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Italy in the springtime, tra la - and what an excellent adventure it was.

Italy in the springtime, tra la - and what an excellent adventure it was.

May 24th, 2006, 09:26 AM
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Day 8 - Daytripping to San Gimignano

Rachel has class all day, so David and I are on our own. We have never been to San Gigmignano and decide that's our destiny for the day. After breakfast at the Borgo Grondaie, and a short visit to our e-mail accounts, we're off.

Today we actually get where we want to without visiting the lost place; the drive from Siena is under an hour, and mid-week, early morning, not a lot of traffic. We know that this town can fill quickly with tour buses and we're hoping to be there early enough to avoid those crowds. We follow the signs to a parking lot and realize that we're at the top of the town - couldn't be better.

San G is simply charming, no other words. Yesterday's overcast, drizzly gloom has given way to bright clue skies, and we literally meander the town, down to the main square where we buy tickets to the church and museum and spend some time looking around. Our guidebook mentions a gelateria and David has a cup of the regional speciality, a white wine flavored gelato. Looking at our pictures later, I realize that many of our best come from this day.

The morning turns late, the streets are more crowded. We decide to find a place for lunch before it gets too late since we want to be back in Siena in early afternoon. We play the trattoria game for a while - one is closed, one is too crowded, one doesn't seem to serve pasta . . finally we spot a place, La Griglia, on the main street, but when we enter, we realize that the restaurant is upstair, in the back and so we are having lunch on a balcony overlooking the Tuscan hills of San G. - breathtaking. This being more of a tourist destination, I'm not surprised that lunch for 2, with primis and salads, and wine, comes to 45 euros, but the food is good and the view is better.

The day has warmed up, and we start our wandering back upwards to the car. We are looking for the wine musuem and we do find it, but it's closed today. We decide to return to Siena and wait for Rachel.

We find ourselves a parking place in Siena; the Wednesday market has ended there has ended there by the time we return and Rachel has given us some parking tips as well. We're meeting her at the enoteca and since we're early we settle on the patio; David sips a few glasses of wine and I read the International Herald Tribune. Rachel finds us after class and she shares another Chianti with her father.

More strolling the streets of Siena, a pre-dinner beer at a bar near the Campo, where we see our waiter from lunch several days earlier. We have decided to return to Taverna di Cecco for dinner and he's our waiter again. This is where I start feeling like I live here, a not bad thing at all.

Dinner is as good as lunch was earlier in the trip. We start again with a complimentary prosecco, move onto pastas and meat courses, share another bottle of wine. Dinner for 3: 62 euros, plus here comes the bottle of limoncello.

Rachel needs to study for her final exams plus do some packing, as she is leaving Siena with us at the end of the week. The walk to find the car helps work off dinner and as we wal, we make plans for the next day. Rachel has only one early class and we can meet her around 11.

Next - our afternoon in Florence

socaltraveler is offline  
May 25th, 2006, 05:22 AM
Join Date: Jun 2005
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Wishing we were there. Relishing and savoring every bite of your lunches and dinners overlooking the sea. Envisioning the pottery store in Greve and wondering which storefront it is in across the street. I am thinking about starting to save for next summer. Am planning some endurance training walking. Dean loves reading those Italian maps with David expertly driving at breakneck speed on winding country roads as I knit and sightsee with you in the back seat of a comfortable, air-conditioned, medium sized station wagon, with our elbows perched on a box of pottery and our legs draped over our carryon luggage. Eagerly awaiting the next installment.
quiltfan is offline  
May 25th, 2006, 08:08 AM
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Wishing we were all there as well. Is Dean up to reading these maps while David negotiates the Amalfi Coast? I'm ready to start planning!
socaltraveler is offline  
May 25th, 2006, 11:26 AM
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Day 9 - Florence

Rachel is finished with school mid-morning so David and I have a chance to sleep a little later and have a leisurely breakfast at the Borgo Grondaie. After breakfast, while David checks his e-mail, I take a look at the grounds, and peek into an empty apartment. If I didn't have this "thing" for breakfast rooms, maybe I would think about staying in one on our next trip.

We pick up Rachel in the Piazza Gramschi in Siena and head off towards Florence. David is still looking to see where we didn't find the Greve turn-off two days earlier; I'm rather glad Rachel is back in front as navigator.

Florence is upon us in under an hour; we decide to head towards the parking garage near the train station, but somehow end up on a turn that takes us over the Arno and up above Florence on the other side. But, no matter, it's a pretty drive, through streets of magnificent villas and with views of Florence that I have nver seen in previous trips. Eventually we find our way to Santa Maria Novella and leave the car for the day.

