A couple of weeks have passed since my part I blog post about our Italy belated honeymoon/first anniversary. It’s Thanksgiving, I’m caught up on housework, and I think it’s time to discuss part II!
Firenze (Florence), Italy
On Wednesday morning we made our way on foot to Roma Termini station. We got there much too early, it turns out our worries about checking out, eating breakfast and catching the underground were unwarranted. We weren’t hungry, so we couldn’t stall by eating at the station, so we just sat like backpackers on the floor waiting for the train platform to show up.
About 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time, our platform showed up and we headed to hop on the train. We were taking the ICE train for the first time (the super fast train that goes all around Europe). It turns out the seats I had booked had us at a table seat, which I didn’t realize when booking, and meant we awkwardly had to face all the other travellers – not to mention the guy sitting on the other side. We also had to endure a cute little Asian couple eating right beside us, somehow they devoured a huge portion each of delicious pasta, pizza and cake. It made us immediately hungry (doh!).
The ride went smoothly, taking about 2 hours, despite my fears over a terrorist being on board. Yes, my fears were heightened by the fact that there had been a warning put out by the USA about high speed rail around Europe, but it didn’t help that a guy was speaking Arabic, making repetitive phone calls, laughing loudly and obnoxiously after saying ‘America’ and then suddenly standing up and asking someone what time it was. Yes – the nerves were high.
It turns out the hotel I booked (Hotel Club) was right next to the train station, so we didn’t have to lug our bags around. Despite that, we didn’t hear any train noises when trying to sleep, and after our Rome hotel experience, the deep sleep was very welcome! The rooms were completely refurbished and super comfortable. The stay went smoothly and we got a great deal on Priceline. The only downside is that we left several postcards with them to send out (the stamps were already bought!) and none of them have made it to their recipients :(. Not cool.
We didn’t have any plans for that night, so we headed out on foot and grabbed some lunch (a pizza of course) at a little pizzeria in the square. We almost got ripped off at a pharmacy when I needed blisters for my poor heels. I love holidaying, but my feet always end up torn up! Anyway, Nick gave a €20 bill and the woman only gave him change for €10. She almost got away with it too! It clearly wasn’t a mistake, because the women gave each other the (knowing) look as we walked off.
We explored on foot a little, checking out boutique shops, admiring fine things, and then moving on from sticker shop. I was getting a little thirsty, so we grabbed a bottle of Prosecco for €6, a little bottle of orange juice, and asked the gelato shop lady for two plastic cups. (Yep – the gelato shop had wine – I love Italy!). We sat in the square, looking out at the church, while we got mildly intoxicated. One of the many things I love so much about Nick is that no matter where we are, we just have so much fun together. I know I was lucky to find my soul mate!
It was then time for dinner (yep – we enjoyed that square for quite awhile!). We wandered with a small crowd and found ourselves in a magical little square area with a ton of outdoor restaurants. We grabbed a bottle of rose wine while there, and enjoyed a delicious meal of pasta and ending in cheesecake. Yes, I got pesto pasta again. It was just such a novelty for it to be on every menu, so I had to have it. It turns out we picked a tourist restaurant, because our waiter told us after the 3 or 4 hours we were there that the service tip was not included. We discovered that actually, we were ripped off by leaving one as it is always included in Italy. As it was, we only left a small tip.
After an enjoyable walk home, we really crashed after our day of exploring (and drinking, but hey, it was our honeymoon!).
We were up early for breakfast (which was less of a spread than in Rome, but the hotel was only $125 night with free breakfast, so we didn’t complain!) and then it was off to our wine tasting day.
Now, here is my confession. When I booked the tour, I didn’t realize that it would only be red wine. Maybe I have been lucky, but in NZ and Australia, most regions support both variety of grapes. It turns out that the area that we were in (Tuscany) in Italy is the Chianti region. People come to the region just for Chianti. Chianti is red. Chianti, it turns out, was not what we were wanting to taste – all day.
Our tasting day started with a lecture on how to taste wine, how wine is made, grape varieties and how the oak process works. It was very interesting, and the lecturer was a very passionate Italian viticulturist. Our class was made up of many different cultures, including kiwis, Australians, Americans and even a couple of Russians.
