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travelgirl2 Oct 31st, 2006 07:36 AM

Day 68 – Tuscany – Market Day in Castellina in Chianti

Today there is a small market in Castellina in Chianti. Some people tour the market and have lunch at one of the food stands. DS2 especially loves being out and seeing everything there is to see. He is the impetus for many sightseeing excursions.

The afternoon is spent at the villa, doing the usual relaxing activities.

I just want to mention that you should be careful about using a converter for motorized appliances in Italy. Someone in our group (I won’t mention any names), used an adapter plug without a converter, thinking that was all they needed. It ended up blowing out the motor on their hair dryer. Oh well.

In the evening, we drive to Badia a Coltobuono. We want to go here for dinner. We have eaten here before and quite enjoyed it. We’ve been trying to call all day, but we seem to have the wrong number. Tourist information is not answering their phone, so all we can do is drive to the restaurant and see if they can take us.

It takes us an hour of driving on windy, windy small roads to get to the restaurant. We are relieved to see that they are open. We walk in and ask for a table for eight. The lady looks shocked and says she is sorry, but they are too busy tonight. Ok, I say, how about tomorrow night? So, we make a reservation for the following night.

Then, we stop halfway home, in Radda, and look for a restaurant. We eventually find one that can take us, in two separate tables of four people. The restaurant is okay, but nothing special. We are starving, though, so we gobble up our dinners.


travelgirl2 Nov 1st, 2006 10:46 AM

Day 69 – Tuscany – A Visit to a Hill Town

Today, DH, DMIL, DFIL and the kids take a quick trip to Monteriggioni. This is a delightful little hill town and they have fun exploring it.

The rest of us stay at the villa, reading and playing cards. The pool looks very enticing today. Iolanda drops by to collect the weekly housekeeping fees. I thank her again, telling her in my very limited Italian how nice she is, and give her a big hug. I also give her a small present, a cute little coin purse I purchased in Spain. She launches into a torrent of Italian, about she is sorry and she doesn’t make the reservations and how all the villas were booked and how nice our family has been and she understands that I was worried about the older folks.

The week with the steep stairs turns out okay. No one falls or gets hurt. Unfortunately, though, many people severely limit their activities, so as to not have to take extra trips on the stairs. DM and DMLIL spend a lot of time alone at their villa, not wanting to take multiple trips up and down. Our stairs are exhausting for all the older folks. I am thankful that Iolanda had a rope railing installed. At least that made the climb a little safer. DMIL breaks her promise and sneaks out, unescorted, several times to walk through the vineyards. Oh well, I guess at 77 years old you can do whatever you want. Just kidding - once the rope was installed, the stairs seemed much safer. At least there was something to hold on to.

Today, DFIL asks to borrow some Tums. Apparently, the twisty, windy ride last night didn’t agree with his stomach. I ask him if we should change our reservation for tonight. But, he is a trooper and he says he can make the trip again. I suggest he might ask DH to drive a bit more slowly, so he does.

In the evening, we went back to BADIA A COLTOBUONO for dinner. We must have taken a more direct route, because it only took us 40 minutes this time. And, we were driving pretty slowly. The dinner and prices are a little bit more upscale than the other restaurants we’ve eaten in this week. The service is lovely and the table is beautifully set. DMIL remarks that the crystal is gleaming here. I have flat bread with olives and green tomatoes, vegetable lasagna and duck with sausage stuffing served over lentils. Four people share a huge T-bone steak. Yum. The lamb also looks good.

On the way home, we stop for gelato. After a week of trying gelato all over the place, we all think that the shop in Castellina in Chianti has the best gelato. This is the shop with the giant ice cream cone outside. I have cioccolato (chocolate), nocciola (hazelnut) and milk flower. I have no idea what milk flower is, but it is the purest white color you can imagine, so I decide to try it. It tastes like a very creamy vanilla.

noe847 Nov 1st, 2006 11:19 AM

Oh, that duck with sausage over lentils sounds so GOOD!

LCBoniti Nov 1st, 2006 02:00 PM

That whole meal sounds wonderful!

Still enjoying this, tripgirl . . . Thanks for not giving up!

travelgirl2 Nov 2nd, 2006 02:39 PM

Day 70 – Visit to Tivoli and Drive to Rome

This morning, we pack up. One more time. That is the one part of this trip that is getting old.

