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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 Mar 21st, 2008, 09:19 AM
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DAY 5 (October 15, 2007 Monday)

….Florence or bust!</b>

<b><u>CHOO CHOO</u></b>
We arrive at Venice’s Ferrovia (train station). It’s a bit out of place as it is modern and spiffy among Venice’s old buildings. There are stairs leading up to it. I don’t notice a ramp to wheel up luggage. Hmmm…poor design train station architects! This trip has been delightfully easy so far and the train station is another example of that. I made reservations in advance at the trenatalia train site: http://www.trenitalia.com/en/index.html I’m so glad we did this in advance….no confusion, fumbling or figuring out. We easily find our track and wait to board.

Once on the train we store our luggage in a holding area near the front of our car. We were on the Eurostar which the seats in the reserved section (cheapo seats) were configured as 4 (stiff) seats facing each other. We had window seats, so DH and I faced each other and two young Japanese girls sat next to us. DH is 6’1” and the headrest hit pretty low. Not the most comfortable of seating, but we’re not complaining. It would be a 2:37 ride to Florence. We took advantage of this time to look out the window and talk about our upcoming plan in Florence. We’ll get there just in time for lunch!

The party next to us got up about 30 minutes into the trip and we didn’t see them the rest of the time. We’re thinking they went to the caf&eacute; car. Lucky for us….we spread out and took out our planning material. Now is a good time to mention that I do 95% of the research/planning (which I don’t mind one bit…as a matter of fact, I prefer it). DH and I are very compatible travelers (it helps that he’s pretty easy going) and we like most of the same things. Although he likes all that technical guy stuff….I tolerate it, but some of it is quite interesting. During our planning/research journey, DH happily watched shows and read excerpts of stuff I gave him (especially of things that were totally up his alley). He’d chime in here and there, and I’d tweak accordingly. A couple weeks before the trip we sat down and spent a good few hours going over the plan I mapped out for us. Not really a play-by-play with times (unless we had a reservation), but a very loose day-by-day plan to give us a framework of how we’re to tackle our “must-sees”. We're not rigid travelers, so our plan always has a alot of wiggle room (when able) and room for spontaneity.

So here we are with 2 hours for him to read the plan. I was using my time experiencing <i>Il dolce far niente</i>, &quot;the sweetness of doing nothing” while listening to my iPod and mindlessly reading.

Honestly, the 2:37 went by quickly. So here we are…in Florence!


Firenze….the lively city and birthplace of Renaissance art. Venice was a hard act to follow, but we soon discovered the beauty of Firenze. And the food…..aaah!

<u>Our favorite highlights….</u></b>

*<b>The Duomo</b>:

*The <b>climb to the top</b> of the Duomo (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

*<b>Museo dell’Opera del Duomo</b> (history of the duomo, Ghiberti’s original bronzed bapistry door panels, works by Michelangelo, etc.)

*incredible lunch at <b>Cantinetta dei Verrazzano</b>

*The <b>David</b> statue

*Dinner at <b>La Giostra</b>

*Dinner at <b>Il Guscio</b>

*<b>Uffizi Museum</b>

*The cool vintage <b>bicycles and scooters</b>

*The cool <b>Euro cars</b> (esp. the Fiat 500!)

*The FABULOUS <b>gelato</b> at Gelateria Albizi

*The <b>Arno river</b> and environs including the <b>Ponte Vecchio</b>

*<b>Piazzale Michelangelo</b> at dusk

<b>Next…..Day #1 in Florence</b>
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 10:13 AM
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adventureseeker usually i'm bored with trip reports but yours is really wonderful!!!
I can't wait to read the rest of your trip!!!

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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 11:08 AM
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Really enjoying your report. It's bringing back lots of lovely memories. Funny, I had the same impression of the gondolas in Venice. Way too many of them lined up the Grand Canal jam packed with riders. Yikes! I've visited Venice twice and still haven't done it. I'll go for late like you did, sounds great!

I'm sorry you missed the inside of the basillica though, it's jaw-dropping! The lines moves fast too.

But - you can see it next time.
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 12:05 PM
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Grazie once more...I'm glad you're enjoying it!

