Fall 2022 – Reflections on Seven Weeks in Italy

We’ve been home for a month now and have had some time to reflect on our trip. Aside from getting sick, it really was a special time.

My initial planning grew from four weeks to seven weeks rather quickly. It didn’t make sense to me to skip places we wanted to see, especially since we’d be passing right by them. On prior trips we didn’t stop and just said ‘next time’, so now was ‘next time’.

We love Italy, and thanks to my paternal grandmother, I can claim to have an Italian heritage – even if it is only twenty-five percent. Her family came from Sicily. They were farmers and they even grew grapes. While we’ve not visited Sicily yet, we make sure to honor their memory by drinking the fruit of the vine – especially in Italy!

Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo – No, we didn’t see Clint Eastwood, but we did see, do and experience many things during our time in Italy. I just wanted to reflect on those things and share – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Il Buono – The Good

Every location we visited was different from the others. We saw so many unique things that we never felt bored. Canals, ruins, vineyards, beaches, art, rolling hills, cathedrals or monuments – everything was interesting.

Learning a little Italian before we went. Sue and I had fun with our language lessons and the payoff was immense. Nobody laughed at us; in fact, they encouraged us and helped us along when we got stuck. We got surprised looks and then smiles when we asked for things in Italian. We were treated differently – in a GOOD way.

We interacted with some great people who really helped make the trip special. We had so much fun, learned so much and we were humbled by the various people we encountered. Everyone from our drivers to hotel staff and guides were all great. We cared and they cared right back – it was a beautiful thing.

Making some new friends along the way. It was fun meeting others on tours and at the hotels, especially people with many of the same travel likes. We even met a couple who stayed at a couple of the more obscure places that we have stayed at in our previous travels.

We truly lucked out in that the dollar and the euro were basically at par while we were away. Compared to previous travels, it was a tremendous savings.

Il Brutto – The Bad

For me, it was the crowds. There are so many people traveling and some of them have the manners and intelligence of rocks. Drunk, loud and obnoxious are three words that jump right out. But then again, those people are everywhere.

The frequent strikes are also incredibly annoying. I guess it’s an accepted way of life there, but for an outsider it is a real nuisance. Getting caught up in the rail strike was incredibly frustrating. Customer service was useless, as was the thought of getting a refund for the tickets. I think the rail companies use it as a revenue source. I’m sure my tone would be a lot different had we also gotten hit by the airline strike. That was a near miss that would have tainted the entire vacation.

Il Cattivo – The Ugly

Getting sick while traveling is not fun, especially if it gets to the point where you need medical attention. This was the first time that we reached that point and the language difference is definitely something to be aware of. There may be someone that can help, but don’t count on it being easy.

It also made us think about Travel Insurance. As I mentioned in a prior post, we were extremely disappointed with our insurance – Generali Global Assistance. It wasn’t cheap and when we needed them, they completely let us down with incompetent, useless staff. On top of that, they never followed up with us at all. No call, no email, no text – nothing! We might as well have sent Gift Cards to get extended warranties on vehicles we don’t own. We will definitely not be using Generali again.

In Conclusion:

Would we do it again? Definitely! If the right opportunity presented itself, we know where the luggage is stored.

However…

No matter where we go and how much we enjoy ourselves, it’s always a good feeling to come back home. Being around the people you care for and who care for you is ultimately what life’s all about.

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Fall 2022 – Heading home from Italy

After forty-six days of meandering our way around Italy, it was time to head home. It wasn’t a direct route to home though. We flew from Rome to Washington DC, but due to the schedules, we decided to stay overnight in Washington.

Our driver arrived a little before 6:30 am – Ugh! We checked out of the hotel and we were heading to the airport in the blink of an eye. Our flight doesn’t leave until 10:40 am, but they said you never can tell how busy the airport will be.

The airport was not busy at all. We checked in our bags, went through passport control and security and still had a little over two hours until boarding. We did have access to the lounge, so we had a comfortable place to sit and could at least grab a small bite to eat.

****** UPDATE *******

We left Rome on Thursday morning. On Friday, there was an air traffic controllers strike that caused all sorts of flight cancellations.

***********************

We were looking forward to the flight home. We were flying on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner and we had Polaris seating, meaning fold flat seats and a little more room. When we boarded, I was very surprised. The seats fold flat, however the “pods” are pretty tight. Not at all what we expected. We’ve flown Air Canada, Delta, Air France and Swiss Air and they were all much more comfortable.

The important part was that we arrived in Washington Dulles safe and just about on-time.

I remembered why I didn’t want to fly into Dulles on an international flight as soon as we stepped off the flight. First there is a long walk to get to the US Customs. You walk for literally ten minutes down a corridor, then they put you on a bus to go over to the customs building. We are enrolled in the Global Entry Program, so there is a separate area and that went fairly quickly. From there you go to passport control. We lucked out as our luggage was some of the first pieces off of the plane. The entire process took about fifty minutes.

By that time, our original flight would have already started boarding and we would have had to catch the people mover to the proper gate area and then get down to the gate. We’re too old for that nonsense.

