Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Last day of our trip, Milan!


We started out early this morning, having breakfast at the B&B before checking out and getting on our train to Milan. When we arrived in Milan we headed right for customer service to get our refund for the taxi we had to take the other night when we missed our train. When we got there we had to fill out a paper about the incident, only to then find out that our refund would come to us in the mail. Great, now we are going to get a check in the mail for 60 Euro....what the heck are we supposed to do with that?!? We were really bummed because that meant we had to take more cash out of the bank, which we were trying to avoid...

Anyway, once in Milan we were able to check right into our hotel room and drop off our stuff before heading out to sightsee. We took the subway to see the Sforza Castle, which was really big, pretty cool looking...and to go to one of the many museums here specifically to see Michelangelo's last Pieta, which he died before completing. The Pieta is interesting because Michelangelo had completed part of it and then went back and decided to change it, so the legs of Jesus are complete and polished, and there is an arm that belonged to Jesus and would have been removed. Jesus is now sculpted coming out of Mary's shoulder instead of the traditional style of the Pieta where he is lying across her lap.

We had lunch at a little self service type restaurant that had lots of different foods out to pick from, half of the stuff we weren't sure what it was! We ended up with Lasagna with pesto, and a couple little eclairs. Then we took the tram to the church of Santa Maria della Grazie, which is the home of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. This was really awesome to see. It is a little on the soft side because of all the efforts that were made to touch it up over the years, eventually all the old touch up jobs were scraped off and it was restored a few years ago. It is a lot bigger than we expected, and it's really weird to see how a door was carved out of the bottom center of the painting...who the heck decided to do that anyway?! The opposite wall from the Last Supper is the Crucifiction. That is a very busy work compared to the last supper, and it's amazing how well both have been maintained considering pretty much everything else in the room is gone now.

Afterwards we took a tram to the Piazza del Duomo to see the Cathedral. It's absolutely massive, and it's crazy how detailed and decorated the outside is. It is in a gothic style with pink and white marble, with hundreds of sculptures on the outside and spires on top. The inside is very dark and not as open as the last few churches we've been to. Beautiful stained glass windows here, and apparently they have a nail from Jesus's cross that is only displayed a couple days a year, as well as stuff like hair and teeth from each of the apostles. We went to the treasury hoping to see some of the stuff but it wasn't there today...and the museum is closed for renovation and will open next month, so we just missed it...

There is an elevator you can take to the roof here, so we decided to do that which was really cool too. The views of the city aren't great because Milan is so modern, kinda like New York with all the big buildings... But it was cool to get up close to all the detail that is in this church.

When we got back to the ground again we walked through some of Milan's high end shopping areas oogling at the crazy prices for things here. I wonder how anyone can afford some of this stuff? Anyway, we came back to our hotel to take a little break before having dinner.

We took the subway back close to the Duomo to have dinner at a restaurant here. The caprese salad wasn't great here, but the pastas were! I had penne arrabiata and Kev got this homemade pasta with a meat sauce, kinda like a beef strogenof.(sp?) During dinner we discussed the highlights of our trip, making some top 5 lists of things we did and places we went. It's hard to remember some of the things since we've done so much! We got our last gelato before catching the subway back to our hotel. We're definitely going to miss those easy to find gelatos! We are sad that our trip is over, but excited to go back home to our family and friends!

Venice to Varenna


We had a pretty relaxing day today, slept in and started our day with lunch in San Barnbara square. The main building here was featured in Indiana Jones. After lunch we walked to San Rocco to see tons of art by Tintoretto decorating the walls and ceilings of 2 large floors. It was pretty cool because they gave us a free audio guide with admission, and had mirrors available so that you can see the art on the ceiling without breaking your neck.

Then we went to the Frari church, which is a Gothic style church, very plain on the outside but beautiful on the inside. It's nice because it's not so over the top inside either. There is a lot of light coming through and the colors inside the church are light as well, making it feel more open than most of the dark churches we've been to. Titian's tomb is in this church.