Dayle: our next trip to Venice:
*sit at our fave campos
*more discoveries

Just that and I'd be a VERY happy camper!
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 01:38 PM
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<b>DAY 5</b>…(October 15, Monday)

Day #1 in Florence…food, food and more food</b>

<b><u>TRAIN STATION</u></b>
We get off the train and notice how busy Florence’s train station is. We are in Florence for 2 nights and then off to Cinque Terre (which I’ll be referring to as CT). I had a difficult time figuring out how to use the Trenatalia site for tickets to CT, so we needed to get our tickets here. We checked out the ticket machines and the schedules and couldn’t find CT anywhere. There was a long line at the Information booth, but we decided to wait.

At the counter, we’re given the times and which train to catch. Since the schedules only show <u>final destinations</u>, there is no way we could know which trains actually pass through CT without getting assistance. So we schlep over to the ticket counter and buy our tickets (16.40E for 2-one way, Florence to Vernazza). We’re outta here…

<b><u>VROOM VROOM</u></b>
It’s nearing 3pm and we hail a taxi. We’ve reserved 2 nights at <u>Suites and View</u> http://www.2piazzasignoria.com/ which is run by the same group Residenzia d’Epoca InpiazzaDellaSignoria. We flew (literally) in our taxi. NYC taxi drivers have nothing on Florence drivers! They whiz through traffic of people, bicycles, scooters. DH’s first impression of Florence isn’t so great…he says, “It’s too crowded, too noisy, too busy,” etc. I love cities, so I was cool. But….Venice is a hard act to follow.

It took 10 minutes (tops) to get to Piazza della Signoria. Our room was right on the square….cool! We checked in (hence 3 narrow flights of stairs) at Residenzia d’Epoca clear across the square where are building/room was. The family that owns this group couldn’t be more accommodating and responsive. A month prior to our trip, I emailed them and they quickly reserved our Accademia, Uffizi and 2 dinner reservations for us. Did I mention how smoothly Florence is going also?

<u>Suites and Views</u> is a group of 4 rooms w/ small kitchenettes (which we didn’t use) in a residential type building with a fab location right on Piazza Signoria (and a stone’s throw from the Uffizi). One of their guys help us schlep our luggage across the square and up 2 flights of stairs. The room was much smaller than what appeared on the website (which the panoramic images made it look huge!), but it was clean and nicely appointed. We had a busy couple days here in Florence, so there wasn’t time for much hanging out in the room anyway.

On the counter was a bottle of prosecco chilling in an ice bucket, 2 champagne flutes and a beautiful handwritten note congratulating us on our anniversary…sweet! We’re starving, so we’re off…..
I’ve read about how the food in Venice pales in comparison to Florence…..and that’s the truth. I’ll tell you more about that later.

<b><u>BRING IT ON...LUNCH</u></b>
I read about <b>Cantinetta dei Verrazzano</b> from Fodorite Ekscrunchy (whom we also give credit to for our great meal at Il Guscio on night #2). It was very easy to find on a side street in the heart of Florence.

One thing was for sure….Florence is so easy to navigate and so compact. DH agreed. I had another “Red Map” (love them!) for Florence. This was our first meal in Florence and boy, it didn’t disappoint.

This is more of a casual deli/<i>bacaro</i> (wine bar). We knew this was the spot when we eyed an inviting table for 2 on the street and the sumptuous foccacia in their deli case. Verrazzano is an ancient chianti wine producer (that was an added bonus).

We were warmly invited in and had the pleasure of a <u>very charming</u> waiter who took very good care of us. His famous words…”Aaahhh, I know exactly what to bring you”. And that he did! He kept our table filled with plates of local pecorino cheese w/ hot pepper jelly, steaming hot focaccia laced with tomatoes/basil and green olives, aged pecorino with thinly sliced pears, marinated peppers and eggplant, etc. Each “course” served with a different chianti (riserva to classico) by the glass (we had 6 total between us).

Lunching outdoors at Cantinetta was a perfect introduction in to the city. It was all feeling, smelling, tasting sounding just how I thought Italy would be. The street was just busy/quiet enough to be enjoyable. Our tummies were full and we were blissful. We had nowhere to be, but <u>right here</u>. We loved being in the moment savoring Firenze. (note: this was another first day and, just like Venice, we didn’t really have a concrete plan. First days were for us to wander, get our bearings and soak in the new city. This approach worked perfectly for us.)

This is also where my love affair with vintage <b>Euro bicycles</b> started. I wanted to bring one home…the older, the rustier, the better! A woman rode by with a toddler in a front carrier and an older child on the back.; an Italian signora dressed in a short skirt and heels rode by with a cigarette in one hand and cell phone to her ear, an older gent dressed in a tweed suit rode by with 2 fluffy dogs in baskets…one on each side of his back wheel. It was like a show and we had front row tickets!