We are out of our villa by 9:30 am. We drive towards Rome and then veer off to TIVOLI. We would like to visit VILLA D’ESTE, which is renowned for its gardens. Once in Tivoli, we circle around and around. Three times around the city. The lady on the GPS keeps telling us to drive in circles. When we are in front of a pizza shop, she says that we have arrived at our destination. I don’t think so. The town’s signs for the villa also keep telling us to drive around in circles. We are not having any luck finding the place.

So, DH tries another way. We turn onto a street and almost immediately I notice that there are a lot of people, but no cars. When I mention this to DH, he says that he is on the street already and he can’t back up. So, we continue on. People are surprised to see us and scurry to get out of the way. We are driving a very obtrusive, big, white, 9-passenger van. It’s not like we can slip by unnoticed. Several Italians start wagging their fingers at us. By then, we know that we should not be here. We are on a pedestrian street. But, we can’t find a way off the street. Every exit is blocked with posts. Yikes. We keep going. But, the end of the street is also blocked with posts. After about a half a mile, we stop the van in the middle of the walkway, blocked on all sides.

We are the object of some amusement and also much consternation. DH is practically beside himself. Some people in the van are encouraging him to just drive over the curb and try to squeeze past the barriers. He doesn’t know what to do. I tell him I think we’ll get stuck if we try that. DFIL and I jump out of the van. We try to get some help. No one speaks English. In a shop, I ask for the polizia. The lady walks me down the street and then points in the direction of the police station. I head in that direction and, a few minutes later, I see a policeman on the street. I ask him if he speaks English. No. I say, “Problema, pedonale” (that’s what the signs for the pedestrian walkway say) and pantomime driving. Then, I hit my head as if I am an idiot. (Well, at this point, I am an idiot.) He knows exactly what I am saying. He very calmly repeats in Italian something to the effect of, “oh, you have driven down the pedestrian walkway and now you can’t get out?” Yes, yes, I nod. I think he tells me to back up the car. I ask him to follow me to the car.

The policeman helps us to back up a block and execute a u-turn. Then he points down a very narrow side passageway that will eventually take us back to the traffic area. All 8 of us breathe a sign of relief when we are back on the real road. DH tells me it is a good thing there were so many other people in the car, or else he would have been yelling at me much worse than he was. Although he is generally a very calm person, driving difficulties can very easily flip him over the edge. We all agree that this darn villa better be something special!

Having had enough of driving around, we find a parking spot and walk through town looking for the villa. Eventually, we have to stop for lunch. We are all kind of shell-shocked as we eat our pasta. After lunch, we finally find the villa.

We breeze through the villa and then spend about 2 hours walking through the gardens. It is located on a steep hill and it is a huge property. There are beautiful fountains situated throughout. It really is spectacular, if you are a garden sort of person. DM and DMLIL are not garden people and they elect to sit in the café at the top of the garden and enjoy a relaxing drink and dessert while they overlook the sweeping hills and wait for us. Those who walk through the gardens marvel at the scope and beauty of the place. DFIL and DMIL especially love this place.

After visiting the villa, we continue driving to Rome. We have debated how best to do this. Do we drive to the hotel and drop everyone off? Or, do we go straight to the airport and take taxis into town? We decide that it will be less complicated for everyone, although more stressful for DH, to drive into town. DH, with the help of the GPS voice, drives us to within a block of the hotel. In fact, as we arrive on foot at the hotel, DH passes us while trying to find his way back to the airport! We are staying at the ALBERGO DEL SENATO, which shares a square with the Pantheon. When DH meets us back at the hotel, he is pretty stressed out from driving on the narrow streets. Everyone is so grateful that DH has volunteered to do all the driving. At this point, DH is happy that I’ve asked the man at the front desk to make us a dinner reservation at a café right on the plaza.

Before dinner, though, we have to go up to the rooftop bar at the hotel. Michel serves us some drinks. DMIL and I have our first Bellini’s ever. The view is beautiful. We look across the rooftops of Rome, including the Pantheon, as the sun is setting.

