Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tuscany - Wed - 5/6/15

First off, I just want to say I am sad we have only three more nights here. I don't want to leave!! Eric and I felt good this morning when we woke up, which was sometime before 8:30am. 

We threw clothes on quickly and went straight to breakfast. It was busier this morning, but still mostly empty. Eric ordered a vegetable frittata and it was simply divine, so good! I selected a piece of cake from the buffet that was so scrumptious I wanted to eat the whole thing. I will have to ask if I can buy a whole cake and bring it home! The buffet has a healthy selection of fruit cut up in small pieces that are ready to eat. We both had canelope, kiwi, strawberries, and pineapple. Breakfast wouldn't be breakfast without Nutella so of course I ate that with a croissant. Along with our usual cappuccinos and coffee we were fueled for the day. 

I wore a cute dress I purchased from a store called Serendipity in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Eric dressed in his uniform, which we all know as his Boston baseball cap, khaki shorts, and polo. I sat in the terrace and relaxed while Eric mapped our adventure with the concierge.  We planned to spend the afternoon visiting a few of the popular towns nearby.

Eric spent a lot of time at the concierge desk

Before I knew it we were off! After a few days, the driving here started to feel very comfortable. At first, we felt intimidated for obvious reasons (foreign language, middle of nowhere, did I mention foreign country?) but it's pretty easy driving, especially with google maps on your iPhone. 

There are not any traffic lights here in Tuscany, just roundabouts. For the most part, you're driving on open roads and when you get to an intersection there are signs pointing you in the right direction.  

The one tough element of driving here are the aggressive road racers. They speed as if there is pregnant mother about to deliver in the backseat, and you know they probably have nowhere to be. It's absolutely absurd and so irresponsible, but you learn to let them pass you, and believe me, they will. 

We reached our first destination, San Gimignano, which is one of the most famous Tuscan hilltop towns.  From afar, the skyline is magnificent. Eric desperately wanted a shot, but there wasn't anywhere to pull over on the road.

The Italian road signs are so funny, but I will say the roads are well marked.  As we approached town we followed the signs for "P" which implies parking. There is P 1, 2, and 3 and you'll have no idea which is best. Just wing it! P1, or what we thought was P1, looked full. So we wove through the windy roads to P2 and P3. We ended up parking somewhere in there and stayed in town for a few hours. Parking cost us 4€, not bad. 

Scenes in San Gimignano

This town was a tad bigger than what we were expecting, and had an incredible amount of enticing shopping. The only problem was that after 9 days in Rome and Florence, we felt burnt out from the city touring crap. But don't get wrong, this was a very nice, charming Tuscan town. 

Taking a short break from all the walking

Did I mention the shopping? The adorable storefronts were endless and these places weren't selling junk. I saw quality home goods, art, and general souvineers and I was dying to shop till I drop.

This road had endless shopping 

Wishing I could buy pasta for home, but no room in the suitcase!

Look at those baby hats on the top shelf, lol!

I really wanted to purchase framed art. I found a few framed paintings of the Tuscan countryside that would be just perfect in my guest bathroom! However, I'm worried that we bought too much already and won't have room in our suitcases. Oh well! 

I must say that certain items seem to be way overpriced here! I bought these fun and inexpensive leather bracelets at the market in Florence (1€/each) and they cost 3€/each here! Uh uh, no way! That ain't happening! When I realized this I felt less pressure to shop because clearly, there was some mark-up in this town. 

We took some great shots and browsed through all the streets. It was so hot outside! It was the kind of heat where you sweat and feel stinky from just standing still! Again, how exactly do people do this in the summer? 

The main town square

Another square

We continued walking and found a beautiful spot for photos. We managed to take a few without melting away in the sun which was beating down. 

Views in San Gimignano

I wore a light airy dress perfect for touring in the heat

Love this shot!

After a while, I just wasn't feeling the crowds in this thanks. If we didn't just come from 9 days in Rome and Florence I wouldn't mind this environment. But after that experience, I want nothing but peace. We still had a pleasant time exploring. It wasn't overcrowded, just really hot making the whole experience a bit of a challenge. 

Eric strolling through the streets

We came across a museum with free entry (and actually not lined up out the door) so we decided to go inside.  There was a girl manning the entrance who made us sign in. The museum was kind of neat. In one room, there were several glass displays containing stuffed birds of all kinds. In the other room, there was a huge mural of Tuscany along with some artifacts.  

Entrance to the free museum

Stuffed birds

I liked the mural of the Tuscan countryside

After leaving the museum, we walked around a park that we randomly found. 

Walking through the park without a care in the world

Me in the park!

Finally, we got in the car and headed to the next town, called Volterra, about 40 min away.  

On the way to Volterra, we stopped alongside the road to take photos because we simply couldn't resist

Picture taken from the car on the way to Volterra

I enjoyed the drive up the mountain to this town because it was so scenic, and there was a nice landscaped pathway where people can walk. Again, we started to follow the "P" signs. The first "P" lot we came across seemed far away from the part of the town we wanted to see (although we really weren't sure?) so we turned around and left. 

The next parking option turned out to be a parking garage. We eventually found a good spot 3 floors underground and Eric backed in (with my guidance) so we could easily exit. The spaces were tiny because everyone here drives little cars, completely unlike the USA. 

We exited the garage on foot and found a restroom outside. It had a toilet without a seat and only a rim that would be impossible to sit on. I sure hope they don't manufacture these anymore because I really don't see the point in one of these vs. a normal seat? Where is the practicality in that decision? 