Here’s my photo album of the cool bikes of Florence: http://flickr.com/photos/debandstan/...7603705497874/

I mentioned it was time for a gelato across the way, our charming waiter said, “no, no, no….let me take care of you”. And he did it again. This time with a sampling of buttery tarts: citrus, dark chocolate grenache’ and pear. Delizioso!

You can only imagine that this was not an inexpensive experience…but a splurge that was so well worth it (62E…lunch, 6 glasses of vino, dessert).

Next we wandered and checked out Florence. The place is definitely a shopping mecca. Hmmmm…next time, girls shopping trip! When we turned the corner and saw the Duomo for the first time, we stopped in our tracks. We were in awe. Both of us had no idea how the sight of the Duomo would affect us. I’ve seen pictures of it dozens of times, but nothing could compare to being in its presence. Bellisimo!

The church bells were pealing and it was all surreal. DH was almost finished reading “Brunelleshi’s Dome”, so we decided to save that visit for our last day in Florence and in Italy (3/27).

<b><u>GELATO GALORE</u></b>
It was hard not to notice the gelato in Florence. Every gelateria had colorful mounds of gelato piled high (definitely, the “bigger is better” approach) in it’s glass cases. Wow! I can’t wait to sink my teeth into that!

I have to say that I can understand why gelato is so popular in Italy. Besides the fact that it’s fabulous, I’m not wild about any of the other Italian sweets. Since I don’t favor coffee, Tiramisu is out. Everything it seems is either custardy or mousse-y. Back home there is such variety: chocolate, cakey, tart, fruity, etc. That’s fine with me….I can eat gelato morning, noon and night.

It’s now late afternoon and we have 9pm dinner reservations that night at <b>La Giostra</b>. …I can’t wait. We wander a bit more, hang out and check out the statues in our Piazza. Next, we head to our room, unpack a bit and clean up for dinner.

<b><u>LA GIOSTRA....a night to remember!</u></b>
La Giostra Ristorante was touted as being a touristy, pricey place which is more of a scene than a typical Tuscan ristorante. Right up our alley! We like to mix it up..and try some of it all. Although we’re huge fans of “mom and pop” authentic dining, doing it for 19 days would be tiresome. This would be our spluge “anniversary” dinner in Florence.

We had a 9pm reservation. This place is so popular that they expanded by adding another dining room located in another building. While we waited for our table we were offered complimentary everflowing prosecco and engaged in conversations with others waiting.

Our table was ready at 9:45. I’m told they have 2 seatings: 7pm and 9pm. After dining here, I don’t blame the 7pm crowd for not wanting to leave! This place was a scene which was very entertaining….tables filled with beautiful people, noisy chatter, good energy. Not quite a romantic setting, but our table for 2 next to the fireplace was cozy and romantic.

I immediately spot the infamous <u>“Prince” chef</u> all decked out in his signature style (white chef outfit and hat over his long white locks). I’ve seen him on a few Food Network shows. He exuded charm and elegance.

Our server came over and he was efficient, not overly charming (especially compared to Mr. Prince). We decided to splurge on a nice Brunello di Montalcino vino. We began our food fest with an exotic mushroom salad, next grilled burrata cheese w/ truffle shavings and finished with a roasted chicken platter.

The server brought out a complimentary appetizer platter chock full of tasty (and untasty bites). The Prince came over and told us about everything on the platter. One of the items was donkey meat. He was as charming as he looked.

Our server brings over the wine and artfully decanted it. It was good, but not fabulous (for the price).

Next came our mushroom salad which had rare and local mushrooms. Over comes the Prince who begins to tell us stories about mushrooms and how they’re an aphrodisiac. He takes a white truffle out of his pocket, invites us to take a whiff and proceeds to shave it ever so thinly over our salad. He is enchanting us and treats us like we’re the only guests in his restaurant. He stays at our table for awhile telling us more stories…stories that only he could pull off. We laugh, we drink more wine and begin eating our mushroom salad. Every forkful with a subtle taste of white truffle flavoring it. It tastes like heaven. DH and I are in heaven. We couldn’t wait to see what the rest of our meal would have in store for us.

Next comes the grilled burrata cheese with truffles. This dish had the brown truffles shaved on it. Before you know it, the Prince is back at our table shaving white truffles once more, telling us more stories, entertaining us fully. We’re ready to tell him to pull up a chair and bring out their best wine (not!). Can this night get any better? We’re savoring this dish. Five months later, I can still taste it.

