October in Tuscany/Umbria Trip Report

Old Nov 23rd, 2010, 12:14 PM
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October in Tuscany/Umbria Trip Report

My husband and are I in our mid 60's and are well traveled. We love to travel! We starting traveling after he retired and our sons were gone from the house, either in college or married.

This is going to be a very long report, and depending on how tired I get typing, I may break it up a little, always adding to the first part. Here goes!

Participants: Joe and Mary Lou Piscopo
Trip Dates: Oct. 9 - 23, 2010

The following is a trip report about our trip to Tuscany and Umbria in Italy, in October , 2010 for 14 days. Please remember when this report gets too long, it is also our personal journal of our wonderful trip. I always write a report when getting home from long vacations to special places


Starting last March, I researched and researched hotels in florence, Siena and Assis, spending hours on my computer. After many days of general searching and sites such as Fodors, SlowTrav and Trip Advisor, I still didn't know were we should stay. We were spending 4 nights in Florence, 6 nights in Siena and 2 nights in Assisi, with 1 night back in Florence before our fight home the next day.

So, I searched several more days! Finally I came up with the Hotel Orto de Medici in Florence. The Hotel had a great web site and offered 4 nights for the price of 3. Don't use a booking site for this hotel. We paid E640 for 4 nights, in a superior double (Room 81). We were supposed to have a balcony with a view of the city -- we had a balcony, but without the view of the city. Our view was of the garden between the two buildings of the hotel. It was one of the modern rooms (very large) off the courtyard in the hotel, with 2 bathrooms--1 with a vanity sink and tub with shower, the other a vanity sink and commode. The hotel served an included breakfast, which was typical in Italy. I had great hot chocolate every day, but I wished for cold milk for my cereal, but couldn't explain myself to the staff. Dinner was not served.

The Hotel was within walking distatnce to San Marco Convent, Duomo, Santa Croce, Mercantile Centrale, The Adademia and several restaurants. Good location and good hotel which I would recommend to anyone! The only problem we had was the fact that the room ws soooo cold! I called reception and was told the heat goes on November 1. We also stayed at the Hotel Orto de Medici the last night of our trip--in a deluxe room, which was also in the courtyard, which was colder than the first one. I think the extreme cold in these 2 rooms was due to the fact that these rooms were separated from the main building.

Oh, my! Now I had Siena and Assisi to tackle. Another several days of searching. I found a Lodge near Siena, that sounded charming. It was Francis' Lodge, about 1 km from Siena (as the crow flies) for E170/per night. All the reviews about the Lodge sounded good, so I emailed Francis inquiring about a room for 6 nights. She answerd with a 2 page email sounding friendly and very welcoming. She offered 2 different rooms for me to choose! (The lodge had only 6 rooms) I choose the White Room. To make a long story short, I ended up cancelling the Lodge because it was just too far from Siena, especially for 6 nights. Taking a cab or bus from the city center to the Lodge for that many nights didn't sound like fun. We lost our deposit of 1 nights, because I didn't cancel early enough.

Now I was back to square one, with not a lot of time to find a hotel in Siena. Back to my research. I found many hotels that would have worked, but they were booked. I finally decided on the Hotel Athena in a superior deluxe (Room 77), E144 per night. Our room was a very good size, and had a small Juliet balcony which overlooked part of the town and farm land outside the walls. There was also a large terrace on the 7th floor, where you could have dinner, if you arranged it a day before. I only saw I couple having dinner there, maybe it was just too cold for most people. The hotel is a little larger than most Italy hotel, 100 rooms. We didn't have the problem with the cold in this hotel, maybe they use a different calendar. Breakfast was include and it was very good. The usual cold meats, scrambled eggs, juices, coffee, very good hot chocolate, cereal, fruit and delious baked goods were available. in a large room. In fact they had 2 breakfast rooms. One on the 3rd floor from 7:30-10:30 and one on the 4th floor from 8:30-10:30. It could get quite crowded when large groups were staying in the hotel. Dinner was also served in the breakfast room. Make a reservation.

The Hotel Athena was a 15 minute walk to the Duomo and in another direction to Il Campo, uphill. All in all we were happy with the hotel and didn't lose much money even though we had lost the deposit at Francis' Lodge, because Hotel Athena's rate was lower. We would recommend this hotel to anyone.

Now on to Assisi! This one was tough and I couldn't find anything I really liked. Time was slipping away, and every hotel I check was booked solid. I finally chose Hotel Umbria, because it was in the center of town, about halfway between St. Francis Basilica and St. Clare's. It was located down a small alley off Piazza del Comune, and was the worst of the three hotels we stayed during our trip. We paid E115 per night, for a medium sized room which included a very meager breakfast. We were the only ones in the breakfast roomone morning. Dinner was also served every night, where we had dinner the first evening, which was not memorable. We soon discovered we were back to the cold. The room was freezing! It was so cold, it became a joke. The radiator was under a marble window sill, so the heat couldn't go out into the room. When we heard the heat click on, we would run to the radiator to at least warm our hands. It was so cold it got to be hilarious, we were laughing as we ran to the window to see who got there first. When we complained, the clerk told us the temperature in the room was 23C. At that tempersature we should have been comfortable, but the heat never reached the room. I would not recommend this hotel to anyone. Book early into a better hotel.


Before we left for our trip to Italy, I check the weather on line every day. I learned it was going to be cold and rainy the whole 14 days. Well, it didn't rain except for 1 day, but!! it was cold, cloudy and windy every day. If I remember correctly, we had sun for 2 full days and 3 half days! Every day I wore a long sleeved shirt, a fleece pullover and a lined rain coat But, when it was windy, even that ensemble didn't help. The weather made us cut short our itinerary each day; we didn't walk as far, nor see as much as we would have if the weather had been a bit better. Tuscany was having a cold spell while we were there, the temperature was 8-10 degrees cooler than normal. I decided that May or September would have been a better time to visit, but that cut into our golf season back home. No more October vacations for us!