We took a vaporetto from the main part of Venice over to Murano which is just across the water. Murano is known for it's glass making and the main part of the town is filled with blown glass shops. We checked out the Glass Museum here then walked up the main drag to window shop. We eventually got back on the vaporetto to Venice and went to the Church of St. John and St. Paul. This church was also very nice, much lighter inside without being overly ornate.

We got our gelato before dinner tonight while walking through the streets of Venice. Dinner was at a little restaurant along the grand canal. We were able to make a reservation here earlier in the day. Kev had the seabass and I had a tuna filet with balsamic glaze, very tasty! We took a vaporetto over to St. Mark's square to take some pictures tonight. It was pretty lively there with the dueling orchestras competing for customers. The little cafes charge a lot for you to sit there and have a drink and listen to the music, but it's free to just be standing out in the square listening, which is just as fun although not as comfortable. It was a little chilly tonight so we didn't stay long, caught a vaporetto back towards our hotel and walked part of the way because we weren't able to get on the fast boat.


We got up this morning and said good-bye to Venice, catching a train to Verona. We had hoped to catch an early bus to Sirmione but weren't able to make it in time, so we did our sightseeing in Verona first. Verona is, of course, the home of Romeo and Juliet. The town was very busy today, lots of people out and about. We had lunch just off the main square at a little pizza place then headed off on our self guided tour of the town. We went through the main squares here and stopped by Juliet's house where many couples were taking their turns being photographed on the balcony, or having their pictures taken with the Juliet statue in the courtyard. We saw a couple churches here but didnt have the time to go inside.

We caught a later bus to Sirmione and that is where our troubles of the day began. We got off the bus too early and wound up having to walk quite a long way...we got to the town about an hour after we had planned to... Sirmione is a lakeside town. We saw the Castle here which was pretty cool but very crowded. We climbed to the top to get some great views of the lake, the water is really pretty here. It was difficult to get down from the top because there is only one set of stairs and people just kept coming, I thought we would be stuck there forever!

Next we went to see the ruins that are here, but we only got to see them for about 5 minutes before having to walk back to catch the bus. The bus ended up being about a half hour late, so we could have stayed longer... Oh well...

When we got back to the train station we noticed there was a lot of traffic in the area, streets blocked off, and our train wasn't listed on the board yet, so we got our bags from the checked luggage area and went to McDonalds to get a french fry snack because we knew dinner was a long way off. Thank God we did that because we had no idea what was in store for us next.
Our train was listed to be coming in to platform 6, so we headed there to wait. When we got there, there was a lot of confusion and a train was already there, but the sign said it was one that was supposed to have left almost a half hour before we got there. There were people everywhere talking about something we couldn't understand, and we kept listening for some hint of what was going on. We also noticed that none of the other trains on other platforms were moving and didn't seem to have been moving for awhile. Announcements kept being made overhead about delays but we didnt hear anything about our train coming.

Finally, a very nice Australian guy came over and asked us if we were ok and said he spoke both English and Italian so he would help us. We asked what the problem was with the trains and he told us that apparently someone was hit by a train on this line today and that all the trains had been stopped while everything was being cleared up. Scary!

Eventually the train that was there moved off, and it wasn't even the one that was listed, it was one from even before that. We ended up getting on the next train that came in going to Milan like we were supposed to, still much later than we should have left. Lucky for us we were able to get a seat on the train, because at the next stop TONS of people piled into the train and it was packed full. We were in first class and it's likely that none of those people had first class tickets... Anyway, we finally arrived in Milan after like 4 hours, which was only supposed to take like 1.5 hours.

Unfortunately due to this late arrival, we missed the connecting train we were supposed to take to Varenna, and the last train after that. We had to go to the ticket counter and wait in line for about half an hour talk to someone who sent us to customer care, which was also pretty busy. Eventually we got to talk to someone who put us on a train to Lecco where we had to take a cab to Varenna because there were no other options. We were just glad we didnt have to sleep in the train station all night. Trenitalia is supposed to reimburse us for the cost of the cab ride when we go back down there. We felt really bad about being so late to Varenna, when we got here it was about 12:20am and we are staying at a little B&B here. We called the guy a couple times to let him know what was going on and he was nice enough to stay up to let us in.