Finally our main course of roasted chicken comes out. It’s fabulous. We wait for the Prince to come back, but alas…no truffles on the bird! He looks over and gives us a wink. We pry ourselves away from the table to leave. We don’t want to go and consider maybe coming back once more before we go. Decadent dinner for 2: 144E (entertainment included!)

We roll back to our room.

<b>Next.....Florence's finest offerings!
adventureseeker is offline  
Old Mar 21st, 2008, 03:47 PM
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I love Florence! Admittedly I was there off-season so the crowds were manageable, but the buildings, the shops, the art - and Michelangelo actually walked there!!!!

On a walking tour, our tour director said that most people have old bikes because they tend to get stolen frequently. The older, the more easily replaced. I love your pictures.
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 06:12 PM
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Just finished catching up with your tales of Venice. I have a feeling I will be the one crying when it comes time to leave too.

Glad to hear Florence is so walkable and easy to navigate! I often worry about that for all the upcoming cities I'll be traveling too.
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 06:28 PM
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Old Mar 21st, 2008, 06:35 PM
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Dear Adventureseeker -
Whoa - i am totally bummed !! Just read the whole thread and it ended. My husband and I are leaving on our 10 yr anniv trip in may and our itineraries are similar.

Amazing trip report - so enjoyable!! Keep it coming - want the rest!! fast...

We have hotels and a couple of private tours planned but haven't even started reserving restaurants or museums yet! gotta get on the ball.

Totally taking the advice on early / late visits to St Marks Square and gondola rides!!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 07:50 AM
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Adven.seek., I am really enjoying your report! The mushroom salad in Florence sounds yummy. I also have enjoyed your pictures--especially the bike collection. I have one of those &quot;old fashioned&quot; bikes with basket on the front. I use it for whizzing around town on errands (groceries, p.o., library, etc.)--no parking problems, no carbon foortprint, no noise pollution. Of course, during our winter ( seems endless this year), I don't have snow tires, so have to go back to walking.

Please keep the report coming and keep it crammed full of details.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 12:00 PM
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DAY 6 (October 16, 2007 Tuesday)

….Florence’s finest offerings!</b>

We mosey over to breakfast in the common room (which is at the main inn across the Piazza). With a full day ahead, we’re hoping to breeze in and out. When we arrive we are asked to sit at the main table (which has seating for 12) with other guests who are already seated. I already don’t like the looks of this. A server comes around and offers us beverages. One by one the dishes come out….family style. We’re passing the fruit, pastries, meats and cheeses around the table. We feel obligated to sit and engage in conversation. After a few pleasantries, I kick DH’s leg…we’re outta here. Needless to say, we’re won’t be having breakfast here tomorrow.

<b><u>THE ONE AND ONLY DAVID</u></b>
We have an 11am reservation at the <b>Galleria dell’Accademia</b> which is located away from the main city center. Since Florence is compact, this just means a short walk away. Just like Venice, we take shortcuts and different routes to see more of the city. I’m loving it here, DH is warming up to it.

We easily find the Accademia which is oddly located on a nondescript side street. Of course, there are lines. We go up to the usher at the front and show him our reservation and he puts us right in the front of the “group tour” line. We breeze on in. Slam dunk! Reservations is the way to go. Reminds me of the genius “Fast Pass” system at Disneyland (No, I’m absolutely NOT comparing Italy to D-land. …No comparision whatsoever).

The Accademia is smaller than I imagined. There is a musical instrument exhibit which we check out. And then we enter David’s room. He is at the very end of the hallway. WOW! As we get closer, we know we’re in the presence of greatness. <b>The David</b> statue is a stunning masterpiece. We spent nearly an hour gazing at him. We find ourselves moving and staring from different angles to take in every inch of him. Michelangelo was a true renaissance. To have created this amazing work of art was pure genius. Boy, how I wanted to sneak a photo (no fotografias!), but had to engrave this moment in our memory forever.

There is a very cool digital imaging “machine” near the David where you can study sections of this masterpiece. That was fascinating to do. I can’t imagine a trip to Florence without seeing David. Now we can see why he is simply called: David or The David. Like Oprah, Madonna, The Donald…no surnames necessary….he’s a celebrity, just in class by himself.

