memories, that's for sure.

Day Seventeen

June 25, 2009 11:43A.M.

I'm late in writing today. We tried to stay in bed as long as possible even with the workers dropping everything possible.

Yesterday was set aside for Ancient Rome Day. We were set to tour the Collosseum, Palantine Hill, and the Forum.

Once again Rick Steves was right with his advice on how to skip lines. With our Roma Pass in hand we strut past the throngs of sweaty tourists standing in line. The colloseo was great. you could almost hear the screams for blood and hear the cries of lions and the poor as teach was slaughtered for entertainment.

Palantine Hill was kind of boring so we found a spot overlooking the Colloseo for lunch. Then back in to finish up the Forum. Our last Rick Steves audio.

Since it's only about 2, we trot on over to the Quirinale and the National Museums of Rome. The Diocletian Baths were closed.

On the way back we decide to attempt the Trevi. Vicky was right in her assessment that it would be packed. We muscle our way up to the fountain in order to toss our coins. 20 cents for each.

Back to the apartment for nap and shower.

Oops, wait! We decide on an antipasti outside of the Pantheon. Expensive stuff.

We walk all th eway down Via Del Corso to the Poppolo for our last Angels and Demons tour. It was closed. We wander back to the Spanish Steps for some night time shots.

Dinner was pizza (with a hard boiled egg on it) and beer. Then gelato over the Fontane di Trevi at night. Such an experience.

Day Sixteen

June 24, 2009 8:54A.M.

Awaken to clangs and bangs outside our window. They're doing something to the building. Scaffolding blocks our view of the Pantheon. It hasn't mattered since we've been getting up early anyway. But today was a no rush one. We're up now.

Yesterday was a Vatican Day. Five horus and almost 300 pictures later I'm exhausted. Robert Langdon (Angels and Demons) was right. The Vatican owns a LOT of stuff.

We got there early in hopes of seeing Jim, Julie, and Allison for their 9:15 time. We figured out we were in the totally wrong spot for our tour. Scramble around a bit and discover the right location in time.Thankfully the reserved ticket line was much shorter. We start right off making our way to the Sistine Chapel. Through the Tapestry Room, through the Map Room, through the Candelabra Room (don't laugh), to reach our destination. A constant announcement reminded us that taking pictures was strictly forbidden. It was kind of hard to hear it though, what with all the shutter clicks and flashes going off.

After the Vatican Museums we take the shortcut to St. Peter's and get to skip security. (Take the Right exit as you leave Michaelangelo's masterpiece). Tour the pope's tombs and then step inside the Basillica. Oh My God - literally. the place was extravagant. Our final stop was the Cupola. Elevator only half way, crazy slanting walls and tight stairways the rest. But the view...oh! the view.

Castel du Sant Angelo was next. The Illuminati Lair. We toured all through this and even climbed to the Terrazza for a bite to eat. Finally eat cannoli. While I'm at it also cross off two people kissing on both cheeks, two Italian men holding arms, and nuns taking cigarette breaks. No, not really. But there does seem to be a priest on every corner.

Head back towards the apartment to tour the Pantheon. Then take a nap before dinner. Tonight's recommendation took us over the river into the yuppie Trastevere. Strange juxtapositioning of upwardly mobiles surrounded by heavily graffited walls.

After dinner we make the trek out to see the Cooloseum at night. Went the right way this time. Finally back to bed.

Day Fifteen

June 23, 2009 8:11A.M.

Eight hours on a train with every screaming child in Italy and no food spells = FUN! It was sad not to enjoy another catered breakfast, but we had a train to catch early. The station's cafe was odd. You have to stand in one long line to get a ticket to go stand in another long line. Confusion. I grab some apples and croissants to go with our cappuccino and board. It was supposed to be a four hour train ride. A littl down the coast and then turn inwards to cut across Italy to reach Rome. Thought it was odd when we just kept traveling down the coast. They made announcements over the intercom, but since they were all in Italian we didn't pay any attention. Well, not until the locals that surrounded us in 2nd class started making complaint noises. No idea what is going on. We turn on the gps and find our location is no where near we were are supposed to be. When it hits the six hour point I go to find the food cart. It's seven carrozza's back. After I push my way through all the legs and luggage in the aisle to get there I am told they have absolutely no food left. Not even a crumb or a can of Pringles. Oh, they have water though. Apparently those announcements in Italian alerted all the Italian speakers that it was going to be a long ride and they all invaded the food cart long before I show up. I am quite sad.