What a looooooooooong day today was! We still haven't heard any details about the accident today, maybe we'll hear something tomorrow.

This morning we had a good breakfast at our B&B before heading off to Switzerland. We are staying in Varenna on Lake Como which backs up to Switzerland on one side. We took a ferry to Menaggio and caught a bus from there to Gandria, Switzerland. This town lies on Lake Lugano and we took a long lakeside hike from here to the town of Lugano. It took quite a while to get there and we took a few wrong turns looking for a couple Villas here.

When we arrived in Lugano we jumped on a boat that would eventually take us to Melide, Switzerland. It took almost 2 hours to get there because the boat we got on wasn't taking a direct route (which we didn't know at the time we got on) and was zig-zagging across the lake. Melide is home to Swissminiature, which is a neat little place to visit with about 120 miniature models of different Swiss buildings, towns, airports etc. They also have a huge miniature (a "bigature") of the cathedral in Milan that you could actually go inside! There are running trains around the park and many of the models have moving parts, like ski lifts and cable cars. It was pretty cool to see all these little things moving along.

Next we took a train back to Como in Italy where we walked around for a while before getting on a ferry to Bellagio. We stayed here for almost 2 hours, walked the town (in about 5 min because it's really small) and got some gelato before heading to an internet cafe for a while.

We took a ferry from Bellagio to Varenna back where we are staying. When we were getting our tickets we started talking to these 2 women who were also going to Varenna in hopes of catching a train to Milan. In talking to them we found out one was actually from Simi Valley! We were all very surprised, funny to run into someone from home so far from it! They were really nice and we helped them find their way through Varenna to the train station.

We had dinner tonight on the lake at Nilus Bar. It was near closing time when we got there, but we were able to get our caprese salad and pizzas, and a peach bellini for me! The caprese salad here was really good. Now we are back in our room making preparations for our last day in Italy tomorrow, which we will spend in Milan.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On to Venice


We got as lightly late start this morning but still managed to get pretty much everything in. We had breakfast on the rooftop panoramic terrace of our hotel before checking out and starting our day. The first stop this morning was the Olympic Theater. On our way there we noticed that there were tons of teenagers out in the streets, and a protest group of some kind going down the street with flags waiving, chanting, and music blaring. We found out when we got to the theater that some students were on strike that day... not sure why they were striking, but it was interesting...

Anyway, the Olympic Theater was Palladio's last work, and it's pretty cool. The stage is designed to look like 5 streets branching off into the distance. The main street of Vicenza is Palladio, and the main street in the center of the stage is a replica of this street. The perimeter of the theater is lined with tons of statues, the only thing plain about the room is the wooden benches for the audience to sit on.

Next we took a bus to the Villa La Rotonda, which was started by Palladio and was the inspiration for Jefferson's Monticello. (See the back of our Nickel) We weren't able to view the inside of the Villa since it is only open on Wednesdays, but we were able to walk around the gardens which are very pretty. We walked back down a ways to see the next Villa, Villa Valmerana. We just got to see a little of the front of this villa because it was closing in 20 min and we didn't want to pay to go in and only get to see it for a few min... This Villa is called Villa of the Dwarves, it is lined on the outside walls by several dwarf statues. There is a story that says that the villa was built for a princess who was a dwarf, but her father didn't want her to know she was a dwarf so he hired all dwarves to work for her so she wouldn't know she was different. One day she saw a prince riding by and realized that she was a dwarf. She killed herself in anguish and her dwarf servants were so sad about her death that they turned to stone.

We continued our walk, mostly walking uphill, to Monte Berico. There is a church up here on a hill and awesome views overlooking Vicenza from here. We continued our walk back into town to grab a gelato, get our bags, and head for the train station. Next stop, Venice!

Coming into Venice on the train over the water was really cool. The city is stunning and feels kind of unreal. We walked to our hotel from the train station crossing a bridge over the water. Luckily our hotel is pretty close by because our bags are getting pretty heavy now. We then boarded a vaporetto and traveled down the Grand Canal to St. Mark's Square. On the way we listened to our audio guide which described the landmarks we were passing and was great to orient ourselves to the area.