The topic of food always comes up when you tell people you've been on vacation. My answer: It was just okay! Please let me explain. I cook Italian food all the time! I learned from my mother who learned from her mother. My grandmother lived in a rural area about 80 miles outside Rome. The food we had on our trip toTuscany and Umbria was nothing like the way my grandmother, mother or I cook(ed). I'll have to say that most of the pizza we had was good to very good, but the pasta with any kind of sauce was not to our liking, with a few exceptions. Our family makes a smooth red "gravy" for our pasta The pompadora sauce in Italy is close, but not thick enough and has small chunks of tomato. I longed for my own cooking. One night I ordered roasted chicken, and it came out burnt, with burnt veggies. My husband had some very good veal cutlets and okay steaks. We enjoyed the Caprese Salad with mozzarella and very fresh tomatoes, and the very fresh prosciutto and melon was the best I've ever had. I read that a good place to have a quick and cheap lunch was the self serve cafes, but when we did stop in a few, the food was reheated and surely tasted like it. We soon stopped eating at these places. We were disappointed, but I had expected as much,.


In Siena! I searched for drivers for our 5 day triip to the hill towns outside of Siena. I read many web sites and inquired into a few. Some were very expensive, up to E500 per person per day; some never replied to my request for information. Then I came upon Gianni of Tours Around Tuscany. His price was right--E170 per person per day. In the two days with Gianni we saw the Crete Senesi, Chiusure, Monte Oliveto Abbey, Montisi, Pienza, Montepucliano, Monticchiello, Buonconvento, Sant' Antimo Abbey, Montalcino, Bagno Vignoni, San Quirico D'Orcia, and lovely countryside scenes. We also had a driver (a friend of Gianni's) take us to Orvieto and on another day to Perugia and then onvward to Assisi. Gianni picked us up in Assisi for the drive back to Florence. On each of the 2 touring days with Gianni, lunch was included. He was a wealth of information with a wonderful personality. We discussed politics, religion and general life with him regarding both Italy and the US. We totally enjoyed our days--we highly recommend his services and we can't say enough good thing about Gianni tefano Rossi. You won't be disappointed if you have him guide you in Souther Tuscany.


This is another question every asks after you've been to Europe. Yes, we bought! I was on a mission to finish my Christmas shopping in Italy and I practically did! We bought jewelry, ceramics, jackets, cheese and candy. A big thank you to Joe, without him I would have spent way too much money. I was happy with my purchases, We also stopped in small grocery stores to buy snacks and sodas.


I took about 350 pictures during our trip. Of course, I took pictures of the impressive building and churches we visited, but also took many pictures of the narrow streets, grocery shops, people and landscapes. Many churches did not allow photos, but many people did anyway, and so did I, sometimes without a flash. In some Churches, the Uffizi Gallery and the Academia it was a definite no.


Yes, we did love it! To see all of the things I had read about was wonderful. We saw beautiful churches, a huge art gallery, ancient words of art, charming small towns, and beautiful landscapes. Everything was like a history lesson. In the US, we don't have buildings that are as old as the ones we saw in Italy. I was a wonderful experience and being away from the pressures of everyday life, we were able to reconnect as a couple married 41 years. We have fun, we were awed and we loved it all. Some day I would love to go back when the poppies and sunflowers are in bloom.

End of part 1, next up What Did You Do Each Day.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2010, 04:37 PM
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Enjoying your trip report ama22

We are planning a visit to the same areas next October. So I will be looking forward to your next instalment
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Old Nov 23rd, 2010, 07:41 PM
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Part 2


I'll try to remember, checking my journal and pictures, what we did each day. It gets a little fuzzy and starts to blend together the more you see!

Saturday, Oct 9, 2010/Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010

We left Chicago on a 7:20pm Swiss Air Flight to Florence via Zuirch, on a 330-300 aircraft. We flew Business Class, which was expensive, but well worth it for the 9 hour flight. We had flat bed seats, which while narrow, enabled us to sleep for a while during the night flight. The food on the flight was okay, nothing outstanding. The plane left Chicago on time and arrived around 20 minutes early. We went through passport control with no problem and then found the Swiss Air Business Class lounge to spend the 2 hour layover. The Zurich Airport is a large and modern airport. Our flight to Florence left on time and we landed around 2:00, Sunday, Oct. 10. We waited 45 minutes for our luggage (boy, I wish I could pack a carry-on only--maybe someday). We went through the big green sign which said "Nothing to Declare". Funny thing, it seemed that no one had anything to declare.

Our fun begins! We were in Italy, the country of our ancestors!! Outside the airport, we joined the line for a cab, which moved quite well. After 20 minutes we were in our cab heading to the Hotel Orto de Medici. The fare from the airport is a set charge, approximately E20 with a E1 or 2 for luggage and a surcharge for Sunday. We gave the driver a small tip. After settling into the hotel, it was nearly 4:00. We took a short nap (this is our way of getting over jetlag, and it works for us) The reception reserved a table for us at The Academia Ristorante.

Before dinner we decided to walk in the vicinity of our hotel. We walked around the corner and foundthe Convent of San Marco and then continued walking. We nearly reached the Duomo, but had to turn back for our dinner reservation. The Academia Restorante was very near our hotel. The restaurant was small and just about empty when we arrived. Dinner in Italy is late by our standards, 7:30.

What should we order? We had a Caprese Salad to start and pasta for our meal. I tried the much talked about pasta with cinghiale (wild board) sause, which wasn't to my liking. Joe had spaghetti. We also ordered 2 cokes (we don't drink wine, by choice. Our bill was E43. We walked back to the hotel and were asleep by 10pm. It had been a beautiful sunny day, as much as we saw of it.

Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

We woke to a cloudy, windy and when we left our hotel, chilly day (the first of many such days). We took our time getting organized and went to breakfast. Leaving the hotel at 9:30am, we began our first day of sightseeing. I had spent a good amount of time organizing our days, trying to visit places according to areas of the city, seeing one area each day.

Our first stop was the Santissima Annuniata, on the Piazza San Marco. The Church was dark, but beautiful. There was an altar,behind grating,on the left side of the entrance. This altar was surrounging by many hanging sanctuary lights. I made my wish, (always make a wish the first time you are in a church), and we left spending about 20 minutes here. No fee, open 730-12:30 and 4-6:30.

