Journal Categories
Journal Tags

Entries in Italy (13)


Project 365, Italy (weeks 37-39)

 It's a lot of pages for three weeks.


Days 15-16, More Tuscany (and saying goodbye)

We spent our final full day in Italy at wineries in Tuscany. After carefully winding our way down from our lofty accommodations we drove through the sweeping hillsides to Altesino for a booked wine tour. On the way we stopped in another small town (thankfully less steep and with wider streets) for a morning snack and made it to the winery just in time for our tour. 

In terms of size, Altesino fell somewhere between Bertani and Montegrossi. It had multiple buildings and much larger rooms than Montegrossi, but will still clearly a smaller operation. The view from the winery was spectacular, and the "snacks" they served us with the tasting actually made a delightful lunch.

We found one more winery (Poggio Antico) for a tasting on our way back, then the rest of the day we spent exploring Montepulciano, looking for a store with good cheese and meat for our late afternoon snack, and ducking into a few odd wineries there. Just up (up) the street from our hotel, the oldest winery in town (by their claims) was open for free self-guided tours. It was dark, dank, and eerie, and it still had the original Etruscan well (again, by their claim), around which the building had been built...a long time ago. The tour was great, but we passed on the wine. Really the most notable thing about Montepulciano for me were our evenings spent on the balcony, and we spent our last night there the same way we'd spent the first, with good food, drink, and company. 

The last of anything is always bittersweet. I know I awoke the next morning with that sad and lost feeling I always have when a vacation is threatening its end. I dreaded the plane rides home (and the laundry I'd have to do when I got there) and I was sad to leave behind such beauty, but after such a long absence I looked forward to seeing our dogs and getting back to life as we know it.

On that last morning (which was really the 17th day, since I never counted our first lost day of travel), we were up before the sun, and Jon, Calvin and I took our bags out to the cars where we awaited the rest of the crew. After weeks of warm sunshine it felt like fall had come in over night. A wind had picked up, and we watched lightening flash on the horizon. All was still and quiet. The countryside spreading below us was so dark that we only knew the view by the previous night's memory, and the only sounds were the soft chirps of the bats, the cooing of the pigeons (oh so many pigeons), and the crowing of a rooster off in the distance. As we stood there a few raindrops began to fall. It was a peace that felt weighty and powerful.

Those moments spent in the early morning dark belong in my memory with the evening in Verona on the hill with the bats, and the noon hour in Florence listening to the bells on top of Giotto's Tower. These were the stolen, unexpected, and yet completely unforgettable moments of the trip for me, the moments that could not have been captured in photographs. 

And then we were heading back to the airport in Rome, driving the winding streets in the dark, rain sprinkling the windshield and wind blowing yellow leaves across the road. It was a fitting goodbye, very different from the warm, sunny welcome we'd received.

The flight home came with personal TVs, lots of food, and not a wink of sleep, so that when we walked into our house that evening, having gained six hours of time, we'd been awake for a good twenty hours or more. Now if we're lucky, the time change will help us get on track to earlier bed and rising times so we have more productive days. That, however, is probably wishful thinking.

The Tuscan wineries have a thing about dogs?


Poggio Antico

we went to Italy at harvest time

shopping in Montepulciano

Old winery in Montepulciano

Etruscan well?


Day 14, Chianti (and more)

By the time we packed up and left Florence I think we were all ready for the quiet of Tuscany's wine country, where our next reservations awaited us. Getting there was still a battle, though, as once again our drivers found themselves navigating twisting roads where no roads had any business being, and this time the mountain towns were even higher, hillier, and more tightly packed.

On our way, we stopped at the small Montegrossi winery in the Chianti region for a tour and tasting. It was place of beautiful rolling hills, century old buildings, and traditional practices: we watched as their seasonal help worked to bring the harvest in by hand, filling buckets one at a time, then driving small loads up to the small building with a small tractor.

When we arrived we surprised them by being slightly early (most people, they said, get so lost in the hills that they are notably late), and we had some time to wander the grounds looking for our hosts, who were busy managing the annual harvest then in full swing. Curtis and Calvin took a short jog with with the friendly winery greeter, a dog who was more welcoming than the usual canine grounds keeper, and not at all helpful about alerting his family to our presence. The rest of us wandered, taking in the antiquated surroundings.