Since we knew it would be tight and we knew it would be stressful, we had decided to stay overnight in Washington. We were able to relax, have a decent meal and get a good night’s sleep before heading home. A little extra expense, but mentally worth it. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Dulles and got a good deal on Booking.com for a king family room. The room was really comfortable, decently sized and we had a beautiful sunrise view.

Our flight to Buffalo was at 12:40 pm, so we did sleep in a little bit. The hotel had a shuttle to the airport, which worked out great. The airport wasn’t too busy, so we were able to scoot through security and head to our gate. We did manage to sneak in a sandwich before the flight and finally find some cough drops.

Once our departure time rolled around, it was only about an hour and fifteen minutes flight. We grabbed a cab at the airport and we were home and shivering just a bit after 3:00 pm.

Why did you guys shut off the sun while we were gone?

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Fall 2022 – Rome: Pt 2

“Holy Cannoli” – seven weeks have passed and we’re heading home in the morning.

When we last left our intrepid travelers on Saturday, they were both feeling better and looking forward to finishing off with a bang. It was more of a loud pop, but a fun finish nonetheless.

On Sunday, we attended a performance of “The Great Opera Arias” at the Palazzo Santa Chiara. Although nobody knew us, we held back on singing along.

We were able to enjoy the show smugly knowing that most of our Opera knowledge came from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit”.

The show was delightful. There was a string quartet that played classical pieces and then accompanied the singers. It was very enjoyable and we actually did know most of the arias that they sang. Thanks, Bugs!

Monday was an easy day for us. We walked around a little bit then rested in the afternoon. In the evening, we booked a private night tour of the city’s major sites. Our driver, Marco, picked us up at our hotel at 9:00 pm and we were off.

The Pantheon
The Trevi Fountain
St Peter’s Basilica
Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland)
Constantine’s Arch

Rome has some really beautiful architecture and historical sites, but you really have to see them at night for that extra ‘Wow’ factor.

The Colosseum

Our driver gave us a whole new perspective on some of the locations. He also allowed us plenty of time to take pictures and regaled us with tales and insights not often shared in the guidebooks.

We would definitely recommend a night tour if you have the time. We used the folks at Miles and Miles for our tour since they charge by the group rather than by the person. And ask for Marco – he was a great driver / guide.

On Tuesday we just took a little walk and checked out some of the many piazzas. For lunch, we went to one of our favorite restaurants – Osteria del Sostegno.

They sat us inside and we felt like we were dropped into a scene from “The Sopranos”. Not much English was being spoken by this group and we did our best to not stand out. Sounding more like Harry Hazelnut than Paulie Walnuts, we ordered and nobody snickered.

In fact, an older gentleman turned and asked where we were from and made a little small talk about knowing New York City and San Francisco. We considered that a small victory.

As for lunch, we turned it into an early dinner. We didn’t sneak in pictures of everything, but it was fabulous. We started with a glass of Prosecco, then moved on to a half bottle of Vino Bianco (Trebbiano) and then a half bottle of Vino Rosso (Rosso di Montepulciano).

And then came the meal. We started with a potato, spinach and goat cheese combo that was great. Then Sue had a baked lasagne with asparagus points, while I chose a fusili pasta with artichokes and guanciale. Our main dishes were a thinly sliced roast pork loin with rosemary potatoes for Sue, and veal saltimbocca with the same rosemary potatoes for me. Everything was perfect and paired well with the wines.

Lasagne with asparagus points
Fusilli with artichokes
Roast pork loin with rosemary potatoes
Veal saltimbocca

Oh, yeah…and we snuck in a tiramisu for me and pistachio gelato for Sue.

It’s official…our recovery is complete!

A short walk back to the hotel led to afternoon naps for both of us. We decided that no dinner was needed, so we held our own private ‘Rave’ in our room.

Ok, it was breadsticks and chocolates while listening to Dean Martin tunes – but there was dancing and singing!

Wednesday became a walk-around day. After admiring the Pantheon all week from the outside, we waited for a break in the line and went in.

Piazza della Rotonda frenzy and Pantheon entry line.

It’s such a unique structure, especially with the hole in the dome. On a sunny day, the sunbeams light up the space. On a rainy day – you have to walk around the puddles.

There are tombs and statues on the perimeter walls, in particular Umberto I & II. Originally a Roman temple to worship ‘All the Gods’, it was ‘repurposed’ by later Roman Catholics. The Pantheon is still used as a place of worship to this day, and has been in continuous use for over two thousand years. It’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and it remains one of the best-preserved of all ancient Roman buildings.

Our last official stop on our Italian Holiday was the hotel’s rooftop bar. The views across the rooftops and of the crowds below were a pleasant way to bid Italy – Arrivederci!

We had a chance to reflect on the trip and wonder just how many pounds of pasta did we actually consume? My guess – a lot!

We leave early tomorrow morning, so we finished the day by packing up everything we could. Buonanotte!

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Fall 2022 – Rome: Pt 1

Our final visit is to the eternal city – Rome. We’ll have seven days to explore and enjoy the sites and tastes of the city.

We are staying at Albergo del Senato. We truly love our hotel. The rooms are comfortable, the staff are all friendly and helpful and the location is wonderful. We are located on the Piazza della Rotonda, about 100 feet from the Pantheon. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants around the piazza and even more within a five minute walk. And yes, there is also a rooftop bar that is a perfect place to rest our weary legs after walking around.