Rachel has been to Florence a few times during her winter in Siena, and so has visited the David and the Uffizi, as well as a few other museums and churches. We only have this afternoon and evening, so our plan is to visit the Pitti Palace and do some shopping in the open stalls of the San Lorenzo market.

But first, why, it's time for lunch. Rachel knows a sandwich shop behind the Duomo, called the Olive Oil Shoppe - it's a hangout for the American students in Florence - her friend Tina from home who is there took her one weekend. And the sandwiches are simply great - imagine American style stuffed subs (unlike the thinner paninis of Italy), but made on the better Italian bread and full of the wonderful Italian meats, vegetables and cheeses. We sit on stools at the back, and have a conversation with an American woman from New York visitin her son in Florence.

Florence is quite crowded with all of us visiting parents; it's Easter week and there are also groups of European students on holiday tours. The streets are full.

After lunch, well, it's gelato time and we go looking for a place near the Duomo that we found to be wonderful last summer. It's called GROM - we find it and have some simply great gelato. I miss the intense fruit flavors of last summer - well, another reason to return!

Rachel and I debate the merits of shopping vs. museum - she thinks that we should shop first because the shops could be closed when we're done at the gallery. We decide to walk to the POnte Vecchio in a little detour by the market, to check out their hours. And once there, we decide to shop (and shop - David goes off to find a cafe and a beer - if he were writing this, he would digress on the beers he has consumed in various locales while I street shop, perhaps that will be his photo essay downn the road). At the end of a goodish hour, my head is spinning, but we have purchased several leather purses and even more silk pashminas for gifts for home (and us), and have successsfully bargained as well. We have not forgotten to touch the nose of the Porcellino Pig - we have every intention of returning to Florence.

The walk across the Ponte Vecchio is just jammed with people, so much so that I'm not even interested in my usual window shopping there. No matter, we get to the Pitti Palace and since there seems to be a longish line and it's now late in the afternoon. We check the times and realize that we have just enough time to visit the royal apartments, but not enough for the Boboli Gardens. That disappoints Rachel, but David and I have seen them before - I tell my lovely daughter that she will return to Florence someday for the gardens. We are more than impressed with our Pitti visit, but come out to a thunderous sky.

This will change our dinner plans. We were going to have dinner at Osteria Giovanni since David likes Il Latini, but it's farther away than we would like with the threatening weather and I remember what I have just told Rachel about the Boboli gardens. Osteria Giovanni is now on my list for our next visit.

I realize that we are not far from Quattro Leoni, site of a wonderful meal last July. We take a walk over there and feeling some glee that we actually found it without a map, make a reservation for a few hours from now. We walk back towards the Pitti; I had noticed a wine bar across the street and while Rachel does a little more shopping, David and I try a few Chiantis. Think we were all happy now.

Dinner at Quattro Leoni turned out to be one of the best meals of this trip also. Last summer we had sat out on the patio, tonight we opted for one of the indoor rooms. Rachel is impressed by the photos American movie people on the walls; our waiter is impressed with her Italian. I wish I could remember every dish (better notes next time) but I do remember a marvelous salad with shaved artichokes and the best grilled veal chop I have ever had. Perhaps it was also the one and a half liters of decent wine. David was the only one with room for dessert (note GROM and gelato above), but since he is also on the tiramisu trail this trip . . .
Bill for 3, with many courses, 118 Euros.

Thank goodness for David and Rachel and their sense of direction, because it's an easy walk back to the parking garage.
In the car Rachel's phone rings - it's Natalie, her high school friend, who is studying in Aix-en-Provence, but is coming to see some southern Italy with Rachel when we leave. We have been talking about where in the world is Natalie for several days; can't get her cell phone to work. She's in Florence and if she had just called earlier . ..
Oh well, Natalie is taking the bus to Siena in the morning and we'll all connect tomorrow.

It's been a very long day - we drive Rachel home for one last night with her host family and head for the Borgo Grondaie. We're rather surprised that our room has not been made up, especially since I had left the towels on the floor like they had asked. No matter for now, and thankfully there's a heated towel rack which will dry said towels for our morning showers (note to that: when mentioned the next morning, the staff was very apologetic and we came back later in the day to find a bottle from their cellar and a room reduction for their mistake - very classy).