After about an hour (and two tastings) it was in the minivan and off to the Tuscan countryside, with a short stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo. On the ride up the hill I immediately befriended the kiwi woman, who was from Wellington originally but lived in Sydney. Their kids were all grown up and they were visiting places that she had gone on on her Contiki tour over 20 years earlier. She took our picture at the Michelangelo look out and we had great chats for the rest of the day.
The first vineyard we stopped at was super cute. We got to try 4-6 wines (I honestly can’t remember) and the accompanying olive oil with bread. We suffered through the tastings, but bought some of the olive oil. It was delicious! We also got to see grapes being squashed. The best part about that vineyard though was the beautiful view of the vines running up and down the hills. The buildings also were what you would imagine to be in Tuscany. It truly felt like we were standing in a fairytale. I find myself feeling like that on most of the trips that we do.
It was time to hop in the bus and head on to the next vineyard. As it turns out, ironically, the vineyard was called ‘Casa Emma’. It was here that we would eat our lunch. We got shown through their boutique vineyard, which also produces olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We got 6 wines there. By about number 3, I was ready to be done. We were the only table that didn’t get a spitting bowl too, so we had no choice but to grin and bear it.
Lunch was a delicious spread of antipasto and a home made spaghetti, perfect to soak up the red wine that was warming my belly. The best part, however, was discovering what a true aged balsamic vinegar tastes like. Thick, goo-ey and full of flavor. It was a party in my mouth, for sure, and we had to buy some. I think it’s cute that it’s our little souvenir too from Casa Emma.
Sadly, it was time to return to Florence. Well, not too sadly, because I was done! No more red wine! We headed back and took the kiwi and her Australian husband to a gelato place we had discovered the day before. It was the best pistachio gelato I’d ever had – mainly because of the white chocolate/pistachio bark running through it. So delicious! We chatted about life while eating on the bridge, and then parted ways.
We walked around again for awhile and then got kind of hungry. I’m ashamed to say that we ate at Hard Rock Café! Partly because we didn’t want to get hit with a random service charge again, and also because I was parched and wanted free refills. I’m turning into an American. So there we are, sitting in Florence, Italy, eating macaroni and nachos. Oh well.
After dragging out dinner for awhile, we then grabbed some gelato to watch the sun go down over the church. It was then time to head back to the hotel and grab some sleep before our big day of museum attending the next day.
We hopped up early again and checked out before heading to our first museum of the day. We walked through town and came across some markets full of leather. I didn’t buy any.
I pre-purchased all of our tickets while in Italy, which meant we didn’t have to deal with any lines, but also meant that we didn’t have any flexibility. With the tickets for the galleries, you get allotted a time in which you have to enter, and then you have to line up and be there and enter within that time or you are out of luck.
The first stop was the Accademia Gallery. The only reason for us visiting was because I just had to see Michelangelo’s David with my own eyes. Art history was one of my favourite subjects in high school (despite being useless at art) and David was of course one of the topics we studied in depth. We were both amazed at the detail, the precision and the accuracy. I did think his hands were a little out of proportion, but hey, a man with big hands is a good thing! There were a lot of other sculptures that we admired, but eventually the crowds were enough and we left. We stopped back by the market again and then made our way through Florence – stopping to look at interesting things.
We made it into another square with a large church, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. We ended up eating pizza in the square.
It was time for our entry to the Uffizi Gallery. I was looking forward to the gallery the most, as again, a lot of the paintings I studied for my final exams in depth happened to be at the Uffizi Gallery. I never imagined that I would be in a position to have the time to see them with my own eyes. My biggest want was to see the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. I got to see it, and it was even more beautiful than I imagined. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but I understand why.
We spent around two hours in the Gallery, admiring the paintings. I was worried Nick would be bored out of his mind, but if he was, he wasn’t saying anything (just like in the Buckingham Palace in London!). The Gallery was so much bigger than I thought it would be, and far more grand also. There were a lot of people, but the staggered entry I think helps to control the crowds too.
We wandered again for a couple of hours, and then it was time to grab the train for part III of Italy – Venice!
Until next time!