Our room is perfect. Nicely furnished, comfortable, right across from the elevator and we have a balcony overlooking the piazza.

Sue’s favorite thing to do is to look out over the 🏛. That’s how she starts and ends each day. It’s her ‘Happy Place’ each day.

Morning Light
Evening view

We took it easy over the first two days. Short walks and afternoon naps really made a difference. Now that we’re feeling better, the explorations can begin.

We have taken recommendations from folks online and have enjoyed our meals without spending a fortune. Even though the area we’re in is considered touristy, we have gone to restaurants with good food, good prices and lots of Italians. Instead of listing out all the individual restaurants, here’s a little glimpse at what we’ve been eating.

Believe me, we are not suffering from malnutrition.

Next up, the finale!

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Fall 2022 – Orvieto

Right after breakfast, our driver arrived and we were off to Orvieto. The ride over was a pleasant one – beautiful scenery and sunny skies. It took just a little over an hour and fifteen minutes before we arrived.

We are staying at the Hotel Duomo in Orvieto. It is located off to the side of the Duomo and is convenient to everything we need.

As we had arrived early, our room wasn’t ready so we just sat in the lounge area until it was. I’m sure the coughing had nothing to do with the speed by which we got into our room.

Our room was pleasant, not luxurious, but it had everything we needed. Since it was on a corner, we also had two windows for plenty of light.

I was a little out of it, so Sue went exploring a bit. She managed to find a restaurant close by for dinner, found a pharmacy and got her first look at the Duomo.

The Duomo in Orvieto

While I’ve read about it, you don’t hear many people talk about the Duomo in Orvieto. Which is a shame, because it’s beautiful.

That afternoon, we went to the pharmacy and the pharmacist was able to give us some cough medicine, throat spray and lozenges. We started taking it as soon as we got back to the room.

A little nap helped before we went to dinner. Dinner was ok, but nothing to write home about. Everything just seemed to miss by a little bit.

While we were eating, it began to rain. Then fog rolled in and it turned chilly – we really thought the travel gods were ganging up on us.

After a rough night, and another cancelled activity, we decided that we should try and seek some medical consult. We have travel insurance from Generali Global Assistance, so we called the number on the travel policy to see how they could help us.

The answer in short was they didn’t. After spending an hour on the phone giving them all the relevant information, the answer was to try and go to a hospital as they had no referral for us. What???

Not only that, but despite being primary insurance, they said we would have to pay and then submit the charges for review and possible reimbursement. What a crock!

Ok, enough about that. We decided to push on and enjoy what we could. With the sun shining, we headed out to the piazza to visit the Duomo and its museum.

Beautiful day in Orvieto

Tickets that let you visit both places were only 5€ each and were good for two days. The Duomo is huge, with many beautiful sculptures and paintings throughout.

However, there was one side chapel that was really disturbing. The images were all very hellish in nature and looked to be the place you sent people to scare them into a second collection.

I guess I may have answered my own question about why the Orvieto Duomo doesn’t get the attention that others do. The changes and restorations throughout the years have left it feeling somewhat soulless. At least in my opinion.

The best way to remove images like that is – lunch! We found a great little place in the piazza to get sandwiches and a glass of Orvieto wine. The sandwiches were porchetta with cheese and were delicious.

Delicious porchetta panini

The following day was once again beautiful. It seems that the rain waits until the evening to make its appearance and that’s fine with us.

The Duomo piazza

We used the second half of our ticket and went to the Duomo museum. The museum houses many of the objects that had been removed during the various restorations. There were original paintings and sculptures, some dating back to the 1300’s. We were glad we decided to visit.

Many of those items were interesting, especially a painting of Saint Mary Magdalene and a painting and mosaic of the Virgin Mary.

Virgin Mary
Virgin Mary
Saint Mary Magdalene

Tomorrow we leave for Rome. I thought Orvieto was interesting and I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see the other places around town related to the Etruscan civilization. Next time?

****** Spoiler Alert ******

We feel much better and are enjoying Rome! 😎

.

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Fall 2022 – Tuscany – Montepulciano

Heading a little bit south, our next stop was in Montepulciano. You might be surprised, but among many other things that they are famous for, they are also known for their wines – especially Vino Nobile de Montepulciano and Rosso de Montepulciano.

For our three days in Montepulciano, we are calling the Palazzo Carletti home. What an awesome building – both beautiful and historic.

Our hostesses for our stay were Anna and Federica. Both were very nice and very helpful. They were there every other day and made sure we were comfortable.

The Palazzo only had five guest rooms and was a generally quiet place. Security codes allowed us to get in and out of the building as there wasn’t always a “desk” presence.

We stayed in the Carletti Suite. It was a large room with high ceilings. The furniture was aligned to give us a separate seating area and sleeping area. There was a nice bright bathroom and a separate steam room / shower. We also had a mini bar that was included and restocked daily, plus access to the drink cart in the salon.

After settling in, our first stop was to the local Farmacia. Unfortunately, we both are dealing with colds again. Not sure if we got rid of them the first time or if the symptoms just eased off a bit waiting to repounce. That’s life!