Next - our last day in Siena; we help Rachel pack and say her good-byes.
socaltraveler is offline  
May 25th, 2006, 01:50 PM
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beelady is offline  
May 30th, 2006, 10:31 AM
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Day 10 - Goodbye to Siena

We thought we had a few hours this morning before meeting Rachel and finding Natalie at the bus station so we planned to take a drive to Monteriggiono after breakfast. We made arrangements for the key for the girls' room for later that night and took off past the Coop. The phone rang and Rachel said she would be done earlier, could we come get her at 10? As we still had a hour or so, the ever-flexible parent sherpas changed plans and took a drive up behind Siena instead. It being another beautiful spring morning, we did get some photos of Siena looking across from the hills.

We pick up Rachel and her belongings at her host family's apartment; she's really leaving and she really has a lot of stuff. The winter coat and clothes need to be packed instead of carried and it looks like she's done more shopping than she thought. Looks like we'll be looking for another suitcase in Rome - deep sigh, but we need to move on.

We move on to the bus station and find Natalie who is thrilled to be in Italy; Rachel had visited her in March in Aix en Provence. We have Natalie for the afternoon since Rachel has one last final exam, but first we have time for lunch in a small trattoria near Rachel's school. David has pasta, of course, the girls and I decide on pizzas.

Rachel leaves for her final exam and David, Natalie and I walk around Siena - we're the tour guides by the end of our week. On our walk we find the tiny Jewish synagogue, take note of the plaque commemorating the small group of Sienese Jews who were taken in WWII and never returned. When the weather turns to drizzle we find a table and umbrella on the Campo and have a drink while waiting for Rachel.

Rachel returns - she has finished her course - let the travels begin. She has saved climbing the Duomo Tower for the end of her time here and now she and Natalie and David set off to do that. Note Pisa above - I chose to sit and finish my book. Lovely afternoon.

Rachel has her final dinner with her fellow students and teachers that evening so David, Natalie and I go to Trattoria Pappei for our dinner. It was one that was on my list and we have a delicious final meal in Siena. Later, we walk to meet Rachel at the Enoteca; there is a slide show and awards ceremony for the students in the program. We get to meet the program administrator and some of the faculty.

Back to the Borgo Grondaie for one last night. We arrange to meet the girls for breakfast in the morning. Ah, Siena, it's been wonderful staying here, but it's time to move on. David and I have some packing and rearranging of luggage to do as well and the night is certainly no longer young.

Next - this road leads to Rome . . .

socaltraveler is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 06:58 AM
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socaltraveler is offline  
May 31st, 2006, 02:31 PM
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Bookmarking - I'm looking forward to Rome, too!
LCBoniti is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2006, 10:16 AM
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Day 11 - on the road to Rome

Our last morning in the Borgo Grondaie, but we have company with Rachel and Natalie joining us for breakfast. Then to load the car - now we have Rachele's suitcase, backpack, assorted bags and Natalie's large red suitcase to fit in with ours. Since we are packed so fully, we decide to drive straight to Rome and not risk leaving the loaded car anywhere.

Our plan was to return the car to the Rome airport and have the car service we have used before, limoservicerome, pick us up there. The driver had shown us the meeting point when we arrived the previous week, so David dropped the girls and I, and all the luggage, and we went off to return the car. We connected with Andrea at limoservicerome since we were early and eventually his driver, and the van, met us.

The driver needed the hotel address, which was a bit of a concern, and we soon realized that he had never gone to the Hotel Santa Maria in Trastevere before.And did I mention the van? The Trastevere streets are extremely narrow and here we were in a full-sized minivan, inching our way along the last stretch. I think we all closed our eyes at some point, especially when the densely packed Vespas seemed to graze the car windows. After stopping a few times for directions, we finally arrived at the hotel.

We had stayed in another Trastevere hotel in July and I had wanted to try the Hotel Santa Maria on our next visit. It's just a charming oasis in the midst of the city, a converted monastery, a small collection of rooms in a one-story, low slung configuration around a central area of garden and patios. I looked up at the laundry and geraniums cascading down from the building next door and knew our few days here would be happy ones.

The Hotel Santa Maria had been able to change our reservation from a triple to a quad. We were pleasantly surprised to get a double room, one with a large bed in one room, a bathroom in the middle and then a room with a bunk bed, that had another door for some privacy - think we were glad for the space.

At check-in we were asked if we would like to take advantage of a complimentary walking tour that evening - since Natalie had not yet been to Rome, we thought it a good idea and signed up - meeting time 6 pm at the Largo Argentina.

But it was nearly 3 pm and we were needing lunch. Since we literally around the corner from the church Santa Maria di Trastevere, we decided to walk there, find lunch and then visit the church. Once there, David and I remembered a lunch from our summer visit in a cafe just off the square. Some of the fun of this visit was that we could find places like that, and it certainly made us feel like we "knew" Rome.