Anyway, after taking a few pics of the view, we headed into town. 

View from Volterra

Immediately there was a bad sign - Illegals selling selfie sticks!! Haha, at this point, I was over it. They weren't aggressive like in Rome, but I was surprised they made it all the way up the mountain to this small Tuscan town.  

Photo-Op on this tiny street in Volterra

Neat architecture

Scenes in Volterra

We walked through the majority of the town and I really liked it. It was similar to San Gimignano, but on a smaller scale. There were many enticing shops and restaurants and an art gallery on every corner. Gosh, I would have LOVED to purchase a few unique pieces for home. Maybe next time...

When we first arrived, we didn't know where to start, so we decided to wing it.  We swung a right and found this huge castle surrounded by a long pathway at the top of the mountain.  We explored a bit but it was too hot. I felt like I was melting. 

As we headed back, I spotted a large group of Italians on a school field trip. Can you imagine visiting Volterra on an elementary school field trip? Field Day was a big deal for us! Touring these Tuscan towns at such a young age is a great way to expose kids to history and learn about culture....pretty cool.

Me and my Mane - Walking up the pathway to the castle

Castle in the distance


At one point, we both began to get HANGRY (hungry plus angry = hangry), so we stopped for a snack/lunch and felt much better afterwards. We split a large and refreshing gelato (cheap at 4€) and a toasted salami/cheese sandwich. I wish I could buy sandwiches like this back in the states! The sandwich with 2 small pieces of biscotti cost 6.50€ which was a bit overpriced! 

We sat at that little table and enjoyed a refreshing cup of gelato

Eric ordered a sandwich here

In another shop down the road I bought a Tuscan magnet for our fridge. This town had several panoramic view points, however, the temperature dropped and it started to get hazy out. Unfortunately the haziness obstructed our view, but at least the temperature finally felt comfortable.  

Relieved that the temperature dropped!

It got a bit hazy, or you'd see much further out

Ruins - we don't have any other details

I love how GREEN Italy is

We continued to walk through town and decided to purchase a bottle of wine for later before heading out.  After contemplating for a while, Eric decided on a 2009 Chianti reserve for 16€.

Eric purchasing our bottle of wine in this awesome store

Naturally, we went with a Chianti Reserve

When we were ready to leave we headed back to the car and Eric plugged the directions in his phone. The drive back was easy and we felt completely relaxed at this point. We had our eyes out for wineries but saw none, which was surprising. We did see many random restaurants scattered about. 

As we got closer to home base we came up on another town we had wanted to explore called Casole d' Elsa. We pulled over and Eric took a photo of the "skyline."

Casole d' Elsa "skyline"

After unwinding in our room, we poured a glass of our Chianti Reserve. We took our glasses to the terrace and relaxed a bit. 

I am so obsessed with wine country!

We then sat down with the concierge to plan the next day. The concierge gets busy in the morning so we decided to get it out of the way ahead of time.  Immediately the concierge suggested a winery called "Antinori at Badia a Passignano." We were told it's the best chianti in the region. 

This winery offered a 4-hour tour that includes a 5-course lunch at their michelin star restaurant named Osteria di Passignano. The catch is the cost, or 150€/person. 

They provided additional information on other wineries and we left to make some decisions. I went on TripAdvisor and the reviews for Badia a Passignano were all excellent. Everyone also commented that this restaurant was worth their michelin star. 

I liked the idea of a detailed tour to become a bit more educated on wine. I also loved the idea of a 5-course meal and wine pairing.  We decided to book it! The concierge said to be there by 12:30 for lunch. The tour follows lunch, which is perfect because we'll need time to sober up before driving home. 

We were both feeling very pumped! This will be fun and I can't wait! After the two towns we saw today, I'm not sure I need to see another, so maybe we'll focus on wine tasting for the last 2 days of our trip. 

We went back to the terrace to enjoy what turned out to be a perfect sunset. The whole scene was heavenly. There were several other couples around and we all sat peacefully. Some were ordering dinner. The sky was perfectly clear. I'm so happy we had at least one stellar sunset, because the first two evenings were cloudy. 

The sunset pictures kept getting better and better, so I posted them all:


For dinner we drove down the hill and turned right. Almost immediately there is a pizzeria ristorante called Locanda del Molino. The exterior was appealing and there were many people there. However, I wasn't sure what to expect as far as the food.

Exterior of the pizza restaurant, called Locando del Molino

Like so many restaurants I have seen in Italy, the interior was full of unique character. It was much nicer than I was expecting. We brought our own water bottles from the hotel because I was so sick of paying for water! 

We were excited for pizza, but the waiter told us the pizza chef wasn't going to be in that night. Haha. You gotta love it.

I ordered vegetable soup and gnocchi with truffle cream sauce. My soup was very similar to the one I had last night. It was tasty but definitely not nearly as amazing. The gnocchi with truffle cream was awesome, but super rich! The truffle is incredibly flavorful.

Italian Vegetable Soup

Gnocchi with Truffle Cream Sauce

Eric ordered some sort of flan cheese for an appetizer and pasta with wild boar ragu for an entree.  Eric enjoyed his cheese flan and we split the pastas. I preferred the ragu.

Eric's cheese flan appetizer

Eric's entree - homemade pasta with wild boar ragu

One glass of house wine cost 3€ - so cheap but it didn't taste cheap! Our bill came to 40€. We paid and headed back to our room looking forward to the rainfall shower. I really enjoyed what turned out to be a very nice and relaxing evening. 

Tomorrow's a big day and we need to rest. Good night!

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