The medicines didn’t really do much, so we just rested up until dinner time. Anna from the hotel had called and made us reservations for dinner at a small family run restaurant just a few doors down from the hotel: Trattoria Rosso Rubino.

Dinner was not a fancy affair, but it hit the spot. I started with a big bowl of homemade vegetable soup and then roasted duck with roasted potatoes. Sue just had the pici pasta with cinghiale ragu. All of the dishes were delicious. We even saved a little room for a tiramisu to finish up.

We trotted back to the hotel to get some rest, which didn’t come easy. It’s a good thing the walls are thick.

Houston, we have a problem!

We both woke up not feeling good, Sue much more than I. We were scheduled to visit the Cantine Valdipiatti to sample some of the regions wines from the barrel, however we had to cancel. How very disappointing!

Over the next two days, we managed to go for a walk a few times to get some fresh air in our lungs. It’s a shame we were not at our best, as Montepulciano is a pretty town. A hilly town, but a pretty, hilly town.

On Saturday evening, we had reservations at a restaurant run by a friend of Luca’s – Osteria Al Borgo. Francesco greeted us warmly and we chatted a bit before being led to our table.

The restaurant is known for its homemade pastas and extensive wine list, all at very reasonable prices. I started with Pici pasta and then followed that up with a delicious steak. Sue had pasta with mushrooms and then the beef cheeks over mashed potatoes.

We enjoyed our meals, the wine, our waitress, Claudia and, of course, Francesco. Despite not feeling well, it was a nice night out.

Our original plan was to arrange for a driver to take us around the Val D’orcia to take some photos and stop in Pienza and Quirico. We once again had to opt out due to the colds.

It was at this point that we contemplated two options. The first was going to a hospital and the second was canceling the rest of the trip and heading home. Since it was the weekend, we decided to wait until we got to Orvieto to make any decisions.

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Fall 2022 – Tuscany – Gaiole in Chianti: Part 3

Another beautiful morning in Tuscany.

Morning fog in the valley

We saved the best for last. Today we visited the vineyards and winery of Felsina. We had the VIP tour and lunch tasting and we loved every minute of it. Our guide for the day – Mateo – was awesome, as were all the others we met along the tour.

After introductions and getting acquainted, we were off. Mateo led us to the jeep as we were going to visit the entire property.

Our vineyard coach

We headed over to the Sangiovese vineyards, which were right next to the Cabernet vineyards. There were smiles on the workers’ faces, as this was the last day of the harvest. They handpick the grapes in these vineyards and in the warm sun, it’s hard work. We made sure to let them know that wine drinkers appreciate their efforts. (I know, such suck-ups).

We let them get back to their work and headed up the road. There was no question why they needed a jeep to maneuver the path as we got higher. But all the bumps were worth it when we arrived.

The view down over the vineyards and surrounding area was spectacular. But there was more to come!

Up top was an old farmhouse where they dry the grapes used to make their Vin Santo. They’ve used the same technique throughout the years and it makes some great Vin Santo.

Sangiovese Grapes
Trebbiano Grapes

The grapes are spread out on bamboo and left to dry until December. By then they will virtually be raisins and the juice extracted is very sweet.

Before leaving, we went out on the porch for one last view. We laughed with Mateo saying they should have the tasting here as the view looked like something from a romantic movie.

No words are needed

Back in the jeep and back to the winery. Since they were busy, we skipped going through the winery. We know how wine is made and those Cabernet grapes needed to be processed.

Our next stop was the underground cellars where the wine is aging and waiting to be bottled. The basic wines will only stay a short time, while the Sangiovese will age for two or three years. And the Vin Santo will stay aging for seven years.

Matteo with the big key!

All those grapes and casks and barrels lead to the tasting. We would be tasting their wines with our lunch courses – Sparkling, Chardonnay, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Reserve and their shorter-aged Vin Santo.

Our first course of food were bread with their own olive oils. They make five different ones based on where the olives grow.

Five flavors of olive oil

We also had a kale soufflé, cinghiale lasagna and the finale was wild duck – three ways! Oops, plus a grape cake with the dessert wine. Everything was delicious and and went perfect with the wines.

Wild duck – leg, breast and tartare

We finished with a visit to the enoteca to make sure we’d be able to enjoy the wines again and remember the great people we met.

This was our only excursion for the day and it was all we needed. What a great place to end our time in Chianti.

I always feel a bit sorry for our drivers. We come back and tell them how much we liked the food and wine, while they just sit and wait. But they do a great job of getting us to and from our tours.

Today’s driver was Massimo – ‘Max’

Back at the hotel, we just relaxed for a while. It was a nice afternoon and we just enjoyed the hotel grounds. We did sneak in a little nap too, however, that was broken by the sounds of barking dogs and then a few gunshots. Our guess – cinghiale on the menu tonight!

We went down for dinner in the evening before retiring to get a good night’s sleep. I didn’t mention earlier, but we woke up when we received a text that Aaron Judge had broken the home run record. We watched the highlights a couple times then went back to sleep.

Tomorrow we head to Montepulciano.

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Fall 2022 – Tuscany – Gaiole in Chianti: Part 2

A new day and time for some exploring. Our fellow explorer will be our driver/guide Andrea. He was a perfect guide for us – easy going, versatile, knowledgeable and with a good sense of humor.