It was then on to the Duomo, the huge beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori. The Duomo is a massive building of different colors of marble, that sits in the Piazza Del Duomo. This is one of the few Churches in Italy that has marble on the entire building. Some Churches only have a marble facade and common brick on the sides and back. We waited in line for about 15 minutes (the wait was longer later in the day). The inside of the Cathedral was sparse, but quite beautiful. I was able to take picures with a flash without a problem. We couldn't get very close to the altar though because it was roped off.

The Piazza also has the Duomo Baptistery and the Campanile (Giotto's Bell Tower), made of the same beautiful marble. We decided not to climb the 400 or so steps in the tower and continued on to the Baptistery. The Baptistery didn't open until 12:15, so we enjoyed cokes and a rest at a cafe on the piazaa while we people watched and snapped pictures of the Duomo. We also had time to visit the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, which holds items that originally been in the Duomo, but were removed for preservation to the museum. The museum is very bright and airy, as it was recently renovated. The "Gates of Paradise" the original bronze doorsof the Baptistery were there, along with Michelangelo's second Pieta, which was probably sculpted for his tomb. The famous sculpture of the Madonna with the Glass Eyes was extraordinary. We also saw a model of the Duomo and sketches from the time it was being built. There was more to see here, but don't want to spoil your visit. This is a do not miss during your visit. E9 (tickets directly behind the dome end of the Duomo) open 9-7:30

It was time to go back to see the Baptistery. The first thing you notice are the bronze doors, which shone like the sun. Each panel on the doors has a scene thsat tells a story of the Bible. Inside, there are beautiful mosaics in the dome and the unique baptismal font. The Baptistery is one of Florence's oldest buildings, raised somewhere between the 4th and 5th centuries. E6 open 12:15-7

After spending most of the morning at the Piaza del Duomo, we walked to San Loreno, window shopping along the way. We did stop for lunch at Giannino (good pizza) near San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is a facadless church and is most likely the ldest church in Florence, founded in AD 393. It was at one time the city's cathedral and Medici Family's parish church. One of the main reasons for visiting this church is the Medici Chapels, which is behind the church. There are many chapels in the Medici Chapels: Chapel of the Princes, New Sacristy, Tomb of Lorenzo (Lorenzo Medici's granson, not the saint. Michelangeo built the last two chapels. San Lorenzo E3.50 open 10-5:30, Medici Chapels E6 open 8:15-5

We left San Lorenzo and meandered through the tents of the San Lorenzo street market. Almost anything you would want t buy in Florence can be found here, scarves, purses, coats, etc. Be watchful of quality. I did buy a linen dress and a pair of linen pans for #25, hopefull this was a decent price.

Our last stop of the day was the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. The Chapel of the Magi is the reason for a visit here. The walls are covered frescoes by Gozoli depicting the Journey of the Magi. E4 open 9-7. Leaving the Medici Palace, it was a short walk back to our hotel, where after having the staff make a reservation for us at Taverna del Bronzino, we napped for an hour or so. We left the hotel a little early for our 7:30 reservation. The fun begins again! When we arrived at the address, we couldn't find the restaurant. There was a sign, but it was not lit. This was a totally residential area, with a few shops thrown in. The grocery clerk we asked, pointed across the street to the unlit sign. We walked down the street and asked at an auto repair shop. This time the shop owner came with us to look and even he was confused. Finally, I pushed open the door at the address, and it opened to a pitch dark entryway, where I fell over a step, but also saw someone cooking. Soon, someone opened the door and we were led to a table in a lovely restaurant, very large with plenty of room between tables. The staff were great, explaining the menu to us. I ordered ravioli with tomato sauce with prosciutto and melon to start, Joe had a green salad and spaghetti. We had two bottles of water, a coke and dessert and the bill was E77. A little expensive for what youo got, but a great experience, one of the best restaurants where we had dinner.

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010

Today was one of the few good weather day (sunny and warm), so I was able to leave my coat behind. After breakfast, we stared our second day itinerary of Florence. Our first stop was the Academia Gallery to see the David, and what a sight it was! David is 17 feet hight and becomes more impressive the more you looked at it. Each muscle stands out--a Michelangelo masterpiece. We spent a good amount of time just starring and looked at the Prisoners (Slaves) sculptures. No photoes here E6:50 (we used our Friends of the Uffizi pass) open 8:15-6:30

FRIENDS OF THE UFFIZI PASS -- This much discussed pass it great! No so much in money saved, but in time saved The cost of the pass is E100 for a family. If you have the pass, you get "free" entrance into many of Florence's museum. The best part is you do not have to wait in line, you go right in. For the best information and how to obtain the pass, go to Slowtrav. I went to the web site, printed out the form, sent it and a bank check to the address on the form. Two weeks later, I received an email asking if I wanted the passes ailed to me. I responded that I did and two weeks later received the masses in the mail. There are many places in Florence where the pass can be used. I recommend the pass, especially for summer visitors, when the lines can get very long.

After seeing the David, we walked to Santa Croce Church, getting confused by all the little streets on the way. Santa Croce is a beautifl church were many famous people are buried: Michelangelo, Galileo, Gante and Machiavelli to name a few. The nave of the church is 375 feet long with pillars set far apart. There are two chapels of some importance: the Bardi Chapel depicting the deathe of St. Francis and the Baroncelli Chapel with its Gaddi frescoes. I had wanted to see the leather school which is in the church, but somehow we missed it. The Piazza Santa Croce is large with many paces to sit, to people watch and rest. All around th piazza are little shops and restsaurants. We went into a few of the jewelry shops, but they were very expensive.

The next stop on agenda was the Uffizi. On the way, we went through the Piaza della Signoria. In a loggia in the piazza there are a lot of statues, including a fake David. We had lunch in the piazza, which was not even edibible. When we found the correct door for Friends of the Uffizi members, we were let right into the Uffizi. We purchased two audio guides for E11, which were okay, but Frommer's Guide (which I had on my Kindle) ould have worked just as well. The are gallery is very large, with many, many paintings. You wuld need at least 2 or 3 visits to to through it with more than just a glance at the paintings. This is definitely a place where everything begins to blend together.

A SIDE NOTE: We had planned on visiting the Pitti Palace, but I had read in many books, that it is a very confusing gallery. Unlike the Uffizi, the paintings cover the walls from floor to ceiling with rhyme or reason and since paintings were starting to blend, we decided to skip it.