Dinner on the plaza is nice. Service is so slow, though, even by Italian standards. A primi patti of pasta with funghi and a second course of sea bass are good. A couple of people enjoy veal saltimbucco alla romano. We all keep filling DH’s wine glass, since we know he has had a trying day. It’s nice that we just have to walk across the plaza to go to bed.

After dinner, DH, DMIL, DFIL and the kids stop off at the gelateria near the hotel. As they walk in the door, the guys at the counter are in the process of changing the radio station. The counter guys turn the music up really loud and start dancing. So, the kids and DMIL start dancing around the shop too. The workers are so entertained that they call DMIL “Mama” and give her a free gelato!

olive_oil Nov 2nd, 2006 02:54 PM

Can I travel with you all next time?

travelgirl2 Nov 2nd, 2006 03:10 PM

Sure, if you're willing to be locked inside of a van with eight people bickering over how to get unstuck, while Italians are wagging their fingers at you, and then jump out and go in search of a policeman.

travelgirl2 Nov 2nd, 2006 03:14 PM

But, Villa D'Este was worth it. (I'm not sure if DH would agree...)

travelgirl2 Nov 6th, 2006 07:04 PM

Day 71 – Rome – Touring, Touring, Touring

Now that we’ve shortened our time in Rome to two days (impossible!), we will be very busy today. First, we all meet for a very good breakfast at the hotel (included in the room rate).

DH and DS1 take a tour with www.contextrome.com. Their tour guide is Diane Archibald, a professor of architectural archaeology. She is visiting Rome for two years, from Vancouver, Canada. They have a group of 6 people. The walk lasts four hours and is comfortable, not strenuous. They start at the back entrance of the Palatine Hill, explore the Palatine Hill, overlook the Roman Forums, and then walk through the Roman Forums to the Coliseum. DH and DS1 both think the tour is excellent and are impressed with the tour guide’s knowledge.

DM and DMLIL decide to take a bus tour on the 110 Open Trambus and invite the rest of us to join them. DM and DMLIL enjoy the ride around Rome, sitting on the top of the bus for a couple of hours as it makes its circuit around town. DS2, DMIL, DFIL and I join them for a while, but decide it would be more interesting on foot, so we hop off the bus near the Roman Forum. [I have to say that I would really not recommend this bus, as I didn’t find the announcements to be frequent or very interesting. Plus, we stopped for about 20-30 minutes at two of the stops, to let people board.]

Now on foot, we walk along the street leading from the Roman Forum to the Coliseum. The road is closed to traffic today, as it is Sunday. There are lots of people out walking, enjoying the sights. DMIL and I stop in a bar to use the bathroom. I feel like we are sneaking in, so we buy a water bottle. It’s too bad there really aren’t too many public restrooms in this area.

I call DH to see if he and DS1 will be done with their tour soon. Once again, it is great to have international cell phones. DH tells me to run over to the Palatine Hill to get tickets to the Coliseum and we can meet inside the Coliseum. This is a great tip, as there is only a ten minute line at Palatine Hill, whereas the line at the Coliseum looks very long. We go right into the Coliseum, just walking past the hundreds of people waiting in line to buy tickets.

We meet up with DH and DS1 inside. It is so neat to show DMIL and DFIL the Coliseum. I am relieved to find an elevator which brings us upstairs, so that no one has to climb lots of stairs. I have never really noticed what kind of accommodations places have for elderly people or people with limited mobility, so this trip has been an eye-opener for me in that regard. In general, it is great that people are focusing more on accessibility, but there are still so many places which are not fully accessible.

We head back to the hotel for a short rest. This afternoon, we have booked a class with Rome Context Tours. It is a language course. DM and DMLIL bow out, so the rest of us take taxis across town to a wine bar. There, we meet with an engaging Italian fellow, while we sit in a private room and have wine, soda and various types of bruschetta. The teacher is an Italian professor at a college. Before going, DMIL and DFIL didn’t know what to expect. I think they thought it would be a dry lesson in Italian grammar. Instead, it was an engaging discussion of Italian culture and traditions, combined with a bit of Italian language. DFIL, in particular, really seemed to love it. The kids, also, were more engaged in the discussion than I expected them to be. It turned out to be a fun time for all of us.