Andrea arrived at the hotel and off we went. Our first stop today would be the city of Siena. Along the way we had some beautiful scenery. Andrea was able to provide us with great information about the area and we talked about different places – some we’ve been to and others to put on our list.

After parking, we took an easy walk over to the Basilica Cateriniana Di San Domenico. Saint Catherine’s holy relics are kept there. In a small chapel they have a container with her head. I understand, but it’s still a little creepy.

Next we made our way over to the Cathedral of Siena. It’s beautiful on the outside and intriguing on the inside.

Passing the book of Knowledge
How fickle fate can be
‘Candy Cane’ Marble
St John the Baptist – Donatello

It was interesting to learn that after hundreds of years, scholars are still trying to understand the connection between some of the art pieces and the religious pieces. One thought is that the ‘Universal Truths’ or ‘Enlightenment’ is the connecting thread between all religions.

From there we made our way to the Campo. We were talking about how when we were here last, they were filming the James Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’. Andrea pointed out a few items to us and then capped it off with a photo.

Pa and Ma Kettle go to Siena
Contemporary ‘Tree of Life’

Our next stop would be our wine tasting and lunch. We are going to “Casa Emma” where we will get a brief tour and then lunch with wine pairings.

The tour was interesting. We’ve seen many winery operations, but we had not seen the use of Terra Cotta aging vessels before. They also used some cement tanks in their processing. Their wines were good, but a little pricey. The pairings with the food were wonderful. We had a very nice time.

Ariana – Our winery and tasting guide

Upon leaving Casa Emma, we set sail for San Gimignano – the town of towers. The drive over was really beautiful- once again. We haven’t driven anywhere that wasn’t beautiful.

As we neared San Gimignano, Andrea made a turn and started driving in the opposite direction. He then pulled over after a short while and said this is one of the best views of the surrounding area. He was being truthful – wow!

San Gimignano

For our excursion into town, Andrea would drop us off and then pick us up after a while. Sue and I were both getting a little tired, so we negotiated the time down to an hour. That would give us enough time to walk up to the main piazza and have a brief look around. So off we went.

San Gimignano was historically a strategic city during the wars between Siena and Florence. At one time there were seventy towers across town, only fourteen remain today. Anyone with wealth would build a tower and there was always competition between those loyal to the King and those loyal to the Pope.

At least there weren’t cobblestones

The main street leading up through the city gate is narrow and somewhat winding. Branching off are streets that are steep and also narrow. We trekked up the main street until we reached the piazza and the twin towers. The piazza is so full of every day life along with tourists.

Just pretend those are horse drawn carriages.

One of my favorite moments was when we came across a group of gentlemen just sitting and people watching, sharing a comment and a laugh with each other while the people walked by.

The Committee
The Porte

It was a nice visit to San Gimignano. We would definitely visit again if we were in the area.

So then it was back to the hotel. We once again were able to experience the winding mountain roads, but this time we added in rush hour traffic. We drove on, sharing experiences from the day with Andrea and getting his perspective on Italian life. It was really a great day.

Andrea – Guide and driver

We wished him well and then headed in to rest a bit before dinner. We were both a little tired and took short naps before heading down to dinner.

Dinner tonight is at the second of the two restaurants – Il Pievano. We didn’t know what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. Besides the ala carte menu, they had three tasting menus – Mrs Jekyll, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The two Jekyll menus were five courses and the Mr Hyde was a ten course menu.

Our choice was the Dr Jekyll. Five courses and all delicious. We went with the wine pairing which gave us a different wine with each course.

Il Pievano dining room

Hey, that’s only four courses. Yep, I ate my soup before I remembered the picture. Everything was delicious. We enjoyed the wines and our servers were so much fun. Nothing stuffy about this one star Michelin restaurant.

We were sated and we were tired. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will pep us up for tomorrow.

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Fall 2022 – Tuscany – Gaiole in Chianti

Our time in Florence was delightful, but it’s moving-on time. The next phase of our journey is a leisurely tour of Tuscany. We’ll be spending ten days touring with the folks from Audley Travel. It’s a private tour, not a group tour, so we can still be flexible.

After finishing our packing, we went down to the lobby to meet our driver. When I opened the door, he was just approaching as he had to park around the corner. We both saw each other at the same time and with a big smile he queried: “Mr Herkey?”

He helped Sue with her bag and led us to the car. We made proper greetings and loaded in our bags. We are getting so spoiled with the private rides in Mercedes.

We set off for Gaiole in Chianti. It turns out that Gaiole is where our driver lives. The ride over went so fast, as we were chatting about the area, the wines and some Italian customs.

It wasn’t so fast that we didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful landscape as we drove along. Lush green valleys, vineyards, trees that were beginning to change color and wonderful little towns.

The final stretch of road to Gaiole was a curving roller coaster ride through the Tuscan hills. The panoramic views were just incredible. Sadly, with narrow roads and traffic, we were not able to stop for pictures along the way.

The short road up to the hotel was lined with Cypress trees just like in the movies. When we stopped, we were actually staying in a castle – Castello di Spaltenna. Our driver made sure they took our bags and then bid us arrivederci.

The first thing that catches your eye as you head in is an old bell tower and chapel. Both have been dated back to at least 1060 AD.