Did I mention that the winery was small? Practically the polar opposite of the large scale Bertani site we toured outside Verona, on our tour at Montegrossi we we saw their one room of aging barrels, their one small bottling room, and their one, slightly larger, boxing and storage room. They stand on tradition, and follow organic practices. At the tasting they had only one of their wines still in stock for us to taste, the rest were sold out, the danger of a really good, really small winery.

Then, after getting us the winery on time, the GPS failed us on the way to our final mountaintop stay. I can't blame it, though. The little mountaintop towns all through Tuscany are so steep and so compact that I imagine it was having trouble recognizing what level of town we were on, so that it seemed as though we were right next to the hotel when in reality were several stories below it on a different street altogether. At least, that is what I assume happened. In any case, after a couple of tries, a few hairpin turns and several harrowing navigations of "fall-off-a-cliff" streets, we found ourselves truly on top of the mountain where we were to spend our last two nights.

Magical.  I've used that descriptor a couple of times now, but it's still the best way I can describe our stay at the top of Montepulciano, the medieval hilltop town that traces its roots back to the Estruscans but was later rebuilt on fine wine and food. The stayed in an old building, a hotel only steps away from the actually apex of the hill itself. All of our rooms had gorgeous views and terrible decor (really there's no need for both to be beautiful). One of our rooms was the hotel's only "suite", meaning simply that it had the one balcony in the place, and that's where we spent our evening, enjoying wine, snacks, and an unbeatably picturesque backdrop, before walking up the street (and I do mean up the street) for dinner, which we ate at an enjoyable restaurant on a patio overlooking the very same view (which is less picturesque after dark).


Our view in Montepulciano

On the balcony in Montepulciano

At dinner


Day 13, getting to know David

Our third and final full day in Florence was, you guessed it, full. It found us up bright and early and waiting in a continuously growing line outside the Accademia.

We had pinned our hopes for the morning on getting to the museum early enough to see Michelangelo's David without having to wait for hours with hundreds of other people. This is where the Firenze card was pure magic. Because, even though we watched the tour groups pile up outside their own entrance, and the individual sight seers crowd around theirs, we were ushered in through our own, special, Firenze Card door right at opening time. Two rooms and a hallway later we found ourselves in David's larger-than-life presence. The hall was large and high ceilinged, and, with only about fifteen of us in there, library quiet. Yep, fifteen of us, give or take. We had plenty of room to walk all the way around the giant guy, and, for some reason, the almost private showing lasted for at least a good fifteen minutes before others started to trickle in. It gave us plenty of time to really take in the work and feel a bit of awe in its presence. We had so much time that we actually left to see other exhibits and were utterly surprised by the crush of people packing the hallway when we came back through it not a half hour later. 

Firenze Card for the win. 

The rest of the Accademia was less than exciting, although they did have a pair of hurdey gurdies that was to die for. It's possible that the real bagels we found at a little shop around the corner were more to die for, but that might be because it had been weeks since we'd enjoyed real honest-to-goodness bagels.

When we left the Accademia we wandered by Brunelleschi's orphanage and then over to the home  and chapel of the Medicis. The Medici home was something I had greatly looked forward to, and while it didn't deliver on the level that I had hoped, it's "open for visitors but not quite a museum" status was somehow just the thing. Disappointing was the vulgar Pinocchio art exhibit that cluttered the hallways, and that much of the original home currently houses government offices of some kind and so was off the tour, but I still got a chance to stand in the courtyard and  imagining Michelangelo and cohorts running up the wide, sweeping staircases and through the long hallways. That was what I had wanted, and it was there for the taking. The chapel was less impressive, and partly under construction. That was fine.

We finished the morning with a climb up Giotto's tower (lots of climbing in Florence, lots of climbing), and this has to have been one of the most magical moments for me, because we reached the top just at noon, and the entire city erupted in ringing bells. It was amazing.