<b><u>WHEELS AND BOOKS</u></b>
We meander down a new street and stumble across a <b>bicycle <i>biccicleta</i> shop</b>. In the window is a fancy schmancy black Euro bicycle. DH and I look at each other and then walk on in. We talk to the shop guy about shipping a couple bikes home. He says it’s pricey. We vow to check out Ebay and importing sources when we get home. Wouldn’t it be cool to cruise around back home on Euro bikes?

As we cruise on further, we wander into a small<b> used bookstore</b> on a side street where the owner spoke only Italian. He was a true gentleman impeccably dressed in a wool suit and tie. It was clearly obvious that he took immense pride in his shop. He was very professional and serious, however, over time he warmed up. While in this fine shop for an hour, we were engaging in one of our most enjoyable chats in broken Italian/English.

After 15 min. or so, he was pulling books off the top of stacks that were to the ceiling asking how to say this or that in English. We walked out with warmed hearts and smiles on our faces. Under our arms were my prized find….a hardback copy of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Predjudice” in Italian (this now became my new quest…any place we visit I want to bring home a copy of P &amp; P in the native language). DH had his own prized finds: a collection of vintage Italian aeroplano magazines and paperback picture books (our son will go nuts!). Heavy, yes…but they had a home in our luggage.

The best part of this experience was the shop owner’s own genuine smile and handshakes as we were leaving....priceless.

By now, DH is liking Florence.

Lunch time….we’re famished. We head back towards the city center to lunch at <b>Il Pizzaiuolo</b> (on Via de Macca, south of Piazza de Ambrozzio). We’re read about the owner who emigrated from Naples and brought with him the city's ancient trade secrets and the plans for a huge brick oven.

This place is cool…cozy, bustling and perfumed with tomatoes and basil. The pizza master was in the back slinging freshly made pies loaded with slabs of thick white mozzarella (none of that plastic-y shredded stuff we get back home!) This is the real McCoy!

Back home the American way was to order a whole pizza (sliced up in 8 or so slices) and share it. Not in Italy. I love how they do pizza (and they’re the Godfathers, so we should all take note!). Pizzas here are <u>one per person</u> (and they aren’t those mini or personal pan size either). They’re about the size of a medium pizza and are NOT sliced. You take a fork and knife to it. Sign me up!

Well….we didn’t know this at the time, so we ordered one classic Margharita and salad (to share…which is really a no-no in Italia. And NEVER ask for a doggy bag!). Our Italian friends back home told us that in Italy it’s pizza and <i>birra</i> (beer)…that’s the marriage and that’s how it’s eaten. Besides being a non-coffee drinker, I’m also a non-beer drinker. So…DH gladly orders up a local brewsky and I have a ½ carafe of local red.

We toast to a great meal and excellent first full day in Florence. Cost: (a deal)…20E

(Note: although the Italian way to add on the service charge (service, bread, table) called <i>coperto</i>, we always leave an extra 1-2 Euros on the table….and it’s always very appreciated.)

Now it’s time to make a dent in those mounds of gelato. I order up hazelnut and pistachio. DH: melon and berry. The verdict: way better than Venice with a <u>price tag to match</u>.

<b>Next…a fabulous afternoon in Florence: the cool Euro cars, majestic Santa Croce Church and another great dining experience…this time at Il Guscio!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 12:11 PM
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Grazie to all for your kind comments.

Irishface....can I take a spin on your wheels?

10yr: Congrats! What a way to celebrate...in the most romantic city of all!

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I love this report
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 04:12 PM
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DAY 6 (October 16, 2007 Tuesday)

….a fabulous afternoon in Florence

<u>New love affair……EURO CARS</u></b>
I’m still snapping away at photos of bicycles when I begin to notice these cute Euro Cars…you know those little ones you can put in your pocket! So, I begin snapping away. I notice the Ape trucks. But…it’s the Fiat 500 that has my heart. I want one! Add that to the wish list with the vintage Euro bike.

My photo album: Cool Euro Cars http://flickr.com/photos/debandstan/...7603710684917/

<b><u>PASSEGGIATA (Strolling Italian Style!)</u></b>
Gelato in hand (doesn’t it seem like you walk faster this way?), we walk towards the <b>Arno river</b> and environs. We enjoyed strolling alongside it while watching the locals rowing and sunbathing (living la dolce vita!) on this river packed with rich history.

We sat on the wall for a bit taking it all in. The lush hillside was breathtaking with trees and villas popping out all over. I wish we had more time to explore nearby Fiesole and the areas surrounding Florence. The Ponte Vecchio was yet another masterpiece.