For dinner, we go to the place we call “Mama’s”. The real name is DAL PALLARO. There is no menu. Mama just serves you whatever she is cooking that night. Our antipasti course consists of: green olives, lentils, tomatoes, bread, fried bread puffs that remind us of hush puppies, fried bread puffs that taste like lemon, and proscuitto. This is followed by a pasta course, which tonight is a rigatoni with vodka sauce. The second course is: veal served in its juices, fried potato chips, mozzarella balls and sautéed zucchini. Finally, we end up with a piece of cake and then a final shot of peach juice. Yum. The food is not fancy. Rather, it is like home cooking.

Mama, dressed in her apron and scarf, comes over so we can take a picture with her. Papa comes over to show us how to dip our meat in the juice. He also makes sure we know the last drink is peach juice. This place is so warm and friendly. Many people are hugging and kissing Mama “hello” and “goodbye”. We feel almost like we have been invited to join someone’s family for the evening. Plus, it is a relief not to have to order and then wait for our dinner. Everything is good and comes automatically and quickly.

We all love it so much that we decide to come back tomorrow. When we get back to the hotel, we ask the man at the desk to call for reservations. We are disappointed to find out that Mama’s restaurant will be closed tomorrow (Monday), our last day in Rome.

cafegoddess Nov 6th, 2006 10:33 PM

Travelgirl2, I was just wondering what kind of cell phone/service are you using?
Are you able to use it all over Europe?

aloha

Dejais Nov 7th, 2006 09:25 AM

Travelgirl...Still enjoying every moment. Thanks!

tower Nov 7th, 2006 12:04 PM

TG2:

Knowing that you've been home for quite a while now, I salute you for kindly continuing your report whch so many of us have throughly enjoyed. Thank you all.

Stu T.

Italybound07 Nov 15th, 2006 03:09 AM

TG-are you out there? waiting ever so patiently...

travel_chef1 Nov 15th, 2006 08:57 PM

Travelgirl2:
I just finished reading your travel blog--FABULOUS! I loved the part about Greve, Italy. We spent a month in that area last summer, so reading about it on your trip blog broght back such good memories! Did you happen to visit Panzano ( a 10 minute car ride from Greve)?
Are you back? How was it to finally get home?
Can't wait to hear more! Thanks for the great postings!

Hagan Nov 28th, 2006 05:14 PM

Please don't keep us hanging! We'd all love to hear the ending of this fantastic trip. Please, travelgirl, come back!

HappyTrvlr Nov 29th, 2006 05:59 PM

I am hooked on your adventures and eagerly waitng for the next installments!

pantelia Nov 29th, 2006 06:27 PM

I started reading this back in June, but lost track somewhere along the way. I've printed it and will read in on my travels to South Carolina (business) tomorrow. I am anxious to read it all the way through!


LoveItaly Nov 29th, 2006 09:04 PM

I haven't seen this fabulous trip report for awhile and just caught up with it regarding the time in Rome. Another fantastic installment travelgirl. And topping so others will catch up on your Trip of a Lifetime, it certainly was!

SuQue Dec 2nd, 2006 08:53 AM

I am hoping you'll post more of your trip soon. Its terrific!

travelgirl2 Dec 3rd, 2006 03:07 PM

Thanks guys!

Day 72 – Rome – Controversy At The Vatican

Today we were up bright and early, since we want to go to the Vatican. I was excited, since in planning the trip, the only thing DM said was that she really wanted to show DMLIL the Vatican. Unfortunately, we were not up early enough, so we arrived at the Vatican at 8:30 am. I think it opened at 8:45 am. When we got there, we saw a huge line. The taxis dropped us off at the front of the line, so we walked and walked to get to the end of the line.

During the walk, we were approached by several people selling tours. They said that the tour guide would be going inside in about 15 minutes, so we could join the tour and avoid standing in line. It cost 25 euros (I think?, my memory is rusty) for the tour. We just shook our heads and kept walking. And walking. And walking.

Finally, while still walking, yet another person offered us a tour. I stopped and pow-wow’d with DH. Maybe we should take a tour. After all, this line was huge and I didn’t think it would be that great for the older folks to stand in line for two hours and then begin seeing the Vatican Museum. We couldn’t decide, so we called everyone over and canvassed the group. Everyone was pretty non-committal, except DMLIL. He didn’t want to do it, so we kept walking.

