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Finally...our 19 day glorious October 2007 (very long detailed) trip report to Italy!

Finally...our 19 day glorious October 2007 (very long detailed) trip report to Italy!

Old Apr 28th, 2013, 08:59 AM
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<b>TUSCANY-Day 7

Part 18 (October 26, 2007)

Day 17

</b>Last note about Pienza: I’m not a big shopper by nature and when I do…I’m very selective. We did the majority of our shopping in Pienza where it was chock full of unique charming enotecas and high quality shops. One in particular was an alabaster shop that carried very unique items. I loaded up on lovely polished alabaster wine bottle toppers in a spectrum of vivid colors. I brought these back for friends (and myself)…later wishing I would have snagged a dozen more! Also a prized treasure…a petite chartreuse alabaster vase that now sits on my mantel at home and garners more compliments from visitors than any other piece I own. Lastly, we loaded up on a couple bottles of vino and more dried items: Italian style beans, porcini mushrooms and pastas to journey back home with us.

After what was easily one of our best sleeps in Italy (hmmm…likely tied with La Mala in Vernazza!), I woke up at 7am to the peaceful pitter patter of rain interrupted with an occasional thunder. It was calming and lulled me back to sleep for a couple hours more. When I awoke for the second time, DH was already awake and had his nose buried in Ross King’s “Brunelleschi’s Dome”. In my opinion, it’s a must read for anyone going to Florence. The book is an interesting and easy read about Brunelleschi and his architectural and engineering feat in designing/building the Douomo. I had read the it before leaving the U.S. and was empowered (ha!) with the great knowledge of the Duomo. DH had 1/4 of the book left to read and wanted to power through it before we went back to Florence. We saved our very last day in Italy for a date with the Duomo. While DH read, I poured through the scribbled notes in my so-called “journal”.

Last night, DH and I discussed briefly what the agenda would be for today…sadly, our last day in Tuscany. The thought of a long drive didn’t sound appealing in the least. Visiting Montepulciano was high on our list, but we weren’t in the mood. Fortunately, getting a (much needed) restful and long sleep must’ve done us wonders because we changed our tune and were willing to tackle Montepulciano...later in the day.

Around 10am, we finally got moving…s-l-o-w-l-y. First thing I did once downstairs was open the front door to get a good whiff of the crisp clean air and peek at the rain’s affect on the aged stone buildings, landscape and sky. It was simply breathtaking. Everything the raindrops touched were vibrant and fresh looking. Ahhhh! Back inside, I whipped up a quick frittata and cut up some pears and strawberries for breakfast. We ate and finished off the arancia rossa (blood orange) juice and then showered. I saved a handful of strawberries to go with a bottle of Prosecco we had chilling. It was rejuvenating to ease into the crisp Autumn morning with no rush whatsoever. We began packing, piddled around and by 2pm DH whipped up a quick lunch of porcini ravioli swimming in a light olive oil “sauce” of caramelized onion and garlic topped with a blanket of freshly grated pecorino. We polished off the remainder of the vino. Again noting to ourselves that EVERYTHING tastes better in Italia!

As with keeping to our “late start” pattern, we were on the road by 3pm. It was crisp out and the roads slick. We mapped out a quicker route which was mainly freeway with a short scenic route to the town. Within an hour…voila…we were parking! The parking areas were easily marked (yippee) and the historical center of town was a short distance
away. It was lightly raining so we brought out the umbrella (but not without patting myself on the back for being prepared in my packing!).