<b><u>SANTA CROCE CHURCH</u></b>&lt;/bu&gt;
We make our way towards <b>Santa Croce Church</b>. It is located at the end of a very large square (probably to make room for the many people who want to gaze at her). Breathtaking and huge! This area was bustling with people….not overly crowded since it’s a large area.

I notice a few shops to the side I wanted to check out, so DH takes a seat (like many) on Santa Croce’s (which I’ll refer to as SC) steps. I come out of the shops empty handed and we make our way in SC.

We are blown away at the sheer size of this church’s interior. We get an audio tour to share which was well worth it. We began the tour outside in its lovely courtyard. There is so much to see here and we had no other place to be until dinner tonight (8pm reservations)….so we took our sweet ol’ time.

The church was a museum in itself with gorgeous frescoes, paintings and sculptures. DH and I commented numerous times how glad we were to have selected this church to tour.
Michelangelo and Galileo tombs are housed here. After seeing David, it was appropriate for us to offer an “extra special” homage to the master himself. Michelangelo’s tomb was “protected” by 3 statues. Each one an angel representing his many talents: architecture, painting and sculpting.
Awe-inspiring. We were literally blown away by this majestic church and spent nearly 2 hours here. A definite must!

<b><u>OINK OINK</u></b>
It’s late afternoon and we head back. We search out the Mercado Nuovo and rub the snout of the lucky pig (<i>Il Porcellino</i because we want to come back! We walk around the stalls and scope/buy an Italian soccer shirt for our son. We’re looking for scarves for Mom and Grandma….I spy a few shops of interest, we pop in and pick out a couple we know they’ll love. I also find a pink/taupe Burberry knock-off scarf that my teen niece will love….especially with the “Made in Italy” tag. Besides a couple bracelets and the mini artisan paintings from Venice, we still have some major gift shopping to do. At least now we can cross off 3 more off the list!

The sun is setting and we need to clean up for dinner tonight. We were hoping to go to Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset, but alas…..that will have to wait until our last night in Italy (surely, another dramatic goodbye).

<b><u>IL GUSCIO and the Americanos!</u></b>
Dinner tonight is at Il Guscio….located at the end of the Oltarno district. (Once I read Fodorite Ekscrunchy’s review, we had to dine here). We’ve got the time and are happy to walk. Before we embark on our walk, pop goes our bottle of prosecco. We make a few toasts and have a few glasses. Before we know it, the bottle is empty. This will make for an interesting walk.

We begin our stroll to the ristorante…through the Uffizi courtyard, by the Arno and over the Ponte Vecchio. It was a beautiful night. We’re enjoying our long walk thanks to the bubbly. It’s a journey in itself with scooters whizzing by past great boutiques and art galleries/workshops. Many of the shops were closed. This is the part of town which is right up my alley. …Next time!

We finally make it to our destination. I read that Florentines dine late and here it is 8pm and there is only one other table with customers. We get our table and are enjoying the ambiance. Our pleasant server comes over and doesn’t speak much English. The menu isn’t in English. No prob. We’re happy to figure it out.

Part of the experience that we’ve loved in Italy is the culture and the people. We made every effort to speak Italian and were surprised with how well we did (DH had some Spanish way back in high school, so he was able to figure a lot out since it’s a romance language like Italian) and how much we learned. It truly goes a long way with the service you get when you try to fit in. We felt it was showing respect.

By 8:30, the place is packed. We decide on another Brunello di Montalcino. Thus far, we haven’t been <u>blown away</u> by any of the Italian wines we’ve been drinking. I’ll go into more of that later.

We start with a salad and roasted garlic/onion pasta. Both are good. We look around and notice that every table is filled with lively, happy locals. We’re the only Americanos in the joint!

At the next table I observe a group of 6…one of which is the Italian “Jack Nicholson”. He has it all: looks, charm and even looks like Jack. They’re making a lot of noise especially after Jack speaks. He’s got a captive audience (us included).

The wine is good, not great. We’ve heard about how amazing these Brunellos are. I’m sure like any wine…some good, some great. We’re in Italy and want to be blown away. We’re not wine snobs by any means, but we know what we like. We live near Santa Barbara wine country which produces some killer stuff. Maybe I’m just a California wine gal at heart??? I really want to be an Italian wine gal! We still have a week in Tuscany, so maybe there the love affair w/ Italian wines will begin…so, I hope.

DH’s main course is an iron bowl filled with every seafood imaginable. He’s in heaven. Mine: a decadent Branzino Griglia (grilled seabass) topped with artichokes, olives and pine nuts. The food is outstanding. The ambiance outstanding.