St. Mark's Square was pretty packed with people. We listened to our audio guide to learn a bit about the square, then decided to go in to St. Mark's Basilica. We checked our backpacks at a little place off the square and got a fastpass kinda thing to the front of the line, and thank God we did because otherwise we wouldn't have gotten in today. We were expecting it to be open for a bit longer, but they started kicking people out about 20min after we got in there. The rest of the people waited in line for who knows how long only to be shuffled through the atrium and back out onto the square without ever going inside! What we got to see was pretty amazing. Tons of mosiac work all with gold backgrounds, very ornate and tons of domes.

Next we went to the Doge's Palace and saw the courtyard and some of the interior which is filled with dark wood and tons of artwork. This was the home of the Venitian govermnent and connects to the prison via the Bridge of Sighs. Convicted criminals crossed from the Doge's Palace to their new home in prison via this bridge which has some small windows looking out to the lagoon and they sighed as they saw their last views of Venice. We toured through the prison as well before exiting back onto St. Mark's Square.

Across the way we went to the Campanile di San Marco, which is a bell tower rising up from the square. We took an elevator to the top (yay, no stairs!) to get great 360 views of Venice. It is really a beautiful city... even with the gigantic cruise ships off in the distance...

We were hungry early tonight, and it's a good thing because we forgot to make dinner reservations. We headed to the restaurant early and got the last table available outside by the canal, lucky us! Dinner was great, gnocchi for me, spaghetti with clams for Kev, tiramisu and cappuccino for dessert... mmm we're gonna miss the food when we get home!

After dinner we walked around the streets of Venice for a while, just turning this way and that walking over the little bridges and canals. It was fun to go wherever we felt like going and not have to worry about getting too lost. Eventually we found a gondolier and decided to take a ride. It was expensive but worth it to do once. We rode through the canals for about 40min enjoying the starry sky, crossing under bridges in the dimly lit canals while our gondolier whistled and sang and told us a little about some of the buildings we passed by. It was really fun, romantic, and probably our favorite thing we've done on the trip so far. It's just a really cool city, so different from anywhere else... expect maybe Disneyland or Las Vegas... It's hard to believe it's a real place and not some kind of amusement park.

After our gondola ride we got some more gelato and stopped on the Rialto Bridge for a few minutes before catching the vaporetto back to our hotel. The moon was really neat looking tonight when we got to our hotel, very orange colored as it was descending over the city.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Florence to Vicenza

Today was a very busy day for us. We had to get up early and be on a train to Florence first thing. In Florence we stopped by the church of Santa Maria Novella for a bit, then went to have lunch before going to the Galleria dell'Accademia. We checked out the Central Market to maybe get some food, but it was kind of scary to me. So many different vendors with fish, meats, cheese, bread...it was a little overwhelming. We ended up getting a couple slices of Pizza at a little shop close to the Accademia.

The Galleria dell'Accademia is the home of Michelangelo's David. We had reservations so as not to have to wait in the long ticket line...but we still had to wait in a short reservation line to get in for some reason. Anyway, the statue is pretty amazing. Kev got a snapshot of it before he was told no pictures...oops! Here we also saw Michelangelo's Prisoners which are unfinished statues emerging from the stone.

Next, we were back on the train to the town of Lucca. We walked through the town and climbed the Guinigi Tower to get some nice views. Next was my favorite part of the day...bike riding! The town of Lucca is surrounded by walls and there are shops where you can rent bikes by the hour and ride around atop the walls. We rented our bikes and rode around twice because it was so fun. We probably rode aprox 5 miles, I'm sure we'll be sore tomorrow, but it was worth it!
We then took a train from Lucca to Pisa where we walked through the city, with our gelato, to the Field of Miracles. This is where the Leaning Tower of Pisa is, along with the Duomo, Baptistery and Cemetary. From the way we walked to the Tower, it didn't appear to be leaning at all... and then we saw it from the side. It's pretty crazy! Multiple attempts have been made to correct or stop the leaning, but nothing seems to work for long. You can climb the tower here but we opted not to do this one. We did visit the Duomo and Baptistery. The Baptistery was really cool because it was very empty when we went...and we were there just in time to hear the guard sing (which they do every half hour) to demonstrate the amazing acoustics here. The echo of a sound lasts about 10 seconds allowing the person who is singing to create harmonic chords with their voice alone. It's pretty amazing to hear.