The town of <b>Montepulciano</b> was yet another lovely Tuscan hilltop village perched on a ridge overlooking the dramatic valley below. It was somewhat larger than Pienza and much more bustling. The layout of the town was more narrow and snaked upwards. Being that we arrived near the tail end of siesta, the town was just starting to come alive. People with their colorful umbrellas added to the picturesque scenery. Knowing it was our last day in Tuscany, we made a point to truly take it all in…the smallest of details. We had no plan except to have our last supper in Tuscany at La Porta in nearby Montecchiello. The next couple hours we enjoyed strolling in the light rain while ducking in and out of exquisite shops, stopping to marvel at a wrought iron cross or clock perched on top of a building and taking notice of Italian life at its fullest. Another sweet photo opportunity presented itself with an Italian woman in her 60’s walking with her short legged dog that was all bundled up in a colorful handmade knitted sweater. The dog was as thick as it was short…waddling along the slick cobblestone. She made eye contact with me and I motioned to my camera as to get her permission to snap a shot. She smiled back and nodded. I got a few shots of them…her with a smile and them slowly descending (waddling) down the narrow pathway.

The shops of Montepulciano were very attractive and atmospheric…exactly what you think a Tuscan town should be like. One of which struck my fancy. It was a home decor/gift shop called <b>Fatamorgana</b>. It sure brought the “girl” out in me. No wine, no cheeses, no same old earth-tone leather goods at this place. It was a mecca for modern home décor, clothing and gift items. I left with a bag full of fun goodies for myself…a taupe waxed canvas tote, bookmarks, soap dish and my prized possession: a chunky square plum-colored stone ring in silver. There was absolutely nothing Tuscan nor rustic about any of these purchases. They were contemporary, elegant and simplistic…but it sure puts a grin on my face when I remember that they’re from Italia!

One of the many beauties of these hilltowns are the views below. DH and I took one of the alleyways from the center of the town to the outer edge where we were rewarded with stunning images of the valley below blanketed in mist and fog. The rain had brightened the landscape and made it appear more vivid and dreamy. Molto bellissimo!

Alas, this was a good time to bid Montepulciano adieu and further delight our senses with an authentic Tuscan meal. Since we didn’t have GPS, we relied upon our map and notes to find La Porta in Montecchiello. It was dark now. After nearly an hour and a series of winding roads, loops plus confusion, we (gladly) drove back to Montepulciano, parked back in our exact spot and headed into the center to fill our tummies!

Our expectations where somewhat high being this would be our last Tuscan meal. We strolled past a few notables checking menus and ambiance. We settled upon a cozy <b>Trattoria di Cagnano</b> that evoked a casual yet rustic feel in a warm setting. It turned out to be a good choice. Over a simple yet delizioso meal of salad, pizza, pasta and local vino, we chatted with a friendly Australian couple at the next table who were visiting Italy for a couple months. Montepulciano was simply a weekend getaway for them. The wife was taking an Italian immersion course in Bologna. She has me thinking of that possibility...immersion in (all things) Italian. Not that it hadn't crossed my mind from the minute I stepped off the plane 17 days ago. I was bitten by the Italy "bug" and I had it bad!

We make the hour drive back to our cottage which seems like an eternity but we both agree that Montepulciano was well worth it. Once home, we nix the idea of opening the prosecco. It's late, but DH struggles to get our last fire started. He knows how much it means to me...especially on our last night. Luckily he brought in a few handfuls of wood before it rained. The logs are still too darn thick to burn easily, but at least they were dry. He makes some progress, but has to continually stoke the fire. We sit on the couch and chat about our wonderful Tuscany adventures before we drift off…

<b>Up next…Ciao Tuscany! Last day in Firenze…
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Old May 2nd, 2013, 12:51 PM
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This is too funny...you can always find me on the Hawaii board as I rarely visit the Europe forum except today!

Today, I had Italy on the brain, as it seems from your post, that you have as well these days. I clicked on my name to find my old Italy post <adventureseeker, bobthenavigator, zeppole...10 days in Italy...help!> and to my delight I had a post from you! I am so excited that you are completing your trip report...I LOVED it! I am going to reread it now that it will be complete!

