Ciao! Buona giornata! We are back in Turks after basically a whole month of traveling. After Italy Mau went home to Mexico to visit family and then I also got a much needed trip back to Iowa! Oh my god it had been so long since I was home. Like reeeaallly home. But that's another blog day. Today I'm going to give a little review of our trip to Italy!
Okay, first of all I just have to give props to Air Italy for the best tasting airplane coffee I've ever had. Bravo! They also serve complimentary wine and beer with their meals. So, good job at winning Air Italy.
We did A LOT in Italy. I'm going to try and give you the highlights...
We met my husband's sister and mom at our Airbnb in Rome. This is the first time I've done an airbnb and I loved it. It's such a different experience to hotels. (Also- I live full time in a hotel room and crave the "home" experience) It was also great because we were with family. It allows us all to stay together but have separate rooms and bathrooms. It also is nice to have common areas to hang out and access to a kitchen. And maybe I just really adore seeing other peoples homes in general. Their choices in furniture and decorations makes me dream of what I would or wouldn't like in my future home. We had 3 nights in Rome and the first day no one was hitting the ground running. If you are planning a European vacation just remember to allow for some jet lag recovery time. That first morning no one besides my weirdo husband was awake before 10 am. And even waking up then with his ambitious child like "Good MORNING!" was a struggle. Take some time that first morning to sleep a little and catch a late breakfast. We did.
There is SO much to see and do in Rome. I am very happy with our choices in sightseeing. First one was the Colosseum. Wow! It was really breathtaking to be in that place and to walk in the dust of gladiators. I really could have just walked around the arena the entire day. See the way the sun light hits the stone walls at different times. It was eye opening to learn of all the "entertainment" that went on. It's like standing in an vortex of fantasy, story and a distant reality that you can't quite comprehend. It's ghostly. And if you close your eyes and stand very quietly you can hear my husband chanting under his breath... Maximus.. Maximus!
Right after the Colosseum we walked just across the street to Palatine Hill which is the center most of the seven hills of Rome. This was the nucleus of the Roman Empire. You can see beautiful gardens and the remains of a great empire. You spend the whole time just trying to imagine what the withered stone structures once were in their days of glory and relishing in realities that you might be walking down the same stair case that Cesar and Cleopatra once did. What did they see then? If they time traveled and looked upon the ruins now what would they feel?
In Rome we rented a car to drive to our Tuscany destinations. We stopped in Montepulciano, a medieval hilltop town that's surrounded by vineyards and picturesque views of the Tuscany countryside. When we arrived in this village I stopped dead in my tracks and said "oh this is how I imagined Italy." The old stone structures, the narrow streets, the even narrower side streets and flowers! Flowers everywhere! That's one of those accumulated travel things that I'll allows take with me now. Where ever I live...I must have lots of green plants and flowers.
We climbed all the way up to the top of the city center (which was no easy task on the steep streets) promptly snapped a few pictures and had to head back because the meter was running on our car! But not before grabbing a few paninis and a small bottle of wine to go! We were on the way to Siena...
Siena, a city in the central Tuscany area of Italy, was were we spent the next 2 nights at another air BnB We spent one night exploring the central part of the city. Great city square to hang out! lots of restaurants and shopping. Twice In the summer they even have the Palio di Siena. A horse race held right in the city center. It looks insane! Next time... (allows the appropriate response to missed opportunities and when there is too little time to do all you want to do.)
I failed to bring my camera with me that night and my phone was dead, but I managed to get a beautiful shot of one of the most amazing churches I've ever seen, The Duomo di Siena. I like to call it the candy cane church because of the pinks and greens in peppermint swirl fashion. The time of day was perfect. One of those sunsets that bathes everything it touches in surreal heavenly images. Here we just sat for awhile and stared at Heaven's window.
