Saturday, October 15, 2016

Celebrating 10 years in Italy: Florence

This post has more to do with Tuscany than Florence because we spent a whole day touring Tuscany from our first stop in Sienna,  to a vineyard in San Gimignano, and last to Pisa.

We arrived via train to Florence, but what I didn't do was although I had our transportation from city to city booked and all set, I didn't have transportation set up once we reached the city to get to the hotel. Which is ok since the hotels were always very close to the transportation hub, however, we learned very quickly that I can NOT be trusted when it comes to directions.
We took a tram to get closer to our hotel however we still got lost and thankfully Jason always steered us back in the right direction.

Many places were closed for 'holiday' so we decided to hop on a bus going to' The Mall'. The Mall is a designer outlet (Prada, Gucci, Valentino, Burberry....) and funny enough ate lunch in Gucci at the Gucci cafe. We didn't buy anything but had a fun trip checking it out.

We then walked around the streets of Florence and many little bars were open. We decided to take a seat so I could buy an infamous 'spritz' which is an orange liqueur with soda and Prosecco. In Venice they make it with wine instead of champagne. Then we found an amazing 'mom and pop' restaurant called Trattoria Armando, which words can't describe, it was that good. So so so good. Can't rave enough about it. We got there early enough to get a spot since they take mostly reservations and are booked for the night. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset below while resting in a food coma from all the amazing food and wine.

The next morning, we got on a tour bus with our first stop in Sienna. Sienna has the worlds oldest bank started in 1472 and is still open.

Another view of the bank from the courtyard
Sienna and Florence had always been in battle back in ancient times. The core of the two cities were based on rich families in constant feud, which they say inspired Romeo and Juliet. The story of Robin Hood was also inspired from Sienna.

We just happened to be in Sienna when they were celebrating the famous Palio horse race. It was set to happen the day after we were there (occurs annually). There are 13 districts that make up Sienna. Whatever district you were born in, regardless of whom you marry or where you have moved, is the district you are to cheer for. Each district has a different silk scarf that each individual wears during this celebration.  And here is where the horse race takes place.

Winning the Palio horse race gives that district bragging rights for that year and its a huge honor with lots of celebration.

Beautiful alleyways

The main church in Sienna

The bell tower is the only striped looking portion of the church

We toured the local museum with beautifully painted ceilings

Next we traveled to a vineyard in San Gimignano. Our meal was made entirely from the orchard. It is overlooking the main city with skyscrapers wayyyy in the background where it has tall medieval towers which is why it is called the Medieval Manhattan.

Rows and rows of all different grapes

They have their own cows specific for beef or milk

Happy Sunday bull !

Olive trees. They told us their process of how to make the best olive oil. They made sure at lunch we had plenty to try and I could have drank it from the bottle!

The vineyard is also a bed & breakfast. I can imagine it would be quite phenomenal to stay there

We were able to try 4 different wines that they paired with each part of our 5 course meal. We didn't leave without buying our favorite wine which was a Chianti.

Pictures doesn't do the view justice.

We took the tour bus into the city and were told which Gelato was voted the best in the world. However, we got Gelato from a place that claimed to be the best in the world, and then turned out to see the real place that was recommended was behind us. Whoops! It was still amazing.

Then we shopped into town and found Jason a beautiful pair of Italian wing backed shoes and also found my mom her one request of silver hooped earrings. Most of what we had seen for jewelry so far was gold so once we found a pair, we thought...."Earrings from Tuscany? Perfect!!"

Our last stop for the day was in Pisa to see the leaning tower. This is the view we saw the moment we got off the bus.

After the tower was partially built up the people ran out of money, and construction had been stopped. ( the tower was already leaning at this time as it was built on a foundation of sand) Then once decided to continue building they tried to correct the lean, which is why the tower curves almost like a banana.

They told us where to go to get the infamous 'holding up Pisa with a finger' photo. It was hilarious to see all these people holding up their hands or fingers randomly in the air to get the right shot.