We walked around the corner to find the Hostaria la Canonica and there was the same waiter, too. La Canonica specializes in seafood and white wine and we decided on the house white while we read the menu. Three of us had seafood pastas and one had the amatriciana, or 'angry' pasta. I also remember an excellent artichoke side dish and some salads. Lunch for 4 came to 69 Euros.

Next came our church visit and the interiors of Santa Maria di Trastevere were lovely. But what I remember best was the baptism of a small infant that we saw was happening at the front - such a happy family moment.

We walked back to the hotel and got ready for our walking tour. But when we got to the meeting point, we found that for some reason the tour had been canceled. A bit disappointing, but no matter, David, Rachel and I had been to Rome, we could show Natalie around. But quickly, as the light was fading.

First, we had a good look at the cats in the Largo, and then we walked towards the Pantheon, which David claims is his favorite building in Rome. The crowds there were amazing and we couldn't enter the Pantheon due to Mass being conducted. We put the Pantheon on the list for Sunday and walked in the direction of the Trevi Fountain. Again, absolutely amazing crowds (well, it was the end of holy week), but David and the girls got down to the front and our pictures look like we were the only ones there.

Could not be in the Trevi area without a gelato break at San Crispino - still excellent, still crowded. We decided to walk to the Spanish Steps since Rachel had missed seeing them on her weekend visit in the winter. I was not surprised that the large crowds made her wonder what it was all about since I had had that feeling last summer, but we were amused by the street scene and did get to see a formal party parade by in a procession of horse-driven carriages.

The light was really fading and we walked over to catch the last rays on the Piazza da Navonna - Rachel wanted to show Natalie the street artists. While they shopped, David and I took seats on the fountain and watched a Charlie Chan impersonator entertain the crowds. When the girls were done, it was truly dark.

My plan for our dinner had been to try the Roman pizza at a place in Trastevere that was closed when we were there in July. But I realized that we much closer to Da Baffeto, just off Piazza Navonna, also someplace that we had found closed in July. With a little luck and Rachel's Italian, we located Da Baffeto and it's very long line. Rachel's Italian enabled her to ask for the waiting at the door and when the gentleman in front of us said that the half-hour estimate was fairly accurate, we settled in.

And we glad that we did. Da Baffeto was excellent pizza and a dining adventure, too. When we did get called for a table, we were at first disappointed to be inside since the it was a nice evening and the outside tables were inviting. However, our inside table was right opposite the pizza oven and so we had a floor show as well. At one point David even tried to figure out how many circles of dough the guy was rolling per hour, but we gave up. We think, tho, that each pizza was in for maybe 6 minutes, the oven was that hot.

The salads looked amazing, but we were there for pizza and red wine. I have had the thin-crusted Roman pizza in other places, but Da Baffeto has earned its reputation. The girls even decided to order theirs with the egg baked on top.

Walking back through the Campo di Fiori, we debated gelato or a drink and decided we just too full and tired. Trastevere was hopping with people, vendors, jewelry stalls - all very heady for the young but even Rachel and Natalie called it a day. The peaceful courtyard of the Hotel Santa Maria was calling us.

Next - Amazing Rome, or what you can do in a very long day in a wonderful city. Also, the vacation comes to an end . . .
socaltraveler is offline  
Jun 5th, 2006, 09:44 AM
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Our final day of vacation - Sunday in Rome.

More church bells for a wake up call this morning - this time from Santa Maria Trastevere around the corner. We have breakfast in the garden of the hotel (I am going to miss my breakfast rooms, indoors and outdoors) and make a plan for the day.

First up is a visit to the Porta Portese market. Held on Sunday mornings, I was excited to realize we could visit on our short stay in Rome. It became a necessity when Rachel realized that she really couldn't fit all her belongings in one suitcase for the sherpa parents to take home with them. So we go off to the market - it's hugely crowded and we find several luggage vendors. By we I mean David and I since Rachel and Natalies seem more interested in the looking at the jewelry stalls. But we do find a suitable bag for 20 Euros and decide to walk it back to our hotel.

Having done so we set off to see more of the city. Natalie is on her own "Angels and Demons" agenda and later that afternoon she leaves us to finish it up. First we walk to the Pantheon. The scaffolding of last summer is down and David and I get a completely different look at the outside. It's hot and I sit with some tourists while the girls wander around.