Italy update: I never did make it to Italy...still have yet to plan it. It's really hard for DH & I to plan trips to other places because we are obsessed with Kauai! We went in May 2011 for DH's 30th bday and then we went to Colorado for my 30th bday in Oct 2011. We have also gone to Colorado the past couple of winters for a cabin getaway and back to Kauai in Sept 2012. In just 23 days we will be going back to Kauai!! My brother and his fiancee are going along with us...very funny coincidence...DH and my brother's fiancee share the same bday so we will be there to celebrate!

I've started thinking...what do I want to do next year if I can resist Kauai? I, still, would love to visit Italy so we shall see. I have every intention of visiting CT and staying at La Mala! Maybe next year will be the one...!
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Old May 5th, 2013, 12:43 PM
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louistraveler5...so glad you came back! I too, was M.I.A. from the boards for awhile. I needed a fix, so came back!

Yeah...it's so hard to explore someplace new once a spot captures your heart! Soooo many places to go and see...

We haven't been back to Kauai for over 15 years (wow...time flies!), but I remember it like yesterday. It's definitely our next interisland to hit besides Oahu, since I have family there.

Alooooha and Ciao!!
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Old May 5th, 2013, 01:44 PM
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<b>TUSCANY-Day 8

Part 19 (October 27, 2007)

Day 18


<u>Ciao to Tuscany!</b></u>
Naturally with our trip winding down, I didn’t sleep well last night. Today we leave Tuscany and tomorrow we leave Italy. HEAVY sigh. All those exciting hours in planning this trip, the anticipation and the last 17 days living it out were beyond our wildest dreams and high expectations.

I roll over and see that DH is already awake and he is reading. He has two short chapters left in his book (Brunellsechi’s Dome). Perfect timing as we have a date with “her” today. He finishes the book, we pack, make a quick meal using up the rest of our breakfast items and I write a very long (big surprise…right?) entry in the cottage’s guest book. We bid a very emotional goodbye to our lovely Sogna Piccola stone cottage with the hopes that we will come back…someday. Bye stone cottage, bye cats, bye Sogna...

<b><u>Car return fiasco!</u></b>
It’s a non-descriptive drive to Florence via the highway. First thing we need to do is return the car. No problem, right? We have pretty good directions (so we think) and a map. We are to return the car to the downtown Firenze location. It looks fairly easy, but we find that looks can be deceiving. After a very frustrating hour (no exaggeration) circling the city, navigating around congested one-way streets. We get out the phone and call the office. I’m praying that we get someone who speaks English that we can understand. Luckily, we do. We follow their directions and still end up in chaos. No return garage to be found. There is a point during this madness that I lose my cool. I yell, “Stop the #%@! car. Let’s just park it and tell them to come get it!” DH who is normally very calm is getting angry too. This is not how we wanted to end the trip. After another 30 minutes, we try another street and lo and behold, see a “Hertz” sign (Hallelujah!). It’s the rental office, not the return garage. DH parks in a zone we probably shouldn’t be parking in, goes in and get concise directions to the return garage which is down the street but if you blink, you’d miss it!

After this car return disaster, the diversion to Pisa to exchange the initial car and the damage done to the bumper on the narrow alley…we decide that renting a car in a foreign country on future trips will <b>NOT</b> be on our list…UNLESS there is no other option! (Note: This revelation is further cemented once we get home and receive two separate tickets for parking and traveling in zones in Tuscany that were for “residents only”. Whatever…)

<b><u>Florence…we’re back!</u></b>
We have a pow-wow with each other that we will not let this car matter ruin our day and decide to let it go…for now. Easier said than done! We flag down a cab and head to <b>Residenza il Villino</b> where we have a reservation for our last night. Our warm greeting by the owner Sergio couldn’t have been better nor lovelier. The inn was located behind a heavy door and within the walls of a building near the Galleria dell'Accademia. It was very private and serene with a courtyard in the middle. It was clean, welcoming, charming and the service was outstanding. A steal for 127E!