We finally made it to Rome and walk 45 minutes to the apartment to meet with our city manager, Nicola. The entire flat is no bigger than our bedroom at home. Allison was right. The pantry, complete with micro wave and 2 stove hubs sits on top of a small fridge. it's still bigger than our old place in the Marina district.

We wander off to Piazza Navona for dinner in front of Bellini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (that's and Angels and Demons stop if you recall). Then decide to see the Colloseo at night.

After walking in circles hopelessly for an hour we call it a night. After stepping over the drunk hobo lady on our stoop that is.

Day Fourteen

June 22, 2009 7:33A.M.

It was nice to be able to wake when we wanted. Took our time then went down for breakfast. A spread sort of like in Monterosso. Except the cappuccino comes from a push button machine and only fills half the cup. Eventhough I complained a lot, I miss the little Asian lady from Cinque Terra bringing us those cups full of a rich thick foam. A trade off, I guess.

Gordon and I walked over to the train station to see how long it would take us and to get our tickets for Monday. Good thing too, it was packed again.

Next was the Vaporetto No.1. This route travels from the train station, down the Grand Canal, and out to the airport. Takes about an hour one way. Rick Steves led us down the lane of decaying palaces. It was a nice ride, so nice we took it all the way back.

I noticed something on this boat. There is a vast difference between workers here and in America. Here you get hunky adult men who work as basically bus drivers. Now where in America can you find that?

Back to the room for a camera battery, then off to explore the Carnareggio area. We eat lunch in the garden of an osteria underneath grape vines, actual grape vines. At 2:30 they kick us out. First time that's happened.

After more walking we grab the closest bald muscular gondolier and take a 30 minute 80 euro ride around San Paolo area. It was an extreme leisurely pace and not as romantic as I expected. Weird having tons of people take our picture.

San Marco and Rick Steves had a date next. We wandered the square for an hour listening to his audio. We thought about climbing the campignale and once we heard that a lift takes you up, we grabbed it. The view did not disappoint.

since it's about 5:45 at this point we check into seeing the Basillica but it closed at 5. Run over to the Doge's Palace and are barred entrance. Apparently it takes two hours to go through before they close at 7. They won't let us in at 6. Oy!

So off to the hotel to hang out. Today wasn't well planned so Gordon suggested we do up one for our stay in Rome. He slept while I devised. It wasn't that hard since there's still so much to see.

We're both foot worn and exhausted from 13 days of non stop that we decide to venture out only for dinner. The concierge recommends a few places. One is too far, the other menu doesn't appeal. We end up at a local pizza joint where the waiter defintiely showed preferance to the locals.

One more gelato and off to LaLa Land.

Day Thirteen

June 21, 2009 9:25A.M.

Yep, I'm in Venice eating breakfast at Hotel Ca'D'Oro. Amongst the comforts again. No stairs, hair dryers, grocery stores, no stairs, elevators, buses (well, vaporettos), no driving, and no stairs.

We ended up leaving Allison behind at the castle because it was 6:45. Time to leave the parking lot. It's a good thing we left then. Crazy trying to drive thru Florence with tons of one ways.

Drop Jim and Julie at the train station then struggle to get back to Avis. We arrive there about 7:45 and have to wait for them to open. Anxious moments of, "Will we make the train?" ensue. Get checked out, they never mention the dented bumper, and race to the stazione only to wait in another line for tickets. Get to the window and are told 2nd class is full. Have to pay extra but it was worth it to get to Venizia 3 hours earlier. The train pulls in and Gordon says I have 5 minutes to find cappuccino. Being driven by mad coffee cravings I do it and we board in time.