Having arrived too early to check in, we sat in the garden area for a while just soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the views. We explored a bit and found the game room. A little dart action and then a game of billiards to pass the time. Before we finished, they found us to let us know our room was ready – we finished since I was leading.

We checked in and our room was very nice with dazzling views.

The view from out window

After settling in to our room, we went down to the “Terrace” for a bit of lunch. We called it lunch in paradise. We both had a caprese salad, then Sue had pasta and I had a club sandwich. We had started with a glass of Prosecco and then a glass of Chianti from the Castello’s own vineyards.

We relaxed for the afternoon while sorting through photos and reviewing our plans for the next couple of days. We even took a little nap.

When dinner time came around, we ate in the more casual of the hotel’s two restaurants. While the town is just down the road, neither of us felt comfortable walking the twisty road in the darkness. Better safe than sorry.

The restaurant is located in a basement room with a vaulted ceiling. You could dine outside, but it was a bit too chilly for that. We had a pleasant dinner with the rest of the English speaking tourists. It seems to be Brits and Americans for the most part.

After dinner, we headed up to the room to get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we’ll be touring and tasting wines.

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 4

We got our wish. When we woke up this morning, the sun was shining with just a few puffy white clouds floating across the sky. We took our time with breakfast and getting cleaned up, as our tickets for the day are untimed.

Our plan is to visit the Duomo and associated buildings while trying to avoid the long lines. Our fingers are crossed.

Florence is a great city to walk in. With the architecture and all the artwork you feel like you’ve stepped back into the Renaissance Period, except for all the noisy tourists everywhere you look. But you can overlook ‘most’ of them as you take in all the beautiful artwork and imagine how all the wonderful buildings were built. The amazing thing to me is that many of them took over a hundred years to construct, with the Duomo taking close to two hundred years.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, ‘the Duomo’, topped by Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome, the Baptistery of San Giovanni with its gilded doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti – known famously as the ‘Gates of Paradise’ and Giotto’s Campanile combine together as a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are awe-inspiring to see and inspire “awes” when you see the lines of people waiting to enter ahead of you. However, pre-purchased tickets let you bypass the throngs who stand there complaining.

Being a sunny Saturday, the crowds were out in full force.

The shortest line was at the Baptistery, so that’s where we started. Everyone wants to see the gilded doors, but bypass the beautiful ceiling. We weren’t sure if the ceiling was painted or done with mosaic tiles, but either way, it was beautiful.

The Baptistery
The ceiling of the baptistery

We made our way over to Giotto’s Campanile. The line wasn’t too long and there was some shade. While waiting in line, we noticed that the line for the Santa Reparata was even shorter and would allow us into the Duomo without waiting in the long line out front.

And ‘by golly’, we were correct. We were able to walk through the Duomo, see the underside of the dome, and light a candle or two for everyone in need before going down to the Santa Reparata.

Under Bruneschelli’s Dome

The Santa Reparata is the remains of the original church or temple. They uncovered parts of a beautiful tile and mosaic floor, some crypts and the remnants of the original chapel.

As there was no way we were climbing the bell tower or dome, our visit was over. Though it was crowded, we walked around town for a bit. The piazzas were full of tourists and families.

If you know us, you know we love to sample the foods of the place we are in. Our dilemma was that we found a restaurant very near to the apartment, that had all the items on their menu we wanted to try, that had a wonderful chef and treated us like we were family. So the dilemma was easy to solve…after our first night out we just kept going back to Tavernetta Della Signoria and enjoying ourselves.

Our final meal was a delight. We started with some bruschetta, and then both had the filletto alla balsamico, with roasted potatoes. We skipped dessert for one last treat on the way home.

Our new friends – Gabriella and the Chef

For our final treat, we had one last gelato before heading home and relaxing.

Pick your flavor!

Despite the rain, we had a really nice time in Florence. Next, we move on to Tuscany.

Siamo venuti, abbiamo visto, abbiamo mangiato!

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 3

A new day and the threat of more rain later in the day. No matter though, as we will be inside the Uffizi Gallery today.

We had our breakfast: Sue enjoying her yogurt and me finishing up the biscotti. Our time slot at the Uffizi Gallery is at 11:30am, so we kept ourselves moving.

We arrived early and had a chance to walk around the courtyard and then took a look at the Arno River. With all the rain lately, the Arno has water in it again, though it is really muddy looking. For a while in late summer, the river was practically dry.

From where we were standing, we had a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio. We’re probably staying on this side of the river with the threat of rain, but I guess we’ll see how things go later in the day.

Ponte Vecchio

Our time arrived and we entered the museum. The typical tour starts on the upper floor, which meant lots of stairs. Like…eight flights of stairs! When we got up to the main gallery floors, we needed a brief rest to catch our breath.

We skipped ahead and went right to the Botticelli Rooms. Here we find another of my favorite art pieces – “The Birth of Venus”.

Botticelli – The Birth of Venus

We’re not art heathens, but while some people spend a full day going through the gallery, an hour is about right for us. For those who know me, remember PPS – pretty picture syndrome.

While some will be critical, Renaissance art is not my favorite. The subject is basically the same by every artist – that’s just what was expected of them. The church was powerful and deviating from the norm was frowned upon. That’s why I like Botticelli so much – colorful paintings and different subjects.