We caught a bus back to the train station and headed back to Siena. We had a nice dinner in the main square tonight, Kev had Pici pasta and I had Penne with sausage, very tasty! We just finished packing up our room to move to Florence for a night tomorrow.


This morning we gathered our things and took the train back to Florence. We checked into our hotel and headed off to see the Bargello Museum, which holds Donatello's David statue. We grabbed lunch at I Fratellini which is litterally a hole in the wall...with great paninis! We had lunch out on the street before taking a little break back in our room while waiting for our reservation time at the Uffizi Gallery.

We had our audio guide for the Uffizi Gallery. We saw works by all the Ninja Turtles today as Kev just put it...Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. One of my favorites was the Birth of Venus painting by Botticelli.

Next we went to the Palazzo Pitti where we walked through the beautiful Boboli Gardens. The plan was to see the Gallery here too, but the 2 tickets were sold with different packages and were very expensive to do both. Since we just went to Uffizi, we opted for the outdoor gardens. It was a pretty clear and hot day today, so we welcomed the shady areas of the garden.
Then we went to the Church of Santa Croce. There was a lot of renovation going on here, so we weren't able to get the full effect, but it was still nice. Here we saw the tombs of Galileo, Michaelangelo, and other noteworthy Florentines. From there we took a bus to the Church of San Miniato. When we got there, the Gregorian Chanting was in progress, so we got to listen to that for awhile before heading out to the main square. The church and square are up high on a hill overlooking Florence, so we got some nice views of the city from there. We got a Nutella Crepe snack (so yummy!!) and sat out on the steps of the square overlooking Florence.
Our dinner reservations were for the Golden View Open Bar on the waterfront just off of the Ponte Vecchio. We shared a Florentine steak here and it was worth every cent. Kev didn't want it to end because it was so good! We each got a free glass of Proseco when we arrived and free limoncello before we left too! On our walk back to the hotel we stopped for our nightly gelato at a great very fresh place just across the bridge. There is a lot going on out on the streets tonight, everyone is out enjoying the beautiful night. We walked by a little opera performance on the way back, which was really fun.


This morning we got our workout early on, climbing the Dome at Santa Maria del Fiore. It was a grueling 450+ steps to the top, but we were smart enough to do it while it was still pretty cool outside. It was good timing too because it wasn't too crowded. After we climbed back down and cooled off a bit, we were stopped just outside the Cathedral checking out our guide book when this guy dressed like some kind of mime with a white sheet and white facepaint came out of nowhere and scared the heck out of me! Apparently Kev had kinda seen him coming out of the corner of his eye, but I didn't see him at all...and I guess I kinda screamed a little, I dont really remember... but the guy was like laughing at me, and Kev gave him some money because he thought it was great that the guy scared me! We have been laughing about it for the rest of the day...

We stopped in the Medici Chapels after that. Michelangelo lived with the Medici family as a teenager and was brought here by them to build this tomb. When we finished here we said goodbye to Florence and boarded our train to Bologna.

It was a quick stop in Bologna for us, but we had to get lunch here because Bologna is like the food capital of Italy. We went to a lively restaurant here and ordered the pasta of the day which was excellent. (Spaghetti with tomato sauce and some eggplant) Then we walked through the town a bit before heading back to the train station.

Next stop, Padua. We were here for about 4 hours, almost had to carry our bags with us through the town, but luckily the guy at the baggage drop was nice enough to say he would stay late so we could pick up our bags before catching our next train. We took the tram up to see the Basilica of St. Anthony which we enjoyed. There was mass going on while we were there. St. Anthony is believed to be a miracle worker by many Catholics and there are lots of pictures and letters of thanks to St. Anthony for miracles he has performed for them. On display here are his lower jaw, tongue and vocal chords which remained intact long after his body had decayed to dust.
We visited the Botanical Garden in Padua next, then walked through the town to see the main squares. There is a beautiful large square here with nice fountains and bridges. We had our gelato while we walked through Padua. Our last stop here was the Scrovegni Chapel.