<b><u>In awe…the majestic Duomo!</u></b>

We beeline in the direction of the Duomo. It’s a lovely and quick jaunt from the inn. We are rejuvenated and the memories of the earlier fiasco begin to melt away. I quickly scan my notes for dining options nearby and we decide to give <b>Il Sasso di Dante</b> a try. It’s (surprisingly )easy to find as it is small and set back from the street. The feel of the ristorante is perfectly fitting the bill for our last lunch in Italy…rustic yet casual. The menu is very Tuscan and reasonable. After a hearty meal of Ribollita, Tuscan white beans and arugula, tortellini, bread and (of course) vino…we are satisfied and ready to tackle the climb up to the top of the Dome.

We walk towards the Duomo which has easily become one of the most beautiful buildings I have every laid eyes on. Having read “Brunelleschi’s Dome”, it both deconstructed and romanticized the process. Armed with this newfound education, I could truly appreciate the sweat and thought put into it which took over besides just marvel at its beauty. We arrive at our destination and enter inside the <b>Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore</b> which is the cathedral the Dome sits upon. It is massive. We stop to pay tribute to Filippo Brunelleschi’s tomb which is somewhat understated compared to other tombs and crypts we have seen.
The majestic frescoed ceiling of the Duomo was amazing. WOW! After exploring the inside, we are now ready to climb the stairs to the top. The entrance to the stairs is on the outside. We join the people lined up and after 20 minutes, we begin. It’s 473 steps to the top. I was expecting it to be very claustrophobic which it is tight in some areas, yet very manageable.
It’s cool to see the inner framework of the dome which I understand more fully since reading the book. There are many open “windows” about 12 X 12 in size that you can peer outside.
Along the way, there are a few rooms which house a display of tools used and explanations on the construction. My favorite part was near the top when the walkway opens up inside the cathedral and you walk along the inner rim of the dome. We are so high up that the people below look like ants. The frescoes are just above us and it is amazing to almost be able to touch it. As we make our final climb to the outer area of the top, we are treated to the bells pealing. I will NEVER forget this surreal moment as the bells echoed as far as the eye could see. It brings tears to my eyes. The panoramic view of Florence and beyond was worth EVERY step to the top. The brick red rooftops of Florence were so vibrantly stunning from above. We spend at least an hour here taking in every view…not wanting to miss a thing. We locate Fiesole and the surrounding areas which we didn’t have a chance to explore…this trip.
As with my promise to David, I can’t come back to Florence without climbing to the top of the dome. It is absolutely worth it and I will recommend this to anyone lucky enough to visit Florence. This is a must! A definite highlight!

After the climb, we visited the impressive <b>Museo dell’Opera del Duom</b> to get a history lesson and view such works of art as the Ghiberti’s original bronzed bapistry door panels and Michelangelo’s second Pieta’ statue. Well worth it. It not only gives you a sense of the development and construction, but houses a lovely art collection.

We mosey around the area until dinner. With no real plans or hint as to where to dine, we spy a charming <b>Natalino Ristorante</b>. It’s not on my list nor do I have any knowledge of reading anything about it. We scan the menu and peer inside. Looks like the perfect spot to have our last Italian meal…and that we did! The food, vino, service and patrons were all lovely. These are the gems of our trip…unplanned spontaneous places and experiences that we stumble across. Then again…I seriously doubt you can get a bad meal in Italy! Over dinner, DH and I recap our day and both agree that saving the Duomo visit until the end was perfection. We both read the book and felt that made us appreciate it more. Then reality hits that tomorrow this trip of years in the planning will be over. Yes, we won’t be here…but the memories are forever engraved in our hearts!

On our walk back, we stop for the most amazing Gelato of our entire trip…<b>Gelato Artigianale</b>. I chose Nocciola (Hazelnut) and vanilla. DH opted for Pistachio. YUM!! We both claim we saved the best for last!

<b>Up next…Ciao Italia…sniff, sniff!
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