The 3 hour trip was uneventful except for the rain and Gordon finishing Angels and Demons. We drive across Golfe di Venizia and enter the watery city.

I have found where all the tourists are. They're at the Venice train station. This place is mobbed with people. Well, the five cruise ships in the harbor probably don't help. We make our way thru the crowds, up and over seven bridges, until 45 minutes later and one nice shopkeeper full of directions we find the hotel tucked in some obscure alley.

Since it was only noon they were nice enough to let us have our room. the canal view is there and it's okay. I didn't heaer the angels trumpet when I threw open the shutters though.

What happens next involves six hours of constant walking. From the Rialto Bridge to San Marco, to Accademia to Gritti Palace and back. My feet are kililng me from all the topsy turvy concrete blocks. Venice is HUGE!

Naps before dinner aren't unheard of on this vacation. We take the concierge's recommendation for dinner. I've been cold all day so we moved inside. Check two more things off my Italian To Do List: Risotto (with shrimp, yum!) and Tiramisu (Uck!).

Back to Rialto and San Marco. So glad we did because these two sights lit up were fantastic. Especially since Saint Mark's Square was FLOODED! I got some shots of folks splashing through the above-ankle deep water. Hotel then sleep.

Day Twelve

June 20, 2009 6:08A.M.

The dreaded moment has arrived. Saying goodbye to the Castle Sweet Castle. This is going to be hard. I am just glad we got to spend an entire week here in Tuscany. We all agreed that this type of trip is preferable to a tour. Following an umbrella is not my idea of a vacation.

Yesterday was our last full day. G&G and J&J stayed for a castle day this time. Allison and Bryson headed off for the Boboli Gardens. We asked reception if we cuold view various rooms in Montegufoni and they were more than happy to drag us around.

La Grotto was first and the best. Amazingly detailed paintings covered every surface. La Cuppola was next and had more of a castle feel, but that domed ceiling was beautiful. Finally the Torre room. I wanted to go all the way up the tower but it was covered in pigeon poop.

Afterwards we walked around the vineyards. Looking at the baby grapes gave me a deeper appreciation of the hard constant work that goes into wine making.

Naptime was next. We awoke in time to leave for another tour. This time it was for Frattoria San Michele a Torri. A local award wining vino e olio factory. This wine tour just felt different than any other. More real somehow. It ended with deep rich olive oil drizzled generously over bruschetta and pomodoro. The guide also put out some amazing meats. We left with bottles for dinner and a case sent home. Really good Chianti Classico.

Our final dinner at Castello di Montegufoni was a quiet affair. Each already reminiscing about one helluva vacation. Promises to return next year were made. Happy places built. And lasting friendships made.

Arreverderci Toscana!

Things to Remember from Tuscany

June 19, 2009 11:00P.M.

- Julie having to complete online coursework
-Mosquito wars
-GPS voice
-Best food was at castle
-2A.M. wine chats
-Renaming places we couldn't pronounce
-Hot Nights
-King of the Castle
-One charger
-Castle Days
-Both Jim/Gordon reading the same book
-Pastry runs
-Noot sauce
-To Go Cups

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Day Eleven

June 19, 2009 11:15A.M.

Allison and Bryson opted for a castle day today. G&G and J&J drove off to Lucca as the final jot on our itinerary. Driving without having to coordinate three cars goes much faster.

We find the train station and park. We don’t know any better and enter the city through a set of steps in a tunnel. Not realizing one of the main entrances was right down the road. Oh, well. Looking at a map we realize we have to cut a swarth straight through the city for bike rentals.

Plodding along we pass Piazza di Napoleone and Piazza San Michele and old Roman Forum. Great little city to stroll around in. We choose three neon green and one bright pink bike to use for an hour.

Amazing! Simply amazing way to see a city. It was so fantastic on a flat surface that encompasses the entire city. Feel the breezes blow past your face as you ride through canopies of green. Smell the fresh mown grass and stop at a fountain for a refreshing drink.