We zipped through many of the other rooms. Many of the famous artists’ best works are not on display, so we just skimmed through them.

We had a little chuckle over the bottom left sculpture. Being us, Sue murmured to me: “Snakes…why did it have to be snakes?” A woman next to us didn’t get the Indiana Jones reference and started explaining to us about the use of snakes in art. Then it hit her. She laughed and slowly moved away.

Time to move along. We headed for the exit and when we got downstairs, it was pouring rain. We did have a small umbrella, but it was useless against the torrential downpour.

We strategized and made a dash across the street to the Palazzo Vecchia. A little unplanned visit, but perfect for a rainy day.

While the book and movie frenzy is over, Sue and I still managed a self-guided “Inferno” tour. Without the threat of population extinction, we were able to go at a more leisurely pace than Robert Langdon did. Not having people chasing and trying to kill you helped too!

When we finished, it was still raining pretty hard. We decided to stop for an early dinner at the place we went to yesterday. It was just up the street, so Sue had the umbrella and I stayed close to the walls. They remembered us from yesterday and ushered us in. It was much busier as others had dodged the rain by coming in too.

We sat near the back and there was a tour group from Viet Nam that took up most of the tables. We were just happy to be out of the rain and getting fed, which is the same thing that they were thinking.

I was thinking that with the group it would take a while and maybe not be as good as the day before – but I was wrong. Everything was once again delicious. Their specialty is there steak, especially the big Florentine bistecca. We might have to consider giving it a try before we leave.

After our meal it was back to the apartment, with just a quick stop at the market to grab some more water and biscotti. I told him how much I enjoyed them and he seemed happy for the compliment.

Tomorrow, we’re hoping for a little sunshine.

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 2

We woke up to a little more rain. It will likely rain on and off all day, so we’ll definitely be taking our jackets and umbrella with us.

We ate breakfast, cleaned up and got ready to go. Today we are going to see a huge naked guy named Dave. Per Sue, we are going to the Accademia to see the Statue of David. Always with the details…

It’s a bit of a walk to the Galleria Della Accademia, but though it’s been years, we remembered the route. Once you get close to the Duomo area, you can just follow the crowds.

Our tickets are for a 1:30 entry time, so we have a little over forty-five minutes to wait. We exchanged our voucher for our tickets, which included entry for the Uffizi tomorrow. About fifteen minutes before our time, they line everyone up. That simple little step keeps the pushing and jostling down to a minimum.

They have changed things a little bit inside. They have added some additional artworks in a section that leads to the main gallery.

As soon as you turn the corner, you can see David at the far end. Along the way, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s other works: ‘The Prisoners’ guide you.

At the end of the hall, in its place of honor stands ‘David’.

We’ve been lucky and privileged to have seen some wonderful art pieces throughout the years. David is one of my favorites.

Next on our agenda was leaving the gallery and getting wet. It was once again lightly raining off and on, so we made our way back towards the apartment.

Italy and France have something that you don’t find in other countries – Accordionists. And there is nothing that I enjoy more than coming across a good one. And once again today, I found one.

🎶 O Sole Mio 🎶

On the street leading home, we checked out a couple of restaurant menus. We were a bit hungry and some places smelled so good!

With a little coaxing from a waitress out front, we popped into the Tavernetta Della Signoria. We thought it would be for a little nosh, but it ended up being an early dinner. Everything was delicious, the portions were plentiful and the cost was very reasonable. Oh yes, and their pastas were all homemade.

Tavernetta Della Signoria

With full tummies, we made our way back to the apartment. We made one quick stop at the shop across the street to get some water, yogurt, milk and snacks. The gentleman at the shop remembered us and was so nice. He had a fresh tray of homemade biscotti and seemed delighted that I was eyeing them and actually bought four. What a great breakfast they would make – if only I had some Vin Santo.

Once back in the apartment, we changed and got comfortable for the evening. Lots of pictures needed reviewing and cataloging and this would be a perfect evening to catch up.

Tomorrow we visit the Uffizi Gallery.

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Italy 2022 – Florence: Part 1

Moving away from the coastline, our next location is the Renaissance city of Florence – Firenze to the Italians. We have five days to enjoy ourselves and explore the city.

We rented an apartment in Florence that is located just two blocks away from the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. In the other direction is the Church of Santa Croce. The apartment is really comfortable and clean, and the location is hard to beat. We’re in a somewhat residential area with many places to eat and drink nearby. Silvia, the apartment manager, pointed out the nearby Gelateria as having some of the best gelato around – we’ll be checking it out!

It was located in an ancient building that was restored. There were pictures throughout the building showing what it looked like before and during construction. They did a terrific job of saving the building.

Right across the street from the apartment is a small shop, that just happens to make some delicious food items. Since it was raining, we scooted over to pick up a few items – including lunch.

Our in-house picnic lunch

So our picnic lunch was pasta with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms with a side of artichokes. We opened our last bottle of wine that we brought from Alba and with a little music – we partied!

For the remainder of the afternoon, we organized our paperwork, reviewed our plans. It looks like we’ll be dodging raindrops, so best to know our directions.