The Scrovegni Chapel requires a reservation to get into and your visit here is timed very carefully. You watch a video for about 15min and then get about 15min inside the chapel to view the beautiful works of Giotto. The entrance to the chapel is state of the art with humidity control... pretty crazy! Anyway, the frescoes show the life of Mary and Jesus in panels that circle the room, ending with the last judgement. It's pretty amazing, and very well preserved.
We grabbed our bags and profusely thanked the baggage guy for keeping them for us, and took our next train to Vicenza where we are staying for the night. We checked into our hotel here and had a great pizza dinner at a restuarant close by. Artichoke pizza and salami pizza, yum!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Italy 2009 (4 photos), by Kevin Aguirre

I'd like to share my Snapfish photos with you. Once you have checked out my photos you can order prints and upload your own photos to share.



We packed up and checked out of our hotel in Caserta and headed off to the Reggia. The Reggia is a palace in Caserta that was built to rival Versailles in France. It is HUGE with an enormous garden that we only saw part of. When we entered the garden there were carriages available to take you for a ride through the garden so that you can see more, but they were too expensive for us alone ($40 Euro) and there was no one else around to try and share a ride with...so we walked for a way to see as much as we could on foot.

The grounds are so large it feels like you are walking forever before you reach any of the main part of the garden. There were people all over walking and jogging, and even cars driving through...maybe we should have done that? There are tons of fountains and huge ponds filled with fish. We didnt make it all the way to the end to see the main fountains there, but we got a book with pictures of them. After the garden we saw the "apartments" which was room after room filled with art, frescoes and furnishings. One of the coolest things we saw there was a nativity scene with hundreds of little handmade figures.

Next we began making our way towards Tuscany, taking a 2.5 hour long drive on the autostrada to Orvieto. It cost us almost 17 Euro for the drive! So we couldn't drive 2 days in Italy without getting involved in an accident! Fortunately it was very minor and not our fault. When we were driving into Orvieto, the car in front of us stopped kinda quickly and we had to stop quickly behind it. While we were waiting for the car to turn, a car came up from behind, didnt slow down quickly enough and just very lightly rear ended us. In the rear view mirror Kev could see him looking ashamed and his wife shaking her head and telling him something along the lines of "I told you to slow down!" Since he bumped us so lightly we just waved him off and he looked relieved. We were relieved that we didn't get slammed into! We parked at the bottom of the town and took the Funicular up to the top of the town. It's a very cool old town with lots of neat streets to walk around, and amazing views of the landscape below. We had lunch here, awesome paninis with pork (porchetta), a town specialty. We got some great capuccino gelato and took our self guided tour through the town, ultimatly to walk a road along the edge of town so we could enjoy the views. We then visited the very ornate Cathedral, the outside of which is covered in hundreds of biblical carvings along 4 columns, and beautiful mosaics along the top. The main attractions inside were the beautiful stained glass windows, and the room of frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Fra Angelico that depict the apocolypse and judgement day...those going to heaven and what happens to those going to hell.

The rain was coming back in as we were getting ready to leave the town. We had 2 beautiful days without rain, but now it's following us again. By the time we got back down from the Funicular, it was really starting to come down. We've been lucky so far with the rain here, every time it's starting we've been just finishing up somewhere or about to head inside. We jumped back in our car and stopped at a gas station down the road just as the lightning and thunder was right overhead. It was sooooo loud, scary!