After two rotations it was already time to bring them back. Next we find the Roman Amphitheater, a circular grouping of homes. We eat lunch then make our way to Torre Guigni. The one with trees growing on the roof. Spectacular views, again.

It’s about 3:30 now and our stamina is wearing down, so we head back. At the castle Allison relates her day in Montespertoli and an Italian hair salon. Also the fun to be see at the pool.

Dinner was ordered from the restaurant. All of our favorites, ravioli nocce, penne pesto, and grilled sausages. Don’t forget the wine. All four bottles of it. We sat around the table just laughing, sharing, and chatting. Julie and I were up til 2A.M.!

Day Ten

June 18, 2009 8:37A.M.

Time seems to do funny things in Italy. Days appear to fly by but then it feels like we've been here since 119 A.D. I'm enjoying this trip mostly because it is living up to my expectations and then keeps going. The sky has been blue, the birds singing. The fellow travelers have yet to be obnoxious or whiny or inconsiderate. Who knows, though. In the next two days it may all turn sour like year old milk. Somehow I doubt it though.

Our plans for Pisa yesterday went off with only a few hitches. The accident, horrible car and trailer wreck, that held us up a bit on the highway. Then the tiny spits of rain as we climbed the Leaning Tower. Everything else, perfetto.

We start off with pictures in front of the tower. The quintessential holding it up ones. And the one for school of all the CHES teachers reading a book, travel guides in this case. The new principal asked us to send her a picture of teachers reading. Thought this one was fun.

Our tickets to climb the tower weren't until 2P.M. and it was still only noon. We all broke off but ended up in the same place. At church, if you can believe it. The cathedral was holding mass because it was a holiday in Pisa. Beyond-gorgeous church filled with numerous priests and nuns conducting service.

We met up to have lunch at a pizzaria. Sadly it was already time to say Arriverderci to Vicky and Alan. Watching part of our little clan walk away was like cutting an arm off. Safe flight guys.

But we must plod on. Gordon and I had our tour first and clambered up the surreally tilting stairs. Waving to Bryson and Allison at each tier was fun. Out on top it starts to rain. Here I am on a 14% leaning tower on smoothly worn marble about to get slippery. Yep, I clung to everything I could rather than plummet headlong over the side.

Jim and Julie went up after us, yet we never bumped into each other. They made it to the top. You can tell because here is Jim doing the victory dance.
Julie was eager to see her hometown of Livorno, so we headed off to there. What an interesting drive. Especially past the military base. the GPS took us to the dockyards where cruise ships sail into. Julie recognized wehre her dad used to work and parks she used to play in when she was 8. A trip down memory lane.
At home (ie, castle) we did two loads of laundry and became more intimate with each others things. then we made reservations at Il Foculare.
The restaurant and a gas station seemed to be the biggest part of town. It was a great place. We may not have wanted to sit in il gardino because of the swarms of mosquito. But the fried veggie plate made up for it. I had this amazing house special that was meat and onions cooked in a broth inside of a terra cotta pot for DAYS! Oh, wonderful.
Home for limoncello and bed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Day Nine

June 18, 2009 8:14A.M.

Just did a pastry run. It was Allison’s turn and she needed a guide. Good thing I went, lots of cute Italians hanging around.

Yesterday was spent in Florence doing the Rick Steves’s tour. We had downloaded free audioguides of both Uffizi and Accademia. There’s also a Renaissance Walk, but Gordon forgot his IPOD in the car. We had to take some time to go back and get it.

We got to stroll along the Arno up to the Ponte Vecchio. Beautiful ancient bridge overwhelmed with jewelry stores. Strange, but

Uffizi was not to my liking. The grouping of statues lining the halls of the original offices had little explanations and were odd pairings. I’m not big on religious paintings, so we rushed through most of it. The Botticelli’s were fascinating. I loved the da Vinci “The Annunciation” with its perfect converging lines. Moving on.

Piazza Vecchio was great for lunch surrouned by Posidon and Hercules and fake David. In fact I bought an apron with David’s torso and cookies on it, ha!