The next day we drove to another medieval hilltop town, San Gimignano. It has a unique skyline of medieval towers. 13 towers remain of the original 72 of the 14th century. Every well- to- do family built a tower to showcase their economic wealth and power. Each family trying to out do one another by building the biggest, baddest tower! It wasn't until the Orks invaded and Smaug, the fire breathing dragon, came out of his slumber in Lonely Mountain that the towers fell (Wait, that's the wrong story). Could you imagine though just finishing your awesome tower and your neighbor, Francesco, decides to add 10 more brick layers to his tower? Just deflates your balloon. wha whaaaa :( I'd watch that reality series if the History channel didn't dig its claws into it.
We spent most of the day here walking around, going in to all the cute shops, buying trinkets and cappuccinos and of course GELATO! I kept eye balling one particular gelateria on the square that always had a huge line. Where there is a line for food there is good food people! Turns out they were world champions in the gelato world and I would say world champions in speedy service. There was always a line, but you weren't in it for long! My advice - know what you want ahead of time! If you are one of those people that needs to look at all the choices and take your time to make a decision you need to go to the front (if you can push your way in) and check it out before hand. Do your homework! Italy has no time for you! The gelato-ravished tourists behind you will trample you and insult your mother at the same time. Recite your order over and over until you get to the front! And you cannot change your mind once you're there. If you want to change our order .1 seconds after you've ordered it is a lost cause. Take what you are given and get back in the damn line!
Azienda Agricola San Quirico- Vecchione family winery
Just outside of the town we stopped for a 4:00 pm winery tour at a small family run winery. Our host, Luigi, was great at taking us around and explaining how everything operates and then we of course got a little tasting session afterwards. At this time we became good friends with Luigi filling his head with fantasies of visiting our beautiful Island in Turks and Caicos. He dreamed of the ocean and the beach and we dreamed of his life in the orchards of Tuscany. Maybe someday we can do a short-term life swap.
On the way back to Siena we had time for one last stop at a for real castle! This is a small walled in city overlooking the Chianti region of Tuscany. The walls were built in the 12th century and were even referenced in Dante's Divine Comedy. It was a cool little stop. They have a little walk way that's built at the top of part of the wall between the towers, and you can happily pay 8 euros to climb up and take a peak. And we did. Got some great shots and a view of the town from above. After having a little look-see and imagining I was a guard with a superhero heart watching over the city we headed down to fill our bellies with more pasta and wine and called it a good day.
The next day was a quick stop in Pisa on our way to Florence. I didn't know how excited I would be about Pisa. I mean "go see the leaning tower and take a silly photo." It was actually just one of the coolest things to see! I don't know why it was so enchanting but it was. I didn't know that the tower was part of a whole cathedral complex called Campo dei Miracoli or Piazza dei Miracoli, which means Field of Miracles. It was so beautiful! The other structures in Romanesque architecture were a beautiful cathedral, or Duomo di Pisa as well as a Dome Baptistery and a cemetery. All of these on a pristine emerald green lawn. We had fun taking photos and we toured the church and then we had to run all the way back to the car because the meter was running and we were out of time! I would have enjoyed staying a bit longer. There were lots of vendors set up in the streets and it would have been fun to shop and look around.
So I don't have a big review on the city itself. It was quick. We came. We saw. We left. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
P.S- The superhero cape my mother-in-law is wearing is for those who may be showing too much shoulder. You will kindly be given a garbage bag to transform all that sexy skin into something more displeasing to the eye.
Shame, Kiki. Shame.
Just kidding! no shame here just love!
Florence (and the whang)
After Pisa we finished our drive to our next 3 day stop in Florence, the capital of Italy's Tuscany area. Florence was beautiful and the best part for me was the Airbnb that gave us that picturesque view over Florence and its surrounding hills. One of the main structures you will first notice overlooking Florence is "a big ass church" towering over all the small buildings and houses in its surroundings. This church may house god himself. You feel puny. Florence was a fabulous place for us to do what we do best- wander around, take photos and eat gelato.
The first day we made arrangements to jump on a tour of The Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture. This was one of those "I don't know how excited to be about this. Is it just a lot of hype over a penis?" type of adventures. (You've been there.) But I am pleased to tell you that the one-eyed monster did not disappoint. The whang deserved all the fame.