When we went to get back on the autostrada, we had to get another toll road ticket. For whatever reason we seem to have a curse with toll booths...We were behind a car who pulled his ticket, and then tried to get another. The machine wouldnt give him another one and he pushed the button for a couple minutes and still no ticket came out. We weren't sure why he was trying to get another one in the first place...until he pulled through and we saw that the car who had gone in front of him had pulled off to the side and was out of his car walking back to get a ticket. He went back through the gate, took the ticket that we needed, and then went back to his car to drive off. We pulled up to the machine and pushed the button, but no ticket came out. The arm was raised for us to go through because a ticket had been taken and it didnt sense a car going through. So it was just waiting for a car to go through for the arm to come down and another ticket to come out. We pushed the ticket button several times, and the service button, but no ticket and no person came out. The cars behind us were honking so we finally just drove through. We were worried that the person at the ticket booth wouldn't understand our explanation for not having a ticket when we got there and were trying to come up with the story in our broken Italian. Luckily when we got there the guy was able to understand what we were trying to tell him and was able to give us the price for the distance we traveled. We were so relieved! We weren't sure if we were going to have to pay some kind of fine!

Anyway, our next town was Montepulciano where we made a quick stop to walk through the town and buy a bottle of the local wine. The hilltop towns of Tuscany are very cute and fun to walk through, but have some pretty steep streets! Next we drove on to the town we are staying in, Pienza. We had planned to check into our B&B here and then head on to Montalcino, but when we got here to check in, they didnt have our reservation and the B&B was fully booked! Apparently Hotels.com never gave them our reservation that we made online. The owners were able to find us another place to stay, and had dinner reservations setup for us at a local restaurant, so we wound up staying here for dinner, and it's a good thing! We had Pici with tomato and garlic sauce for dinner. Pici is a handmade pasta, and it was delicious! We were so glad our plans changed and we got to try this.

We drove to Montalcino after dinner, got a little lost trying to find the center of town in the dark...and had planned to taste the Brunello wine here...but the town was pretty dead even though it was still relatively early in the night. Instead, we just walked through a little and bought a bottle of Brunello for another day...we know it's supposed to be great so we are looking forward to trying it!


We checked out of our B&B this morning to head to our first wine tasting. When we got up we had planned to eat breakfast at this little bar on the corner which we had a breakfast coupon for from the B&B, however, it wasn't open until 9am and we needed to leave before then...so we went to another little place down the way and I got a pastry and cappucino there while we sat and waited to collect my passport from the woman who runs the B&B. When we got my passport we gave her the coupon back and told her the place hadn't opened yet. She directed us to another little cafe down the road and said we could get something there with it...so I wound up with 2 pastries and 2 cappucinos this morning...and it's a good thing too because we never got lunch today. Kev even had a cappucino with his pastry too!

We drove up towards the Chianti region to our wine tasting, which was at Castello di Brolio and included a tour of part of the Castle, the garden, and the winery. Castello di Brolio has a very long and interesting history, and is where Chianti Classico was born. The Chianti region was the first wine producing region in the world with the Etruscans producing wine before Christ was born. Anyway, we learned a bit about the family, how the wine came to be made, and we even saw the Baroness driving her car up to the castle. The wine was excellent, we tried a Chardonay, 2 Brolio Chiantis, and Casalferro, along with a Grappa (not a fan) and some Olive Oil. We bought a bottle of Chianti Classico to enjoy later.

Next, we checked into our hotel which is just outside of Siena. We had planned to do laundry here today, only to learn that the laundry is closed on Sundays. We asked if there were laundry facilities in Siena and the receptionist showed us where 2 were supposed to be on a map of the city. So, we got in the car, drove to Siena, found parking, and carted our dirty laundry to where the laundrymat was supposed to be...never to find it. We walked up and down through the main road filled with tons of people, and it was nowhere to be found... So, we stuffed the clothes into our backpacks and decided to see some of the sights we were going to see tomorrow so that we could do the laundry tomorrow and still get to see everything we wanted to see here. (I'm really glad I bought the roll up vacuum seal bags for us because without them it would have been an even bigger pain in the ass!)

We did our self guided tour of the city and saw the very ornate Cathedral which has the Bernini chapel, and the statue of St. Paul by Michaelangelo. We then climbed the Torre del Mangia (city tower) which was a very steep and narrow 300 steps to the top. The views up here were great, unfortunately visibility wasn't optimum today because the rain clouds (of course) were heading back in. The main square here was bustling today with people everywhere eating, relaxing, and enjoying the mens choir that was singing in the square. We were really getting hungry on our way out of the city and ended up stopping in a McDonalds for some french fries and a coke... and they were just as good as at home!