We meet up with most of the group at 4P.M. outside this graffiti covered plain building that houses the Accademia. Turns out it was a converted nunnery. Since we had to wait 30 more minutes before our entry time Julie made the best suggestion to sit in this shady grassy park and have gelato.

Rick Steves suggested we start with David, but he didn’t prepare us for the tingling sensation you get as you turn the corner and spy the statue at the end of the long hallway lit from above by the domed skylight that seemed made for such an exalted sight. Even though it’s strictly forbidden to take pictures, I snuck a few.

The entire group was meeting back up at the Baptistry doors at 6P.M. We arrive a little early and crowd watch. There were two poorly made up women dressed as white faced nuns who were going around the piazza smooching for money. That seemed to be the only cause for the dreaded pick-pockets or child-throwing gypsies that we saw.

Head home for leftovers and beer and ricotta cake (bless you, Vicky). Alan and Vicky bought me a second David apron as I found them the hat store they’d been searching for all day, Ciao Bella!

Day Eight

June 16, 2009 7:52A.M.

The hill towns of Tuscany. We hit the two big ones yesterday. Siena and San Gimignano. The shower thing wasn’t all that bad. We left maybe five minutes after our scheduled time slot. For some reason the gps was hell bent on taking us the shortest distance routes, which we quickly discover isn’t the fastest. At all. It took us backways and byways that in Italy translates to switchbacks and round abouts for days.

We had scheduled a 30 minute drive to Siena because it was only 33 km away. It took us an hour and a half. Finally we reached the crayola city and fought for stadium parking. Weird spots that surrounded the perimeter, yet nothing like a parking garage. Gordon dented the bumper pulling into a spot that finished right at the stadium steps. Good thing we paid for full coverage.

A short walk brought us to the Il Campo, the famous fan-like square. We stopped for some antihistamine for Julie’s squito bites that were taking over her elbow. Then to a cafĂ© called Bar Palio. Funniest little take away cups. They looked ceramic so we kept trying to get the counter guy to understand we wanted to walk around with them. Then we picked them up and “Ooooh,” they’re plastic. Cooling sleeve was built in.

Next we scheduled a time to meet back and split off into fractions for two hours. Gordon and I head right for the Clock Tower. Gluttons for punishment. Only 400 steps today, through the narrowest tightest passageways. It’s a good thing they made us put our bag in a free locker. The view was amazing.
We walked further up to the Siena hill to the Duomo (Doo-min-O). Then back down to meet up for lunch. I got a free taste of the local panaforte. Yum! Everyone else grabbed a gelato (JELL-ah-toe) and we were back into the cars. Can you believe that the heat of the day popped the bumper back out with hardly a noticeable scratch? Yeah!

45 minutes and 9 km later we reached the Renaissance city of San Gimignano. I liked this one better. It didn’t have the same touristy feel. The square was all done up with a MayPole for their festival this coming weekend. Vicky and Alan joined us on the Tower tour and again we got the grand sweeping vistas.

Gordon and I picked up some salami, cheese (formaggio), and tagliaterre pasta for dinner. Jim grabbed some olives and wines. The Coop (say it like chicken coop, NOT co-op, sticking tongue out at Allison) was closed. So when we returned, Vicky and Alan grabbed some salad and another pasta from the bar downstairs. We had ourselves a feast in a very over heated cucina.

After a cooling dip in the pool and some limoncello, we were ready for bed. An hour earlier than usual mind you.

Day Seven

June 15, 2009 7:26A.M.

It’s early. We’re all trying to figure out shower schedules and being ready to leave at a set time for our first destination as a group: Siena. I’ll let you know how it goes later on.

Yesterday was a do-nothing day that will be forever coined as ‘castle day’ and we wore it well. I already told you how fun trying to cobble breakfast together was, J&J finally woke up right after I stopped the entry yesterday.

It was pool time. Even the simple fact of sitting around a pool chatting within the beautiful grounds of your very own castle, it does something to you. The hours whiled away until about 5P.M. We had a snack and I emailed our city manager in Rome on the reception’s free internet.