So we attempted quite a few to try and get it right

We are standing on these taller sculptures just like everyone else around us

I captured Jason's feet in this one so you can see, we are crossing over the gate trying hard not to fall into the grass with clear signs saying "don't step on grass"

We were able to walk into town a little bit. Surprisingly we had a hard time finding a quick pizza slice to go. We were on a time crunch as we had a specific time to tour and climb the leaning tower.

We made it to the top. It was hard to do with the slippery marble steps that were leaning. Not to mention we had to pass some people in the narrow stairwell that were having a hard time making it to the top. The stairs weren't close together so coming down was actually more difficult since it's slippery and people are trying to climb up and get down in a very narrow space.

You can walk around the top to get an entire 360 degree view

The beautiful bells

The view of Pisa

We had to take the bus a few hours back to Florence and pack  up so we could head to ROME!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Celebrating 10 years in Italy: Venice

Ahhhh, my first sigh of relief as I sit down to take a look back on our tour of Italy to celebrate our ten years of marriage. We ended up flying right after the Delta computer systems crashed. It left us with a couple of headaches. 1) we had to change our flight from Atlanta to Paris ----> to Atlanta to Rome. This left us without our baggage (go figure) when we finally arrived into Venice from Rome since we started our tour in Venice. 2) This also increased our flight time and we spent 10 hours on that flight. So we went from Grand Rapids to Atlanta to Rome to Venice. Besides being completely disappointed in the fact that we were without our luggage, we had amazing views of the canals of Venice on our way to our hotel, which could make you forget just about anything.

The Canals are just beautiful. Incredibly hard to capture and incredibly hard NOT to take a picture of every single home or structure.
I thought my Mom would like to see their version of flower boxes.
We took a private boat which had to squeeze down tiny alleyway canals.
We checked into our hotel sans luggage and went to seek out food. To no one's surprise we found a great pizza joint!
The Bridge de Rialto. We were told this bridge is going to receive an amazing update. Apparently the person who started the company Diesel is spending 4 billion dollars to redo this bridge. Hopefully I remembered that correctly.
The water buses.
This is where the Duke of Venice once lived which happens to also be the building where they kept the prisoners.
St. Marks Basilica. St. Mark once had a dream that despite not currently living in Venice at the time, that he was to be buried there. Once Mark had died, the Venetians went to Egypt and stole Mark's body. When inside the Basilica you can see his tomb/casket.

Very skinny alleyways.

yes that bell tower in the photo below is leaning. although I do tend to take crooked pictures time to time. Venice is built on a marshland and that is why the rumor of Venice sinking is absolutely true. Its very possible if nothing was done to stop the water from overtaking the city, that Venice would sink completely in 70 years. In November every year, all the people that reside there need to wear knee high rubber boots because the town is flooded.

What tour would be complete without pointing out where George Clooney got married!?

And also where Brad and Angelina lived for 4 months.

iPhone photos start here....

 pasta, pasta and more pasta!!
 and lots of amazing treats & sweets

I always tell everyone that asks about what we brought home, the same thing. You could buy trinkets or Prada. You could walk in Chanel or step next door to what seemed like the market/dollar store. Not many middle of the road stores.
 St Mark's Square

I ended up buying a dress after being in the same clothes for 48 hours. Not the end of the world but after you travel via train then shuttle then boat for 24 hours and then walk around the crowded streets of venice a whole day, I think a new dress was warranted. And a bottle of moscato!
 amazing calamari. Most of the restuarants don't open until at least 7pm. And a lot of the Italians are on 'holiday' the month of August. So we asked a tour guide where to eat and she told us about these cute and quaint restaurants on the far side of Venice past the Jewish Ghetto (which is the first 'Geto' there ever was)
 Jason bought me my first bottle of Moscato to which I replied, 'when in rome' and of course not being in Rome, it doesn't exactly work as well, and I never repeated that statement when we were actually in Rome.
 There are so many more photos on my phone and camera but these are just a few highlights of Venice. We received our luggage the night before we left and I had never felt happier! This is on our train to Florence. My expressions still need some help but I was working on my selfie stick skills.

Up next: Florence    !!!
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