We got in our car just as the rain was really starting up, and drove over to the town of San Gimignano which is about 40 min away. The rain was still coming down when we got there and it didn't look like it would be letting up anytime soon...so we grabbed our trusty umbrella and headed out hoping not to get completely soaked. The town is small, surrounded by walls, and has quite a few towers that still remain (out of the 60 or so that were once here). We did our self guided tour here and found some great lookouts...too bad for the stormy weather! Dinner was at a little restaurant in a square outside of the main square where there were less people. They had Pici here too, so we had to order! After dinner we walked down to the main part of town to grab our gelato. I tried something different tonight- raspberry with rosemary gelato, different but good. The rain finally let up while we were eating our gelato, and when we got back to the car the city looked really cool with the walls around it, towers standing up in the air surrounded by a foggy mist.

Our drive back was dark, wet, and winding. It's a good thing Kev has a lot of experience on winding roads because it's definitely come in handy here. We passed by an accident on our way back to Siena, and it's amazing that we haven't seen more accidents with the crazy drivers here. When we arrived back at our hotel we asked about the laundry situation for the morning...turns out that it's a laundry service and they charge per item! Not what we were hoping for...so now we have to go back to Siena tomorrow and find the laundrymat anyway... Thankfully we think we know exactly where it is now, the woman who gave us directions this afternoon drew it on the wrong street on the map... thanks...

Friday, September 18, 2009

On to Caserta

This morning we left Sorrento and headed to Amalfi via ferry. We thought the ferry was getting in around 10:25 am, but we didnt acutally arrive there until closer to 11. We had planned on seeing a Villa there, but due to our late arrival, we missed the bus we needed to take. Instead, we took a self guided tour of Amalfi. We started up the main street which was busy filled with many shops and lots of tourists. Our first stop was a fountain in the main part of town which flows with spring water. Next was the basilica which houses many artifacts from centuries past.

After the basilica we headed up towards the Paper Mill museum. Amalfi was once the source of the world's greatest paper. We took a tour of the museum and learned about this history of paper making, and the quality of the paper that was produced here. It was really interesting to learn about how paper was made using the old machines and water as the main source of power.

We had lunch at a very small pizzeria, then headed back toward the docks and stopping at a couple of cute shops along the way. We had some yummy gelato while waiting for the ferry that would take us to Salerno.

In Salerno we picked up the much dreaded car that we need for the next couple of days. It took about an hour to get the whole car situated and be on our way. We were lucky enough to make it out of the city easily, even though the drivers here are crazy! They dont care at all about oncoming traffic, just pass in the center of the two lanes and expect everyone else to make room for them. It's pretty funny to us how the people here are so relaxed and casual at dinner, not expecting to be rushed, but when they are going somewhere, they want to be there like yesterday!

We drove for a little over an hour to the ruins of Paestum. Paestum holds some of the oldest and most intact Greek ruins. Here we used our guide book for a self guided tour of the ruins. The Romans built their own town here, but did not build on top of the old Greek temples they found here because they respected the Greek's religous and holy sites. Much of Paestum is still to be excavated, and the main road cuts right through some of the ruins. It is a pretty cool place to visit.

After walking through the ruins we went to the Archeological Museum here to see some of the frescoes and artifacts excavated from here. One display that was really cool is 9 intact vases that were found in Paestum, all filled with honey and sealed with beeswax. When they were found, the honey was still in liquid form after over a thousand years.

We left Paestum and began our trek north to the city of Caserta. The drive wasn't too bad once we got on the autostrada, although the craziness of drivers continues here. Several times we saw people just flying down the highway, even with signs warning of speed control. The signage here can be confusing, but the GPS has helped alot with that...(Thanks Mom!)

We arrived unscathed at our hotel in Caserta. The hotel is a Best Western, and has a great pool which we swam in for about an hour before going to dinner. We had red wine, spaghetti, and beef for dinner. The people here have all been very nice, and even apologize when they have trouble speaking to us in English...even though we always feel bad that we aren't able to speek better Italian!