Next we’re asked about desserts (<i>dolci</i. I’m thinking gelato. We take a peek at the menu. I’m already guessing: mousse-y, custard-y. I’m pleasantly surprised that there are some great choices. DH chooses the vin santo w/ biscotti. Me: chocolate grenache’ cake drizzled in choco sauce w/ a scoop of vanilla bean gelato. Cost 105E (we think a bargain esp. since the vino alone was 40E).

We’ve got a bottle of prosecco and now a bottle of Brunello in us. Before we leave, I boldly go over to “Jack’s” table. I tell him that he looks like Jack Nicholson…the Americano movie star. The table roars. Jack is soaking it all in….proudly (just like Jack N. would). One of the other men at the table (who looks more like a conservative CPA type with glasses) quickly points to himself and says, “Bruce Willis”. We all get a good hearty laugh. What a great night!

Somehow, I don’t remember the walk home...

<b>Next…Uffizi. Ciao Florence (for now) and Buon Giorno Cinque Terre!
adventureseeker is offline  
Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 05:53 PM
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&quot;Before we know it, the bottle is empty&quot; - and isn't that the saddest feeling in the world!

I did begin a love affair with Italian wine in Italy. It was my first taste of Prosecco that did it.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 07:09 PM
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Love your report! We are off for our adventure in 2 weeks. Where did you find your &quot;Italy&quot; music for your playlist? Did you take &quot;speakers&quot; with you?
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 07:55 PM
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I'm still trying Italian vino. I guess it's a matter of numbers! We did have an amazing Nobile di Montepulicano that we brought some home.

Besides the iPod, We had a small battery operated unit with speakers (close in size, but smaller than a brick) that we used while in the room. I also made a mix on 2 CD's in case our car or rooms has a player.

Most music was from our CD collection or iTunes:

*Andrea Bocelli

The best mixes I find are from Pottery Barn:
*Cafe Lounge (I play this to death)

*Big Night
*Il Postino
*Life is Beautiful
*Something's Gotta Give (French)

Although not Italian, but fabulous lounge world music:
*Stephane' Pompougnac
*Hotel Costes

*Regina Carter (she did a lot of music for Sex &amp; the City)
*Zero 7

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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 07:59 PM
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I forgot the most important song of all....

&quot;Gianni Schicchi, O mio babbino caro&quot;
(I have the Kiri Te Kenawa version)

CLASSIC Italian. It will bring you to tears.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 09:36 PM
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DAY 7 (October 17, 2007 Wednesday)

….Ciao Florence (for now) and Buon Giorno Cinque Terre!

</b>From the last post: Il Guscio Ristorante: http://www.il-guscio.it/index_engl.html
We wake up without a hangover (surprisingly). Today’s agenda: <b>Uffizi Museum</b>. We have 8:45 reservations. We opt to not have breakfast with “the family” (ha!). While DH is figuring out how we do the reservations at Uffizi, I head over to <b>Rivore Caf&eacute;</b> for a cup of hot chocolate (which is really liquid chocolate), tea and a couple croissants to go. This place is a gem. I almost hate to leave, but DH wouldn’t be to happy if I hung out while he was waiting in line.

There are lines galore at Uffizi. I read that with reservations you go to the office on the right (if facing the Arno) to get your tickets. DH did that and was standing now in the “group tour” line. There was so much confusion because nothing is marked. Many with reservations kept coming up asking the ushers the same questions: where do we…., how do we….. Too bad they don’t have better signage. We were even instructed differently by 3 different ushers. Oh well, at least we’re not in the l-o-n-g queue.

We finally get in. It’s like a maze in here. This way, that way, up these stairs. Very confusing. Not user friendly at all. We were somewhat prepared for that after reading many reviews. The ceilings are lovely. We used Fodor’s and DK’s Top Ten Tuscany guidebooks to get a feel for the layout and the “musts” here. That’s how we tackled it room for room.

We didn’t stop and look at every piece of art, just did a scan of what grabbed us and explored that piece. Also, making sure that we paid special attention to the “musts” outlined in our guidebooks.

We could easily see how overwhelming this visit could be. We limited ourselves to 1 ½ hours max. This was an incredible art collection. I would love to learn more, come back and give renaissance art it’s due. We went to the snack bar to get a water and the terrace boasts amazing views of the Signoria tower and the duomo. Definitely worth a peek.

We had to pack and catch a train to Cinque Terre.