After 2 hours at the Uffizi, we walked back to Piaza Signoria to find a cab to the hotel. In Florence, you can't just hail a cab on any street, you have to call for one (charge) or go to a cab stand. We learned from the police we asked, that there was a cab stand at Piazza Republic. Back at the hotel, we had another nap. We had inner at Restorante Da Mimmo, which is where I had th burnt chicken and veggies. NOT recommended.

More in Part 3
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Old Nov 23rd, 2010, 08:11 PM
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Thoroughly enjoying your trip report ama22. We're heading to the same places in June next year and it's making me even more excited.

Looking forward to reading more.
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Old Nov 24th, 2010, 06:51 AM
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Part 3

Wednesday Oct. 13 2010

We slept in today, had breakfast and ready to go around 10:00. Again, it was cloudy and chilly with sprinkles. We took a cab from San Marco to the Galileo Science Museum. It has recently been renovated, and was large and bright with a lot of stairs to climb. We really enjoyed this museum. It is ful of may scientific instruments from the earliest invented. The items on display were used to measure nature and the world around us. We saw microscopes, many, many globes from the beginning of the study of the universe, clocks, thermometers and more. All of the early inventors and scientists were well represented. Highly recommended. E4 open 9:30-5.

After an hour at Galileo, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio. As we crossed over the Arno, I took many pictures of the River and the bridges that cross it. The Ponte Vecchio used to be a place of meats merchants, but the Medici's didn't like the smell, so they brought in gold smiths. So much glittering gold! It screams at you to buy, buy, buy, and I did. Five more Christmas presents off the list. You can find some reasonable prices and some that all the money in the world couldn't buy. Everything was beautiful!

We walked toward the Pitti Palace, looking for some stores I had read about, but couldn't find them. Stopped for lunch on Piazza Pitti at a self serve cafe, Pitti Bar, where the sign said "Pizza - E3". We should have known better. Believe me, it wasn't worth E1. That IS IT for self serve cafes. By the way the Piazza Pitti is not like other Piazzas in Florence, it is more of a street.

After have a coke and uneaten pizza for lunch, we took a cab to Santa MariaNovella, which sits on sa large piaa. The facade of the church is th original one and is beautiful. It is also the first church in Florence to admission. There are many beautiful crucifixes and frescoes. Some ofthe frescoes were probably painted by a very young Michelangeo. A renovation of the church in 1990 restored Giotto's Crucifix which hangs in the nave. No photos were allowed, so we bought some postcards to remember this church. I had decided we would see this church if we had time, and am glad we did. This is a must see in Florece. E2.50 open noon to 8

As we walked back to our hotel, we stopped at the Mercato Central food market. Most of the stalls were closed due to the late afternoon hour, but those that were open were interesting to see. One stall had hundrfds of prosciutto hams, cheeses, olvice, etc. The prosciutto looked so good!

For dinner tonight, we decided on a restaurant across from the hotel, Il Csardellino. We had a very good meal with a salad and cokes for E41. I would recommend this restaurant if you are staying in this area.

Have to stop now, will continue later today. Thanks for reading.
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Old Nov 24th, 2010, 05:45 PM
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October in Tuscany and Umbria Trip Report

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

Another day of clouds, chill and wind. We left the hotel at 9:30 for the train station by cab. Our train to Siena was at 11:45 and we had already bought our tickets from a trave agent in Florence. The train station was a mass of people and nowhere to sit. The train itself was very modern and clean, with a luggage rack above the seats. There were not reserved seats or class on this train. We at across from each other, so we both had a window. It was a peaceful 1 1/2 hour relaxing ride to Sina. Goodby Florence, see you soon!

When the train arrived in Siena, we exited the terminal to the right to the taxi stand. We were able to get a taxi right away, which took us across town to our hotel. The Hotel Athena was just inside the walls which we could see from our room. After settling in, we left on a shor walk uphill uphill to the Duomo, which took about 15 minutes. We bought a OPA ticket (E10) whih included the Duomo, Crypt, Museum and Baptistery. Fantiastic is the only word that comes to mind when you see the Gothic Duomo. We spent some time here. The highlight is the floor with its mosaics of 59 etched and inlaid panels. The floor which is usually covered with cardboard taped down, was uncovered. We were very lucky to be able to see it. Make sure you notice the dome and the ceiling. The paintings and frescoes were especially beautiful, and the pulpit designed by Pisano, was extraordinary. It stood on the side of the nave and had a curved staircase. The pulpit sits on pillars helld up by lions. The nave was lined with striped marble pillars, somewhat like Florence's Duomo, but in my opinion more impressive. The last hightlight was the Piccolimini Library, with was built by Pope Pius III tohouse the library of his uncle, Pope Pius II. Hight on the walls were fresoes and below them were many music books under glass. Below the Duomo is the Crypt, which was uninteresting. We decided to call it a day and return tomorrow for the Museum and Baptistrey. We walked back to our hotel to rest and then had dinner at the hotel, whih was pretty good.

Friday, Oct. 15, 2010

After a good night's sleep, we spent the day seeing the rest of the sights of Siena. I was another cloudy and chilly day as we walked back to visit the Duomo Museum. The Museum is another beautiful place in Siena. It contained, on the second floor, the city's masterpiece, Ducio Maesta, a double sided altar now separated on opposite sides of the room. Maesta means Virgin Mary in Majesty. On the upper floors, the Treasury Room has an early Crucifix by Giovanni Pisano, and silver religuaries. The Museum also has beautiful chalies, paintings and vestments.

Next on our list was the Baptistery. Siena's Baptistery could have been a very small church. It was the most impressive Baptistery we saw on our entire trip. The entire domes ceiling was covered with frescoes, and the font has a white fountain like sculpture in its center. Around the base of the font were gilded brass panels, depicting various scenes from the Bible. The Duomo of Siena is a favorite of ours. the Chappella of Santa Caterina has frescoes with scenes of st. Catherin and her very well preserved head.

