Tuesday, September 30, 2014


The morning of our second day we wandered up to the central market, which is two parts: the first is a giant building with meat, cheese, pasta, produce..essentially a huge farmer's market; the second being the streets surrounding the market which turn into a big art fair with purses, scarves, and trinkets galore. 

But since I took zero photos of that portion of our day (was too busy scoping out the treats and purses)- we'll skip on to one of my favorite parts of the entire trip, hands down: the wine tour. We took THIS tour and while I'll say, I was nervous to sign up for a tour on some random website, this was easily the best "risk" I've ever taken. The bus was super easy to locate right by the main train terminal and as we wound our way up switchbacks into the hills of Tuscany, the group leader gave us some history of the area. 

One 40 minute bus ride later and we were at Castello del Trebbio- the oldest inhabited castle in Italy. It was built in 1100 by the Pazzi family (which means "crazy" in Italian). The Pazzi's were the second wealthiest family in Florence at the time, second only to the banking family- the Medici. Tired of being #2, the Pazzi came up with a plan to kill the Medici, but they had only one problem: no army with which to do it. So, they enlisted the help of someone who also wanted the Medici gone: the Pope. The Pope was the biggest debtor of the Medici and if they were gone, so was his debt, so he let the Pazzi use his army to do the deed. They hatched a plan to kill the family leaders on Easter Sunday in the Duomo. Only, the plan didn't work- and only one brother was killed. The Medici were enraged, but waited for their revenge. Some 20 years later, the Medici son became Pope. The Pazzi's were banned from Florence and those who were still alive, were killed and hung outside the Palazzo Vecchio. All art and coat of arms of the family were destroyed- all but one, that is, which still hangs in the doorway at the castle. Why was this one spared? Because it was made by Donatello (notice a theme of evil-art-appreciators?)

The grounds were stunning, the history was fascinating, and the wine was DELICIOUS. 
I don't even like red wine but I learned I like a "young" chianti, because it's a touch fruitier than normal red's, which tend to be dry. 

Chianti wine is named after the region the grapes are grown in, and in order to be a true Chianti, must be made with 80% sangiovese grapes. By law, the remaining 20% can come from elsewhere, but this particular winery uses 100% sangiovese. 

As a part of the tour, we hopped back in the bus and drove 10 minutes to a nearby town, which was incredibly quaint. This was just to give us a flavor of "small town Italy" which was every bit as picturesque as you could imagine it would be. 

There will always be more "sights" to see in every place you visit, so while I'm not a seasoned traveler, my advice will always be to take on at least one unique experience every place you go. I wouldn't replace this half-day tour with any museum or castle. It was so cool getting out into the countryside, and getting to hear about the process of wine making, and sample some fantastic wine.

I can't recall which night it was, so I'll include it in this post, but after returning to Florence we stopped back at the hotel and decided to venture out in search of dinner. M had an "idea" of what he wanted, and by that, I mean we would wander by menus and he would decide he didn't want something upon seeing it... without having narrowed down what he DID want. I was happy to go along with this method for the first twenty minutes, but I was starting to get impatient when we stopped outside a doorway to discuss our plan of attack. I looked at an advertisement for a "panoramic restaurant" and it hit me: this was the restaurant our friend we were meeting up with in Vernazza had recommended! It was a hotel rooftop (see the above "eat" category for details) that had great views of the city. The only catch was he had said we would likely need a reservation.

We trekked up to the top of the hotel and found ourselves on a rooftop with a ton of open tables. We sat down, and a server came over and asked if we were here for dinner. After replying, 'yes' he had us get up and follow him up yet one more flight of stairs, where we were seated at the very last table and enjoyed the most spectacular sunset, views of Florence, and meals of our lives. Seriously.

another fabulous day in Florence. Last up: a day packed with sight seeing.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Sleep: Hotel Scoti, Via de Tornabuoni 7, Firenze, Italy 

Eat: La Scaletta Hotel Florence, Via de Guicciardini 13, Firenze, Italy (this place has the most beautiful rooftop views. Only 5 tables at the very top, so get a reservation if you want a guaranteed spot!)