<b><u>CINQUE TERRE OR BUST!</u></b>
Buckle up…we’re back in the taxi heading for the train station. No tears….we’re not so sad this time since we’ll be back in Florence for another night at the end of the trip.

We easily find the track number for our train. Our train is the “milk train” which isn’t all spruced up and sleek. It has graffiti and is in need of some TLC. Once inside, it’s run down, but not so full so we can spread out. It’s about a 3 hr ride to Vernazza (incl a train change in La Spezia) We actually enjoy this train ride much better than the last. The seats are worn, but they’re not as stiff as the other. The trip takes us through more countryside. It’s quite lovely.

We stop at La Spezia. This is where we will get off on our return trip to pick up our rental car. We heard the horror stories about driving around Florence, so we thought picking the car up in La Spezia (which it wasn’t….I’ll go into that nightmare later) would make for a nice road trip and stop in Pisa would be nice.

I know that La Spezia is 30 minutes away from CT….I’m getting butterflies in my tummy. I’m REALLY looking forward to this leg of our trip. The train to CT arrives shortly….we easily board and we’re on our way.

The train rounds the corner and the sea is on our left. We’re seated on the right. I takeover an empty group of seats on my left and put down the window. I can smell the sea. Yes, I look like the “total tourist” standing up with my camera out the window snapping shots….I don’t care. DH is watching me with a smile on his face. He knows how much I’ve been looking forward to this.

We round another corner and I see the first colorful buildings of Riomaggiore. Aaahhh!
At first when I was researching CT on the boards I was in awe of those who could rattle off the 5 names…Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso Al Mare. Bam, Bam, Bam. I finally graduated and was among those ranks. I’ve been anticipating this moment for a very long time.

Since we’re planning a lot of hiking and outdoor time while in CT, I religiously checked Accuweather.com’s 15 day forecast on all the places we were traveling too. For awhile there, Venice was showing rain…but the closer it got to our trip, it showed sunny weather. CT was showing clouds and showers. Yuck! I was glad that while checking Accuweather on CT from our inn’s computer in Florence, it was showing no rain. Phew! We’re getting showers in Tuscany, but that’s okay by me. Rain in Tuscany?…..Being holed up in a tuscan stone cottage with a warm fire and glass of wine is perfectly okay by me.

The sea looks like a blend of turquoise and sea green. We stop in Riomaggiore, next Manarola, then Corniglia, next Vernazza. I have my head and camera literally out the window at every stop (and in between). I can’t believe we’re finally here. I’m excited as I was when we arrived in Venice.

I look around and many of the folks on the train look like hardcore backpackers. They have luggage that they can carry on their backs. They have hiking poles.

We arrive in Vernazza. It’s about 3:33pm. On the plan we had an optional hike up to the Surroundings above Vernazza. I’m not feeling it right now. We get off and go immediately to the Nationale Parco office right at the station. We immediately buy our park pass. Don’t want to hassle with it tomorrow.

Our inn is La Mala inn http://www.lamala.it/en/index.html which I have recommended all over this board. Our instructions are to call the inn when we arrive and we’ll be greeted at the station and our luggage assisted up to the inn.

We don’t follow the directions and head into town. How hard can it be? I already love this town. But, it’s not really a town. From the train station you walk down a flight of stairs and the main alley snakes around until you reach the harbor. It’s small, picturesque and is lined with enotecas, boutiques, cafes’. We’re in absolute love.

We continue down until we come to a colorful building with an ad for La Mala with a bell. I ring the bell. From 3 flights above, a woman with wild reddish brown hair peer out the window and yells down to us. Meet Mama Jamba. She’s the inn’s owner. She sends down her strapping young son Gamba (yes, it’s Gamba Jamba…we think). He’s mid-20ish and is fashionably dressed in Dolce &amp; Gabbana labels. He easily slings my luggage over his shoulder and we follow…up the main street and we cut up a series of stairs..up, up, up. I think it’s like 83 steps. Thank goodness there are perches where you can rest.

We get to the top, he opens the door and……..

<b>next….the fabulous La Mala inn and the incredible Vernazza sunset.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2008, 10:24 PM
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Can't wait to hear about your stay at La Mala and Vernazza! That was our favorite destination in our 3 week trip to Italy last February. I'll always remember the midnight views from Room 31 at La Mala--little fishing boats bobbing on the water under a full moon--just as it has been done for years and years! And what fun to watch the town come to life during breakfast in the little cafe by the harbor--looking forward to your reading your report!
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