We then walked to Il Campo, the heart and sould of Siena. Il Campo is the center square of Siena. There is a large foountain in the square, The Fonte Gaia, which is a replica of a 14th century masterpiece foountain. The square is an area, shaped like a shell, where the people of Siena gather to sit, visit and enjoy the life of the city. The University students come here to study. Il Campo is also where the Palio race is held each July and August, and you can see why, it is huge. The Palio is a horse race (barbacked) with 1 horse and rider from each of the 17 contrades. The contrades are named after animals or objects: giraffe, dragon, wave, tower, etc. Each one has its own headquarters, social cllub, museum and church. Il Campo is ringed with many restaurants and a few shops. We did a little window shopping an bought a few things from street vendors. We walked back to our hotel, and because I wasn't feeling wel, I slept for 3 hours. We had dinner at Due Ponte which was very good, but the service left a bit to be desired. I would recomment the restaurant very much, just ignore the wait staff.

Be back soon! I
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Old Nov 24th, 2010, 07:44 PM
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Thank you, Mary Lou! Great information--love it, keep it coming! Will be in this area in June. I'm already learning...the Galileo Museum? How did i miss that last time?
Glad you had a wonderful time,and thanks for your trip report. Your words will be on a copied page in my luggage.
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Old Nov 24th, 2010, 08:08 PM
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wonderful detail and so much fun to read!
just started planning our trip next October for 3 wks in Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast...
I am SO sorry abt your weather: I hope we have better luck...
Why did you choose to hire a driver vs. drive yourselves? even 340 E for a day seems high...
would love to know why you chose Siena for your base rather than further south? I'm debating best base to explore before we head south to Amalfi.
can't wait to read rest of your report as I'm copying it for ours!
thanks SO much!!!
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 06:42 AM
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Thanks everyone for your responses. I've spent a lot of time on this report, but as I've stated, it is our own journal.

izzofan - we chose to hire and driver because if we drove ourselves, one would be driving and the other navigating and neither of us would have seen anything of the countryside. Also, we are getting old! Gianni was great, although I would have liked to have gone to fewer towns and spent more time in each of them. I guess I should have been more specific in my dealings with him. I'm sure he would have been able to do this, but since I wasn't, he took us to things we thought we would like to see! But, I would use him again.

We used Siena for our base because the towns we wanted to see where all 1 to 2 hours from there. I guess the best base for you stay in would be the one closest to where yoou are going to spend most of your time.

Have a great trip. Thanks for reading, I've a lot more to write.
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 11:27 AM
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Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

On to more of our Oct, 2010 Tuscany and Umbria trip.

First of all let me apologize for the spelling errors above, I forgot to proof read.

Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010

Today we met Gianni of Tours Around Tuscany, who will be our driver/guide for the next 5 days. He picked us up in the lobby of our hotel, and after we spent time discussing a tentative schedule for our 5 days, we headed out of Siena to the southwest. We stopped in Buonconvento, a very small town that had a weekly market taking place, mostly clothes and household goods. We drove on to San Quirico D'Orcia with its beautiful gardens. As we were driving, we passed by the landscapes of the Orcia Valley. We also stopped at Bagno Vignoni, the home of the Medici hot sulfur springs that perculate from the ground. The Medici had built a pool on the main square, where today swimming is not allowed. We saw more sulfur springs in a more natural setting, on the other side of town. Here the sulfur bubbles up from small rivets in the hillside gathering in a pool at the bottom.

We were then driven to Montalcino, home of the Brunello wine,
passing through on our way to St. Antimo Abbey. The Abbey is in the middle of nowhere, sitting in the center of beautiful landscaping. The farm crops and the grape vines were already harvested and the grapes would be in December. We were at the Abbey at little before the Gregorian Chants were to start, so we had a chance to walk around the Romanesque church. The inside of the church is very simple, a beautiful crucifix and altar, a special painting of the Madonna and Child. At 12:15, the silent monks came into the church to sing the Gregorian Chant, with was the reason we came here. By this time the church had begun to fill. The awesome chants lasted for 15 minutes. After leaving St. Antimo make sure you stop to take a picture from the road above.

We drove back to Montalcino, just to walk around for a while. Every street has 2 or 3 wine shops Leaving Montalcino, we drove through more of the Orcia Valley to a small town of Monticchiello. Gianni had called ahead to reserve a table for lunch at LaBorta. It was a great place for lunch. I wish it had been warm enough to sit on the terrace for lunch, but alas, it was not to be. I ordered ravioli in tomato sauce, which was great and Joe's spaghetti was as well. We also had percorino cheese with honey. Delicious! Since we had a late lunch, we headed back to Siena and our hotel after a long day of enjoying the hill towns nearby.

During the day we visited a couple of spas for tomorrow. Joe wanted to use the thermal pool, and we both wanted massages after a week of hill climbing and walking, walking, walking. When we returned to the hotel, we called the Terme Adler, which sounded the best of the spas. Disappointedly, it was booked. We ended up making reservations at San Giovanni Terme Rapolano - more on this later. Gianni helpled with the language. For dinner that evening we went to Osteria Nonna Gina. The menu was handwritten and had so many items, it was practicallly impossible to read. I can't recall what we had, because it was not very memorable. I cannot recommend this restaurant, even though it was very close to our hotel.

Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010

Today was our day at the spa--once again the fun begins! The weather was about the same as previous days, but there was a call for heavy rains sometime during the day. Giani picked us up around 9:30, and we headed out to San Giovanni Terme Rapolano which was directly east of Sienna. Upon arriving Gianni went in with us and we were glad for his help. The gentleman at the front desk was the only one who spoke some English, the rest of the staff knew a few words. We ended up booking for me: a leg wrap, a facial and a deep tissue massage. Joe wanted an 80 minute massage, but they only had 50 minutes, so he booked 2 back-to-back. He also booked a Turkish bath and wanted to spend some time in the sulfur pools. Since it was a Sunday, the place was very busy. We gathered that Sundays were the days people came to use the pools with their families. We noticed that they had their own robes and towels. Gianni asked about that and we were able to buy them for E5, which we did and asked about towels, but there were no towels to be had. We took our robes and went to find the locer room. There were many closed doors with no signs. After seeing people come out of the rooms, we assumed they were locker rooms, men's and women's. We needed a E2 coin to lock the locker, which was gven back when you came to get your belongings at the end of your stay.