See: Ponte Santa Trinita, Ponte Vecchio, Galeria de Academia (The David statute), Central Market, Boboli Gardens,  winery tour, Palazzo Pitti, Duomo

You can't tell me you read the title of that post to the tune of anything other than the Sound of Music. 
We got into Florence in the early afternoon so just spent our first day wandering around our neighborhood and getting our bearings. Two of the biggest attractions in Florence are also the most innocuous: the ponte santa trinita and the ponte vecchio. 

When the Germans were retreating as WWII wound down, Hitler had ordered all of the bridges spanning the Arno river to be destroyed to halt the allied advance. That is, all of the bridges except the Ponte Vecchio. Rumor has it Hitler had an appreciation for art and history (as was evident in the recent book/movie The Monuments Men).

{ponte santa trinita} 
{ponte vecchio} 
There are jewelry and souvenir shops spanning the bridge, which were once butcher shops. 
{the Uffizi gallery}

Overall, Florence is a lot less crowded and bustling than Rome was, and everything is in even closer proximity for walking.

Up next: Central market, and a winery tour.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Call us silly or stupid but we were, for the most part, trying to do Italy on a budget. 
Especially after a large conversation about OUR budget just before going. That being said, we passed on almost every single guided tour offered (as there were placards and eavesdropping to make due with at the other sites).. so maybe it's because it's the only site we went on a tour with that I can say this- if you only do one, make it the Colosseum. 

 We got up early and walked 20 minutes (in torrential rain..not fun) to the Colosseum. Thankfully by the time we got there it started to let up, then rained when we were underground, and let up again for the day (perfect timing!). We were on one of the earliest tours and we purchased the special "first and third ring" tours- which I also highly recommend! These rings are not accessible to the general public but we were able to take a guided tour of them, as well as cover the main 2 rings as well. 
Unlike the movie Gladiator depicts, the gladiators did not fight animals, only the hunters did. Gladiators were often criminals who fought for their freedom or career-trained individuals who aspired to be wealthy and famous. Winning 10 fights in a row as a criminal gladiator ensured your freedom (and wealth!)  

The history of this place is so fascinating. It was built in 8 years between 70 and 80 A.D. and could hold between 50,000-80,000 spectators. It was free to the public, but seating was based on social status.  The emperor sat at the "50 yard line" so to speak, and the tiers towards the top descended in order of importance, with senators, the wealthy, and the poor making up the spectators. To celebrate its inauguration they had 100 days straight of "games" and over 9 thousand animals died during these games. 

The arena was covered in sand to absorb the blood from the men and the animals. Beneath the floor of the Colosseum was an ornate system of cranks and platforms which made it as though animals appear through trap doors in the floor. Nearly 700 slaves worked in hot, dark conditions in the "basement" to run the contests. 

{original walls of the first version of the Colosseum}
{animals were kept in pens in the half-moon cut-outs you see in the top right}
{the original floors were hand placed stones in a herringbone pattern- its name derived from the bones of the herring fish}

The Colosseum (actually called the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum is a nickname) is adjacent to the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. 

Palatine Hill is quite literally a hill that overlooks the Forum and Colosseum. It's where all of ancient Rome's wealthiest lived and for good reason- it was in the center of the city life at the time and it had the best views. 

The Roman Forum was the center of economic life in ancient Rome: it is where people came to do business, get tickets for the games at the Colosseum and buy food. 

{Caesar was cremated in this tomb}

{on our walk back to our neighborhood- monument built to the first king of Italy}

Our last night we wandered back to Piazza Navona based on a recommendation from an IG comment of a girl I went to high school with and happened to locate the restaurant she mentioned as "behind Piazza Navona." It was charming, and on a quiet street behind the bustling piazza. 

I ordered her recommendation- the pear and cheese stuffed pasta in a carrot cream sauce. It was to die for. That, combined with a Prosecco, and a perfectly quiet and beautiful Rome, made for a fantastic last night. 
We slept in a bit, enjoyed our last hotel breakfast, and found our way back to Termini to head to Florence.