Around 7P.M. after a rousing game of Sorry in which Ms. Vicky beat the pants off us all, I drag the victorious V, her new name now, and her royal subject (husband) around for a photo shoot. Then we did a group shoot out on the terrazza.

Dinner started after 8 with remnants of an earlier Baptisemo party still going on around us. It was a bit of a haggle trying to get a chicken or fish option tonight and not just carne (red meat). It was a loss and they brought out a caprese instead.

The meal again was incredible. I didn’t think it would take us three hours like last night, but sure enough it did.

To top our evening off the chef came out and poured all of us a shot of some orangey liqueur that came with a biscotti for dipping. Toscana con Piacere!

Day Six

June 14, 2009 12:20P.M.

Oh, so much to catch up on! It's been a whirlwind day full of wonderful treats and surprises.

Finally arrived in Firenze and used the gps to locate the Avis rental place. Incredibly nice gentleman helped us get our car and luggage packed away. He also let us leave it there while we toured the city for a few hours.

Meandering our way to the Duomo we happen upon a slice of Fiorentina Life. Church ceremony with folks dressed in period costumes and women in black mantilla. Wonderful.

Turn a different corner and BAM this gorgeous piazza full of incredible architecture. We found the Duomo and Baptistry. OOH and AAH time. Then hop in line for free tour of the Duomo. Thinking about climbing to La Cuppola. We decide however that once we saw the line wrapped around the building Plan B was called for. Thankfully, the second and cheaper option had no line.

After 414 steps (I know, right!) up tight passageways and complaining children we reach the top of the Campignale. Almost same height as the dome. Yay!

We head back for the car and drive the twisty curvy 30 minute road to Castello di Montegufoni.
All I can say is the website did not do this place justice. Absolutely incredible with beautiful sweeping vistas of the Tuscan hills. Yes, I was hopping up and down with glee. Man, did we hit the jackpot!

Gordon and I ran around snapping pictures of everything. The place originally was two palaces and five homes that were later encapsulated into one of the highlights of Florentine culture.
Figure out how to do our laundry, even with the strange coin and ancient key to open the door. So we sat down at the pool for an hour while we wait.

Vicky, Alan, Jim, and Julie arrived around 7P.M. full of stories from their travels. How sucky Paris is in the rain, how horrible flights can go really wrong. We got them settled into their rooms and then made reservations for dinner downstairs at the bar.

At 8P.M. we head down to the Terrazza. Thus begins our 3 hour tour of Italian cuisine. Starting with antipasti of melon, olives, prosciutto, artichokes, and spinach torte. Moving on to prima pasta of penne with tomatoes (delicioso) and a surprise favorite: ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach drenched in a ‘nut sauce’. We had quite the laugh over that as we tried to figure out what the waiter was trying to explain to us. Covered in peanut sauce? Ew. But it was incredible. A white sauce with ground walnuts.

Then came spinach and peas, carne (meat) mixed grill was approaching the busting point. But dolce is always a must. Lemon torte or ricotta cake. Hmm? We finish off with limoncello. By this time? It’s 11P.M.

Alan was walking around and found Allison wandering the parking lot. We had almost given up. Got her and Bryson settled and all crashed by midnight.

The next morning I was up at 6A.M. and couldn’t sleep, so I grab the Nikon and head out for some morning light practice. I even caught the sfumata encasing the Tuscan hills. After an hour I head back to the room and sleep for another two hours.

No breakfast was a real treat, especially no access to cappuccino. Gah! We had quite an adventure buying groceries. No anglais. I ended up with everything I needed though. Who knew facial tissues and jelly would be so hard to describe?

Right now it’s 1P.M. and we are sitting out chatting on the terrazza again. Jim and Julie have been asleep for 13 hours. They’d been up for almost 30 hours. Aaah, blissful castle day.

Day Five continues

June 13, 2009 9:29A.M.

On the train already past La Spezia and hurdling towards Pisa Centrale. I waved goodbye to the Cinque Terra. Hellacious but memorable.