Since my first treatment was soon, I hurriedly put on my robe and went back to the lobby. I had no ideas what to do next. Someone led me to a lounge, where a girl came and brought me upstairs for my leg wrap. It was a great treatment, she put lotion on my legs and then wrapped them with a wet thin gauze. She covered my legs and indicated she would be back in 15 minutes. I was getting colder by the minute. Apparently that's what is supposed to happen. After the treatment she pointed that I should go back downstairs to the lounge to wait. I have to point out that there was also a lounge upstairs. Another girl came and brought me back upstairs for the facial. It was wonderful! After an hour treatment, she pointed for me to go back downstairs. Soon a young man came and guess what, I was led back upstairs for my massage. It was a nude massage, with a thong to wear. Still no towels. Afterward, I went back to the locker room, got dressed and sure enough got my E2 coin back.

Joe on the other hand, had his massages start just as I was finishing. He had gone to the Turkish Bath, and although he had a ticket to show he had paid, no one was there to take it.
He then had his massages and we met in the bar. Gianni came, and we left the spa in the pouring rain. Since we hadn't seen rain since we had arrived in Tuscany, it was okay. We drove back to Siena and dinner at 4 Contrada, which was very good. If you have the time and the inclination to have some body treatments, do it at least for the experience, but pick a better spa, such as Terme Adler which I mentioned earlier.

Monday, Oct. 18, 2010

We left with Gianni at 9:00 on another cool and cloudy day, to explore the southeasten section of Tuscany. Our first stop was Monte Oliveto Maggiore, which is near Asciano, built in the early 15th century. Here we saw beautiful frescoes in pretty good shape, dipicting the life of St. Benedict. The Olivetians are still an active order within the Benedictines. The frescoes were outside in a loggia, and tell a very interesting story of the saint. Gianni explained the story from start to finish, pointing out some interesting facts. He then showed us a room, through a grate, where the monks have their meals.

Leaving, we drove through the small town of Chiusure where we saw a funeral. Since Chiusure is a really small town, the people were walking behinh the casket to the cemetary. We also drove through an area called the Crete Senesi, which is a series of hills made of a rich grayish clay, as opposed to the Orcia Valley, which was green farmland, landscape and cypress trees. Cypress trees are everywhere in Tuscany. Gianni told us that they were first planted to mark the borders between farmland. Now there are rows and rows of cypress, making a beautiful scene across the landscape. We were on our way to Pienza, which was one of the towns, I had told Gianni I wanted to visit.

Pienza is a small hill town near Montepulciano The center is the Piaza Pio II, in honor of Pope Pius II who wanted to build a Renaissance town. He wasn't quite successful beyond a few building in the piazza. We visited the Duomo, which was designed by Rossellino in the 15th century, but were only able to see the outside, because the church was closed. The guide books said that the churh is now suffereing with cracks in the nave and walls. I would hae loved to have seen the inside. We walked a little in Pienza where I took some pictures of building and homes. We stopped in a cheese store to buy some Pecorino cheese. The shop owners let me taste 3 different variaties; very fresh, moderately aged and very aged. I like the fresh the best because it was soft and had a very light texture with no bitterness. As it was now past lunch time and because we really had liked La Borta in Monticchiello, we went back there for lunch today. After having another very good lunch, we headed toward Montepulciano.

Montepulciano is another small town soouthwest of Siena, but is larger than Pienza. It is also a town of wine. We didn't stay long in this town, again because of the weather. The highlight of Montepulciano is the Church of Madonna of San Biagio. St. Biagio (St. Baise in English) was an Armenian doctor who became a bishop, and then turned to a more contemplative life in the mountains. Italians invoke St. Biagio to heal them from sore throats. In the US, his feast day is in (I beieve) February, when Catholics have their throats blessed. St Biagio is a beautiful church on the outskirts of Montepulciano. Make sure you stop to take a picture from the hills surrounding the town.

Back in Siena, we decided to just have dinner at the hotel, because I didn't feel very well. It was a good meal. If you are staying at Hotel Athena and are too tired to climb (as we were) the hills to a different restaurant, I can recommend dinner at the hotel.

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

If its Tuesday, it must be Orvieto in Umbria. The day started out as usual, cloudy and chilly, but turned out to be sunny and warm in Orvieto This town was a late addition to our tours from Siena. I have to make a point here that Gianni only guides in Tuscany and since Orvieto is in Umbria he only provides transportation. He asked us if it was okay if a friend of his, Alesandro, drove us to Orvieto. He would wait for us and drive us back to Siena. That plan was fine with us, as we were able to make another friend in Italy. The drive took about 1 1/2 hours, passing again some beautiful landscape.

Orvieto's Duomo was the reason I wanted to visit this town and as the books say is "amazing". From the outside it looks very much like the Duomo in Siena, but with fewer curlicues and niches. The bronze doors, representing the "works of mercy" designed by Emilio Greco in 1970, are controversial because of being too modern.

The interior is also impressive with mosaics and frescoes. There are 2 main chapels inside the Duomo, the Cappella del Corporale, which honors the "Miracle of Bolsena". The story goes like this: in 1263, a young priest who doubted the miracle of transformation of the communion wafer and wine into the actual body and blood of Christ. While this young priest was saying Mass in the town of Bolsena, several miles south of Orvieto, the Host he was raising to the heavens began to drip blood onto the cloth on the altar. The cloth was sent to Pope Urban IV, who was in Orvieto at the time and it was proclaimed a relic which led to the feast of Corpus Christi. This cloth resides in a gilded silver case in Orvieto's Duomo. The other important chapel in the Duomo is Cappella San Brizio which contains one of the Renaissance's greatest fresco cycles. The work was done by many painters including Fra Angelico. It is also said that Michelangelo so admired the fresco that he used it for inspiration for the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. We couldn't take photos inside the Duomo, so we purchased a book describing what we were seeing. I bought more Christmas gifts in the ceramic stores of Orvieto.

We met up with Alesandro and began the drive back to Siena, having him drop us off at Il Campo. We arrived early in the afternoon to a continuation of sun and warmth, and we were finally able to remove our coats. We decided that we had brought it back with us from Orvieto. We basked in the sun and had a leisurely lunch at L'Osteria Del Bigeli, which was very good. We again had pizza since it something we feel safe with. We had asked Gianni where we could buy a soccer jersey from the Italian National Team. He told us to go the Champions Store near the Campo. We did go there buy they did not sell soccer jerseys. When we were looking for the Champions Store, we found Pasticeri Nannini, a huge pastry shop, with so much to choose from. We had our dessert there.