Scientific terminology aside its a very impressive sculpture and I totally recommend taking a tour when visiting "high profile" art work such as this. The tour guides are great a giving you a history lesson and they are always full of those interesting facts you've never heard of. Learning more about who Michelangelo was and his other worldly talent allowed, me at least, to have a much more emotional experience and a deeper appreciation.
Florence is known for being the cradle of the renaissance. It is home to some of histories greatest artists. And although there is a lot of artwork to see we didn't seem to do as many art tours as Mau and I normally would. The traveling was definitely catching up with us and we all seemed to be getting tired and more content with just wandering. It's perfectly normal for us to not accomplish anything and maybe even pass by the same area multiple times a day.
One thing in particular I would recommend about traveling- allow some space to just take it in. Don't always pack your itinerary to the max. Learning about the history and seeing all of the sites is grand and all, but sit down and have a beverage. Just listen to the city around you. Watch the people. Smell the food. Enjoy being somewhere different in a moment that will flee you as soon as you experience it. Don't hold on to it. You're not at work. You're not at home. You are finally somewhere you've never been. You're heart will unravel in ways you never knew it could.
My favorite part of the trip- A night in at our Airbnb in Florence. Wine, food, exhaustion, dreamy views and my family.
Florence was the last stop for my mother and sister in-law. They headed home and Mau and I caught a high speed train to Venice. I'm so glad we did Venice. Wow. First of all- what a shock to the senses going from the green landlocked hills of Tuscany to a lagoon town. As soon as you leave the train station you smell the salt water in the air and when you see the first canal you have to stop and take it in its beauty.
Venice has ZERO roads- only canals! This is important to know as you will be hoofing it to wherever your hotel is. As I watched other tourists try and pull enormous amounts of luggage up and down the steps of the hundreds of bridges and through narrow paths I no longer felt resentment to my ever growing and ever heavier backpack. Although- it still proved a physical challenge to walk the 30 minutes to our hotel. (I think I had to peel my sweat dripping shirt off and find a new one once we were there.)
Venice is a photographers dream. I'm an amateur at best, but I spent a lot of time taking photos. Every street, corner, canal was beautiful in its own decaying way. When you build a city on salt water you are dooming it to a life of corrosion. You can try and fight it, or you can accept that the elements will win and you can embrace the beauty of change and decay. Moss grew in the depths of every structure. Barnacles thrived in the seen and unseen. Paint peeled and wept down the sides of buildings. And it was beautiful. Time stricken and old. A reminder that man's creations and fortitude will always be overridden by nature.
Murano and Burano
We took a day to do a boat tour of some of the surrounding areas and islands of Venice making two stops. One on the island of Murano where they are renowned for glass-making. They put on a very quick glass making demonstration and then they turned us loose to the gift shops. Bravo Murano on that one. We got our real murano glass souvenirs and then back to the boat for our next stop to Burano. Along the way it was amazing to see the abandoned house in structure that were basically build on puddles of land within the sea. Check out my pictures down below. As soon as you approach Burano you will notice the lovely colors of the fishermans' houses. They are also well known for making lace and linens which I am happy to say we bought. This was another area you could spend hours even days taking photos. Here we had lunch and made sure to order the specialty, SEAFOOD.
I tried cuttlefish for the first time. delightful.
Venice really concluded our trip. We had a really good deal on a road trip ticket to and from Rome so we took a high speed train back to Rome for one night to fly out the next day. I didn't mind having to backtrack. I like train rides.
Kelley's 7 takeaways and tips
1. One serving of pizza is a whole pizza pie. You're only allowed to share one slice with someone else. The rest is up to you.
2. Day dream. Imagine what the world was like, what it is now, and what it will be.
3. Be a tourist. It's okay- that's what you are.
4. Wander. It's okay if you don't have a plan.
5. Celebrate with food. Life is made up of fasts and feasts so feast.
6. Learn at least one word in the language of the destination. Use it as many times as you can.
7. Whatever time you want to put on the meter, double it.