We planned ahead of time knowing that Florence would be our art city. We bought our tickets while home to be able to avoid the lines and to make sure we would get in to the galleries. Our big three were the Uffizi Gallery, The Accademia and the Palazzo Vecchio. In addition, we had entry to the Duomo. That would be more than enough to squeeze in without being overwhelmed.

The rain let up before dinner time, but we looked like Fred and Ginger dancing around puddles on the way to the restaurant. For our first dinner, we chose Trattoria Antico Fattore. It was just five minutes away, right around the corner from the Uffizi Gallery.

Very good and very filling. My one little gripe was that it was warm in the restaurant, but no complaints about the meal at all.

The good news is that it stopped raining and we were able to walk back at a more leisurely pace. Unfortunately, Sue realized she had forgotten her sweater, so we had to make a faster paced return trip to retrieve it. Then we got to walk back leisurely again.

All in all it was a good day. The rain is annoying, but “they need it”. We’re looking forward to our visits starting tomorrow.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre to Florence

Time to move on from the Cinque Terre. After our previous experiences with them, we decided to alter our plans a little bit and go with the Daytrip folks once again. This time it was just a non-stop drive from Monterosso Al Mare to Florence.

Our pickup point would be at the roundabout since our hotel is in a no-drive zone. Quite frankly, it was sure easier when we arrived. This time we had to navigate our way uphill. When we neared the roundabout, we could see our driver coming towards us. After confirming he was our driver, he took Sue’s bag and led the way. By the time we reached the car, all three of us were breathing a little heavier.

Our driver for this trip was Elvis, like the singer. 😎

Unlike the last two trips, this time we would be going directly from Cinque Terre to Florence. The two popular stops many others choose are Pisa and Lucca, but we’ve been to both before.

Elvis was fun to ride with, as he was very personable. We talked about sports, work, Covid and he and Sue even discussed the secret to making good pasta carbonara.

The ride took about two and a half hours and was very comfortable. In comparison, the train would have taken almost four hours with one change in Pisa.

We hit patches of rain along the way, including a pretty good downpour as we approached Florence.

When we arrived to the outskirts of Florence, I remembered why I said I would never drive here. Thank goodness we had a professional driver. There were so many narrow streets and tight turns, not to mention throngs of people near the more touristy areas – yikes!

When we arrived at the apartment, Elvis helped us with our bags before having to pick someone up nearby for a ride back to Genoa. No time for a picture, but another safe and comfortable ride.

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Italy 2022 – Cinque Terre: Part 5

Hard to believe this was our final day in the Cinque Terre. Tomorrow we move on to Florence, but today we’ll enjoy Monterosso Al Mare.

The surf was rocking again this morning. The waves rolling in and crashing against the rocks were drawing out many people with cameras. Our balcony vantage point was nice, but I too wanted to get closer.

Wave watchers

We had breakfast and then set out for a day of exploring. We walked over to the rocky area to see some up-close nature and we weren’t disappointed.

The frothy sea

There was a small restaurant nearby that looked good, so we made a dinner reservation before heading into town. Seafood by the sea seemed appropriate for our last evening.

We could hear children, so we headed in that direction. There was a school bus picking kids up from school, along with parents finding their bambino.

The town hall was in the same area, as well as a few residential streets. Dora the Explorer would have been proud of us today.

Town hall
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Candles for our loved ones and friends
Casually enjoying the day
Releasing the Kraken
The castle on the hill

We even decided to go up the hill before going back home. When we reached the summit (not exactly Mt. Everest), we thought we might enjoy the views better with a glass of wine.

It just so happened that the Torre Aurora was a mere ten feet from where we were standing, so up we went. We were seated in a perfect location to enjoy the sunshine and views.

As a reminder that we might have been enjoying ourselves a little too much, I was stung by a bee on my finger while shushing it away from my glass. I got the stinger out right away, but it still hurt like heck. Luckily, I’m ambidextrous and could safely finish my wine.

We headed back to the hotel – thankfully it was downhill. I soaked my finger in cold water and took an aspirin tablet, as my finger was swelling. We relaxed for a bit before getting changed for dinner.

It was a nice night, but a little breezy, so the owner was nice enough to put the windscreen down for us. The meal was simple, but delicious. After yesterday’s dinner, a light meal was just perfect.

A nice stroll back to the hotel with the sounds of the sea was a perfect end to the evening and our stay in Monterosso Al Mare.

When the morning arrived, we woke, showered and packed our bags. Our driver would be picking us up at 11:00 am.

A little bit after 10:00 am, the phone rang. Uh, oh!

It was the front desk. They wanted to make sure we were ok, since we hadn’t come down for breakfast. I thanked them for calling and explained we were getting ready to leave.

When we went down to check out, it was very touching. We paid the bill, letting them know how much we enjoyed our stay. Mama gave Sue a potholder with a Pesto recipe on it. In the meantime, Sue asked Emanuela if she could take a photo of her and she was so cute primping and then posing.

Emanuela was the hostess, server, and Jill of all trades. She would be hustling around, but always stopped over to chat.

We got hugs from Emanuela and then Mama came around and we got more hugs. It was such a nice send off.

Somebody told us that: “You’re paying for those smiles in the tourist areas”. I think the way to get genuine smiles is through respect and kindness.

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