We took a taxi back to our hotel for a short rest and tried to make a reservation at Taverna San Giuseppe, but it was booked. So looked at the second restaurant on my list, and went to Ristorant Guidorricio. It was excellent and is highly recommended. The owner greeted us at the door and showed us to our table. He was so pleasant and we had a very nice conversation. After our dinner, he called a taxi for us, who drove us back to our hotel. A word about taxi drivers: for the most part they were very quiet and took us exactly where we wanted to go When you called for one they came promptly. The fare for the taxis was very reasonable.
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 12:02 PM
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You brought back some memories. More, please.
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Old Nov 25th, 2010, 03:37 PM
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Don't feel badly about rating restaurant food in Italy just 'okay.' Most home cooks in Italy would agree with you.

The next time you come to Italy, you might want to rent an apartment in a farmhouse that also cooks meals for its guests. That way, you can eat the food cooked by the owners -- real home cooking -- also you cook some of your own meals using the local ingredients, which can be fantastic.

Also, the next time you go to Italy, either buy Fred Plotkin's guide to Italy's regional cooking, or follow Mario Batali's website. Tuscany and Umbria generally do not make great tomato sauces (especially in October), nor do the locals eat a lot of chicken dishes. Pizza -- especially with mozzerella -- is not a specialty of the region. It's there for tourists. You read on the internet raves about roadside fast food in Italy, but usually it is terrible!

So it really pays off to try to get as close as you can to a home-made meal in Italy -- either in a farmhouse, or by asking locals where to go to taste the best traditional cooking. That said, if you crave wonderful tomato sauces, best to make your next Italian voyage southern Italy or Sicily.
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Old Nov 26th, 2010, 11:25 AM
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Oct. Tuscany and Umbria Trip Report

This should be the last entry in my overly long trip report.

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010

Today we left Siena on a sunny day, Alesandro doing the driving. We wre on our way to Assisi, with a stopover in Perugia, and on the way passed the huge Lake Trasimeno. The sun was shining on the lake is it was a bright blue. Perugia, a medieval hill town of Gothic palaces, is the capital of Umbria. The town was founded before 40BC, and has a bloody history. Alesandro dropped us at the Duomo which is between Piazza Danti and Piazza IV Novembre. Perugia, although being a major Italian city and a provincial capital, its Duomo had a disappointing facade. I took a picture on the outside of the Cathedral, of a crucifix behind a white glass window. It has somewhat of a mystical feel and turned out to be a beautiful picture. The interior, even though the pillars are painted, and not made of marble, is impressive with its curved arches on the ceiling. There were a handful of good paintings and in the Cappella del Santo Arnello is a gilded box protected by 15 locks which has, supposedly, the wedding ring of Mary. History tells us the ring was probably stolen from Chiusi in 1473. The ring is shown to the public on July 30, the day it was brought to Perugia and the second to the last Sunday in January, which is celebrated as Mary's wedding day. There is a beautiful altar with very tall silver candlesticks with very tall candles. Behind the altar are three beautiful stained glass windows. If you are in Perugia, it is well worth a visit. free open 7-12:30 and 4-6:45

In front of the Duomo, also called the Cathedral di San Lorenzo, is the Fontana Maggiore, which is what the guide books call "one of the prettiest public fountans". It dates from 1278, and is adorned with zodiac figures and symbols of the 7 arts. We spent the rest of our time in Perugia at the annual eurochocolate festivel. Again, fun! We saw tent after tent showing and selling wonderful chocolates. I had a warm crepe with warm chocolate inside, again wonderful, but very filling! We bought some more chocolate at the different tents to enjoy in Assisi and also to bring home, some for my chocolate loving friend and the rest for me! Right outside the Duomo there was a stage with entertainment. There were a man and woman dressed up as jesters, who talked us into having our picture taken. I was given a male jester's hat and Joe wore a blond pigtail wig. We were laughing the whole time.

We soon left Perugia, leaving behind some things I had wanted to see, but as in every town we visited around Siena, there was never enough time to see everything. Maybe next time. We arrived in Assisi in the late aternoon and checked into our hotel. Assisi is a small town and one of the Christian world's more important pilgrimage sites It is situated on a high hill with an amazing valley below.

After we settled in, we went to see the Piazza Comune, which is the highest point of the city. We decided to visit the Temple of Minerva this afternoon, and save tomorrow for the biggies in Assisi. The Temple of Minerva dates from the time of the Emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD) and originally dedicated to the Roman goddess of wisdom. In later times, it was used as a monastery and a prison, before being converted into a church in the 16th century. On the outside you wouldn't know it was a church, as it looks more like a Roman ruin, except for the cross on the building. The inside was transformed into a completely baroque church. The altar is beautiful, set in a blue alcove, with gold accents and statues. There is a painting of Mary with a lit halo of lights. free open 7:15-7:30.

We also had time before dark to walk to Assisi's Duomo, St. Rufino. The present facade is very simple with a campanile, which was built later, that fits right into the scheme of the church. The first church (412) was built to house the bones of St Rufino, the martyred first bishop of Assisi. A better documented building was raised 1029, and then another was built (the one you see today) in 1140 and consecrated in 1252. The interior of the church has some beautiful paintings and altars. free open 7:30-12:30 and 2:30-7. By then it was getting dark, so we walked back to our hotel, where we had dinner in their restaurant, Giardino I think we were the only guests in the hotel, as we were the only ones at dinner and breakfast the next morning Not recommended as a hotel or a restaurant.

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

We woke to a very foggy morning. The Valley was gone!! On this last day of our fabulous trip to Tuscany and Umbria, the agenda included the Basilica di San Francesco and the Basilica di Santa Chiara (St. Clare). Both of these Basilicas had a very modern look on the outside, unlike the Gothic and Baroque Churches we had seen. As we walked downhill to St. Francis, even the great Basilica has disappeared. I thought it would be a good idea to take a picture of the Basilica through the fog, so wo would remember what the day looked like. By the time we came out of the Basilica, the fog had lifted in the city, but the valley never did show up.