We took the afternoon off for shopping, gelato, and beer, then finished the day with a tour of the Palazzo Pitti. From town we followed the Vasari Corridor, over the Ponte Vecchio and through the narrow streets, up the hill to the palace, all the while imaging the Medici rulers using the covered walkway to get to their offices (Uffizi) on time and in one piece (that, or Dan Brown's Inferno, one of the two). The Pitti Palace was a confusing place, in terms of camera rules, so there are few pictures from inside the museum, but a handful more from our romp through the Boboli gardens there.

And that was it. That was Florence. The next day was again one of driving through foothills and on up into the Apenine Mountains for the last bit of magic on our trip. And magic it was, too.

Brunelleschi's Orphanage, the Ospedale degli Innocenti

Look for Lorenzo, the plaque said, he's the one in the red hat.

The Medici tombs in the Medici Chapel

The Duomo, buried in the center the city you run into it all the time

Giotto's Tower (photo from day 2, but since we climbed it on day 3, I think it goes here)


The Tower is the best place to photograph the Duomo, the Duomo the best place to photograph the Tower.

Cool bat with a mustache thingy...I have whole folders full of great doorway and window decorations

Tiny beers for you!

Palazzo Pitti

The ornate ceilings and walls were *painted on* (mind blown)

Boboli Gardens

The best views of the city are from the Boboli Gardens—note Giotto's Tower, Brunellschi's Dome on the the Duomo, the smaller almost identical dome of the Medici Chapel, and the fortress-like top of the Palazzo Vecchio

The Grotto and the Vasari Corridor 


Day 12, the Uffizi and more

Our second full day in Florence was as full as the first. When we first arrived in the city and picked up our Firenze cards, there was a brief moment of panic as we took in the long list of visiting possibilities compared the the short number of days at our disposal. There is a lot to see in Florence. A lot. But the good news is that the old city center is relatively small, and pretty much everything is walkable. The further good news for us was that, thanks to the cards, some planning ahead, and our being there outside of peak tourist season, we spent very little of our little time waiting in lines.

Still, we spent our first evening planning every minute of every day so as to maximize the time and get to as many sites as we could. It reminded me a bit of Disney planning—deciding which activities are most important and then planning which lines will be shortest when and how to get to them all. This may have added to the carnival feel I got from the city as a whole.

So, our second full day in Florence was as full as the first. We focused on the Uffizi, the Galileo Science Museum, The Basilica of Santa Croce, the inside of the Duomo, and the Church of Orsanmichel. The Uffizi was amazing, but does not allow pictures, though I accidentally snagged the photo button a few times while I was trying to take notes on the various pieces of art, so I have a couple of shots to mark the visit there. The Galileo museum did allow photography, and was surprisingly enjoyable. Although, like the Casa di Dante, it had little that was actually Galileo's, unlike Dante's sort-of-maybe-almost museum, Galileo's provided lots to see, read, learn, and do. They had wonderful videos that demonstrated how many of the pieces were made, used, and worked. Plus they had lots of very old globes, clocks, and telescopes, and I love very old globes, clocks, and telescopes.

The Basilica of Santa Croce, a.k.a. the church with all the most famous dead people in Florence, was one of hte most simple churches, but one of the more beautiful for it as well. We followed our visit there with a trip inside the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) to see the dome from the floor below. As beautiful as it the duomo is outside, the inside was a little of a let down, but the Baptistry across the way was hiding a surprisingly golden dome behind Ghiberti's famous doors. And Orsanmichele was exciting mostly for the ring of statues set in its walls, particularly the St. George and the Dragon by Donatello.

We finished with beer, and some time to rest our feet before a delightful dinner outdoors on a small square near the Palazzo Pitti. 

Resting our feet at the Uffizi
Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, housed at the Uffizi

The Portrait of Leo X, by Raphael, housed at the Uffizi

The Galileo Science Museum

The Basilica di Santa Croce

Galileo's tomb

Michelangelo's tomb


Santa Maria del Fiore

Plaque to Brunelleschi

Dome inside the Baptistry

Church of Orsanmichele

Donatello's St. George and the Dragon

On the Arno near the Ponte Vecchio

Standing under the Vasari Corridor

The Vasari Corridor over the Ponte Vecchio

clams for dinner!