A few minutes later, DM leaned over to me and asked what I thought. I said that I’d prefer to skip the line, but I really didn’t care too much either way, but I thought it would be better for DMIL and DFIL to avoid the line. She said she thought it was a great idea. I was surprised. I asked her, “What about DMLIL?” She said maybe I could talk to him.

So, I did. He was adamantly against taking one of these tours. He felt it was wrong to cut in line in front of everyone else. Also, that you can’t trust these people and they may just take your money and then leave. I actually shared his concerns, but not to the same extent.

Then, I talked privately with DMIL and DFIL. DFIL didn’t really want to spend the extra money. I said that the way I looked at it, you spent $4000 to come to Rome for the week and what is another $30 to avoid standing in line for two hours. Once I said that, they readily agreed that they’d like to take the tour.

Back to DMLIL. I tried to appeal to him, saying how hard it would be for everyone to stand in line for so long. No, he absolutely, positively would not consider taking one of those tours.

What to do? What to do? There seemed to be no possible compromise. Finally, DM and DMLIL decided that they would leave and then the rest of us could take the tour together. This was definitely not the result I wanted. I had really looked forward to spending time with DM on this trip, so I was very disappointed.

DM and DMLIL took off and we got our headsets and met up with the tour guide, already in line. It actually was a horrible process, because all the tour people just cut in line to be with the tour guide. I felt bad for the people in line behind us. I justified it to myself by thinking - is this much different from the registered tour groups, going through a separate entrance? Well, that way you don’t step directly in front of other people, so it is a little different. But, the result is the same – the tour groups get in more quickly than individuals.

(I really wished that I had booked a tour in advance through The Vatican. That would have been so much easier. And no one would have had a problem with the legitimacy of the tour. But, I hadn’t.)

The tour guide turned out to be very good. This was surprising, as we didn’t really expect too much. He was an Irish fellow, with a Masters degree in Roman History. The headsets didn’t work very well, though, so it was hard to hear. It also took a while to get used to his accent and brisk speaking style. It was a fairly large group, so we tried to stand close to the guide, so we could hear him speak. This was my third time here, and I learned a lot on the tour and found it very interesting.

The Sistine Chapel is amazing. The guide pointed out how Michelangelo utilized male models, even for the female figures. That explained how muscular the women looked. The vibe in the Sistine Chapel is very interesting. It is very crowded and everyone is looking up. No photos are allowed. DH told me that the Vatican sold photographic rights to someone (a Japanese company?), so no photos are allowed. In actuality, people were taking pictures all over the place, with and without flash. As a religious site, silence is requested. In reality, people were talking all over the place. Then, the guard would periodically yell for silence. I found this very amusing.

As we exited the Sistine Chapel, we have always gone out the left and then outside and around the front (?) and over to St. Peter’s, where there is a long queue. I never knew, until now, that if you exit out the right side, you go down a short ramp and join a very small queue and go practically right inside of St. Peter’s. This is a much better route.

St. Peter’s was, as always, gorgeous. The tour guide took us around a little and then the tour was over. We decided not to climb the dome on this trip. We did this last time and it was absolutely amazing to view the dome up close from the inside and also to peer out over the city from the outside. It was a long, hot climb, though. This time, we watched the Swiss Guards for a few minutes. Then, we headed back to the hotel.

At the hotel, DM told me that, once we split up in line for The Vatican, they had gone over to St. Peter’s. They met someone who was giving a free tour of St. Peter’s, so they took that tour. At the end, the guide was offering a paid tour of The Vatican, which they declined. It’s funny how each tour guide has their gimmick to entice people onto their tour.

For dinner, Mama’s was closed, so we took the advise of the hotel front desk man. He used to work at another hotel and he regularly sent guests to a nearby restaurant owned by a friend. He said that people often liked it because it was a casual neighborhood type of place. Sounded good to us, so he made us a reservation. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the restaurant (sorry), but the owner was so welcoming. The food was pretty good, although I think most of us (but not all) liked Mama’s a little better. When he was done eating, DS2 made a little sign on his plate, scraping the tomato sauce to the center of the plate to spell “BENE”. The owner got a big kick out of that. As usual, there was too much food and we were totally stuffed by the time we were done. It was a very enjoyable evening.


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