What can one say about the Basilica di San Francesco? It is the most impressive church I have been in. The church itself is in two tiers. The contsruction of the church began in 1228, just two years after the death of St. Francis, by Elias of Cortona. Elias also ran the Franciscans after Francis' death, until 1239, when he excommunicated for political reasons. Francis had picked the most despised spots to be buried, a place known as the Cole del Inferno, where criminals were taken to be executed. But, Elias and his posse burst onto the scene of Francis' funeral procession and stole the body. They took the coffin to the lower church of the Basilica. Francis' tomb remained undiscovered until a two month search in 1818.

The Lower Church is the place to begin your visit. The main nave is covered with frescoes including Scenes from the Passion and Episodes from the life of St. Francis. This part of the Basilica was recently renovated and all of the frescoes, which filled the entire Church were brightly colored and striking. There were Chapels of San Marino, Martini and Martin of Tours. The frescoes in these chapels tell the storys of the saints. The ceiling was made of many, many arches, painted in bright colors. This huge Church had so much to look at, that I wish I had taken notes while we were there. I took a few pictures of the interior of the Lower Church, but since taking photos was prohibited, we bought a book to supplement.

The Upper Church is much narrower and is bright and airy. It is a totally different achitectural, aesthetic and emotional experience than the Lower Church. It is more a gallery for Giotto's Life of St. Francis' fresco cycle, which is considered the greatest of all Italian frescoes. Again there is so much to see here, the only thing I can say is don't miss Assisi and its beautiful Basilica di San Francesco.

While we were at the Basilica, we also visited the museum. The entrance was through the doors in the transept behind the main altar. The museum holds vestments, silverware, reliquaries, all things give to the Franciscans over the centuries. There were also square bronze plaques with scenes of the Life of Christ from the beginning and framed marble sculptures of the Madonna and the Christ Child, and more.

Before we left the Basilica we went into the gift shop where I bought our gransons typical St. Francis' rosaries, and a gold Byzantine cross for myself.

After two hours we left the Basilica and walked up hill toward the basilica of St. Clare. On the way there were many churches, which were probably small parish churches. It was a long walk, since it was on the opposite side of town that St. Francis. When we arrived at St. Clare's it was closed until 2:00. We had lunch at a small restaurant near the Basilica, but I don't remember the name. I did a bit of last minute shopping and it was then 2:00.

St. Clare of Assisi was a very close companion of St. Francis and the founder of the Poor Clares Franciscan order of nuns. She was born to a noble family, but caused problems with her family, when at the age of 17, rejected them to live with the saint. St. Francis cut her blond curls, gave her a coarse tunic to wear and converted her to Christianity.

The Basilica of St. Clare has a very simple outside, and dark and almost bare inside. A German bishoip, afraid that the nuns mught be corrupted by the many tourists who would come to visit, obliterated the frescoes. Some however, survived, mostly in the transepts above the high altar. It is here you can see scenes from the Apocalypse and Life of Christ. Underneath these scenes are frescoes of The Death and Funeral of St. Clare. Also above the altar is a large 13th century crucifix. A chapel to the right side, the Orstaori del Crocifisso, contains the Byzantine Crucifix. Alongside are various clothes and oddments that belonged to Clare and Francis. The body of St. Clare, perfectly preserved by nature or miracle, is in the Baroque crypt. open 8-12:30 and 2:00-7.

This was a very tiring day, with all the walking and hill climbing, so we trudged back up the hill to our hotel. We rested (read slept) until dinner at a restaurant on Piazza del Commune. It was pratically next door to our hotel, near the fountain. We went to sleep dreaming of our great trip. Try very hard to fit Assisi into your itinerary.

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

Gianni was coming to pick us up at 10:00, so after breakfast, we packed and waited for him to srrive. We left Assisi, and I asked Gianni if we could stop at Santa Maria degli , which is about 3 miles from the center of Assisi. Of course he said "of course". This is the only church his mother asks him to take her. St. Maria of the Angels is a large, beautiful all white Church. The purpose of this church is to shelter the Poruincola (Little Portion), the small chapel that was St. Francis' first Church. The Porzuincola is the highlight of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The church itself is also a highlight. On the outside, way on the top, is a gold statue of the Girgin. There is also a beautiful dome above the church.

We left Assisi and headed to Florence for our last night of the trip. Gianni droped us off at Hotel Orto de Medici, where took pictures and gave hugs. We waved goodby and went to our room where we relived our trip together. We then repacked so that were were down to the amount of luggage we had when we left Chicago, two large suitcases, my carryon and Joe's small brief case. The next morning the hotel called us a taxi and we were on our way to the Florence airport for a 9:40am flight to Chicago via Zurich. Our flight home arrived with no problems on time at 3:35pm. Jet lag was worse going east to west. It took me a few days to get settled.


In no particular order, the highlights were: Duomo, Baptistery, Museum of Florence; The David; St Maria Novella Church in Florence; Duomo, Baptistery, Museum of Siena; All of the landscape of Tuscany and Umbria, Basilica of St Francis; Santa Maria degli Angeli and last but not least, Gianni of Tours Around Tuscany.

Restaurants we enjoyed: Taverna del Bronzino, Florence; Il Cardellino, Florence, Du Ponte, Siena; Ristorante Guidorricio, Siena and La Porta, Monticchielle

We had a wonderful time in Italy and would recommend highly a trip to Tuscany and Umbria. I want to go back to Italy to research my families' genealogy in Lazio and Naples. If you have a chance to visit Tuscany/Umbria, I would advise fewer small hill towns in order to see more in each one. Bon Voyage!

Thank you for reading this trip report. Hope you enjoyed it.
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Old Nov 26th, 2010, 02:14 PM
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Zeppole, thanks for those comments about food! You are "validating" our decision to stay at an agriturismo where the owner's wife cooks dinners on request for guests. (And its reviews say once they tried the owner's home cooked dinners, outside restaurants were not as appealing!)

Ama/Mary Lou, another "mille grazie" for this incredible and detailed journal report.Thank your experience and adventure with us!
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Old Nov 26th, 2010, 08:47 PM
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Thanks for your wonderful trip report! We hope to be in Tuscany next May!
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Old Nov 27th, 2010, 06:57 AM
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Did you put your reply on the wrong post? If not, what is this about? This has nothing to do with the subject matter opf this post.
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