Next we're walking to St. Peter's and the Vatican. but we decide to find lunch first. There's a trattoria on a side street just off Piazza Navona (I decided I needed some prints to take home so we visit the artists again) and we stop for salads and a pasta for Natalie.

In July, David and I had taken a taxi from our hotel for an early morning Vatican tour, so this time doing the walk up the main boulevard gives us another magnificent view of the cathedral and its surroundings. There is quite a line even in mid-afternoon, but it moves quickly and soon we're inside. Rachel is our tour guide; she remembers a lot from her class visit in the winter.

David and I are tired; Rachel needs to repack her backpack and her new suitcase, so we part company with Natalie for a few hours. The three of us decided to visit the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and take a taxi there. It's magnificent inside; there's a private mass being held in a side chapel. We find another taxi and take it to the synagogue; David wants to cross the bridge there. It's too late in the day to see inside the syangogue, but we were there last summer and we stroll across the Tiber and back to our hotel.

The Santa Maria hosts an afternoon appetizer spread and we decide to open one of our bottles of wine (too many already in the suitcases); we find a table in the garden outside our room and have a truly lovely end to our afternoon in Rome.

For dinner we have reservations at da Gigetto, back across the river in the Jewish quarter. David remembers it from last summer and wants to return. It's an odd evening as the food is excellent (I introduce the girls to their wonderful fried artichokes), we have a nice table by the window and yet the service is just horrible. We are spared thinking that it's because we are Americans when we realize the waiter is treating everyone in the room with similar disdain. In retrospect, it's rather funny. For a last evening, it was just a little too bad. I think we would go back, but with so many other wonderful places in Rome . . .

And now it's really late as we walk back to our hotel. It's a Sunday night and Trastevere is still madly hopping with people and bikes and street vendors as it had been on Saturday.

David and I are leaving very early in the morning, and we are saying good-bye to Rachel, who is beginning her backpack adventure - she and Natalie are going to the Amalfi coast before Natalie has to go back to France. So we're full and tired and I'm sad. Italy has given us another marvelous adventure.

Monday morning's alarm goes off way too early but our driver is at the gates at 5:15 am. I'm sure he's surprised at our 4 large suitcases but I'm too tired to explain the sherpa sevice we're providing. The drive to FCO is quick; there are still stars in the sky. We are not alone in the airport but thankfully the BA counter is virtually empty.

A funny note - there is another couple checking in several bags and we exchange glances. The other woman says to me, "These 3 duffels belong to our son who is finishing his study abroad in Rome." I point to our bags and reply, "Our daughter's - from Siena." Fellow sherpa parents at 6 am in the Rome airport!

The flight to London is uneventful; we have breakfast (sadly not in the hotel garden) on the plane and it actually arrives 10 minutes early. This is a good thing because we have to change terminals and our flights were rather close together (I had had visions of missing the flight home). We even have time for a visit to the BA lounge.

The plane back to Los Angeles is the same lovely 777 that we had flown over - the Business class service is once again superb; in addition to good meals, we have lots and lots of time for movies since we are flying during daytime hours. So, there we are home again, through immigration and customs, with all our bags and we exit the terminal to meet our ride home.

Rachel's adventures in Europe are just beginning - it will be 5 weeks before she flies home from Paris.

socaltraveler is offline  
Jun 8th, 2006, 02:44 PM
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Marcia -
Thank you for a very enjoyable read. I smiled at the "sherpa parents". (I guess we all have those certain things in common, namely the lengths we will go to for our kids )

What a terrific adventure for Rachel! She'll remember it always and be hooked on travel for life.

Thanks again!
LCBoniti is offline  
Jun 8th, 2006, 02:56 PM
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I just came across your report today and loved it. How awesome your duaghter got to study in Italy, I wish I had done that. Great to be brought back to the Lingurian Coast, it is so beautiful there. Also refreshed my memories of my recent Italy trip. thanks for the report.
laartista is offline  
Jun 8th, 2006, 03:13 PM
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I loved your report. Isn't it amazing how trip reports make us feel the magic of Italy (or wherever) all over again, even though it might night be in the exact same village.

We are all so fortunate to be able to travel - such a special blessing.

Also, thanks for the encouragement for writing my own. - it is a daunting task to get all the t's crossed and i's dotted and come up with a trip report that is factual as well as brimming with all that emotion that is hard to stuff away!

Italy twice in one year, BRAVO, indeed!

Brahmama is offline  
Jun 8th, 2006, 07:26 PM
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And I thank you all for your kind words and encouragement. Moving on to other projects, as in our older daughter's wedding in October. We're hoping to return to Italy in summer '07 - so many places yet to see.

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