Just another WordPress.com site

We are doing our best to post a brief summary of our quarterly happenings for those of our friends and family who are interested. Enjoy!


9/26 – Venetian Islands




Murano sculpture and clocktower


Murano glass museum


Burano’s colorful homes


Had a Slovenian version of crepes for breakfast today at our hotel! Yum! And we got lots of morning cuddles from a very sleepy Dadi. 
We thought we’d be beating the crowds by heading to the islands today, but boy were we wrong. These were some of the most packed vaporettos we have ridden! We actually missed a few and had to wait for the next one because of the long lines. It felt like we were India pushing and weaseling our way through the crowd. 
Anyway, we eventually made it to Murano, an island famous for its blown glass. We visited the local museum and learned about glass blowing history which dates back to 1st century BC. Current glass blowing became prevalent in the 14th century and originated in Syria. 
Had a quick picnic lunch and then headed on to Burano, famous for lace-making. What struck us were the brilliantly colored homes. It reminded us of La Boca (neighborhood in Buenos Aires), but 100x more beautiful. We visited the small lace museum were too older women were sitting and sewing. 
Then, we moved on to Torcello, a very small island with very few people. This is were people first settled before Venice became an established city. There was a nice old church which was decorated to the hilt for a wedding. We could hear the party just down the road. 
Returned to last nights restaurant for a final good meal! Enjoyed our first really good tiramisu. Walked the streets briefly to take one last look at Venice at night. 
Very early morning ahead of us with a flight back home leaving at 6ish out of Venice. 
Great trip!

9/25 – Venice


Doge’s Palace




One of many ceilings in the palace


St. Mark’s Basilica (from outside where allowed to take photos)


When we had booked our hotel, we had read about the delicious breakfast (our favorite meal). We’ve mostly been having cornettos (like a croissant) and cappuccinos for breakfast, so we were pretty excited. The dad very excitedly made us an omelette with lots of veggies which was delicious! We also learned that he and his kids are Slovenian and immigrated to Italy. He’s a very sweet man!
Our morning started off with a water taxi ride down the grand canal listening to the Rick Steves audiotour and staring at the hundreds of palaces. Technically, only the main palaces of the dukes is called a palace and the rest of the beautiful homes are just called casas. 
We got off at St Marks square and visited Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). This was one of the most ornate palaces we’ve seen with paintings by Titian, Tintoretto (father and son), Veronese and others. The ceilings were amazing! Interestingly, the old prison is attached to the palace connected by a bridge and we visited that as well. Casanova was imprisoned here back in the day. Amazing that this palace was unwalled and unguarded … Because the elected dukes were confident that they had the people’s support. 
We had a great pizza for lunch and then were off to meander the canals back to San Marco to tour the square and the basilica. The basilica had a lot of Byzantine influence which reminded us of our trip to Turkey. The roof was somewhere around the size of a football field and was completely covered in mosaics with tiny tiles. It was pretty impressive! The floors were also marble mosaics. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside. 
We made our way to Il Frari, a Franciscan church. We got to hear the organs playing for a wedding in the sacristy and later watched the couple walk out of the beautiful church. The tombs of Titian (painter) and Canova (sculptor) are here … Or at least parts of them. 

The evening was spent just wandering the streets. We came across a very sweet plaza with families out and about, playing soccer, drawing with chalk, dogs running around, and a young kid watering he neighborhood garden. Restaurants surrounded this plaza with locals enjoying their aperitifs. It felt very homey!

Dinner was absolutely delicious. One of our pasta dishes came in Parmesan crust bowl and had a great cheese sauce, sun-dried tomatoes and eggplant. It was so amazing we are thinking about going back tomorrow for our last dinner. We talked off the night with perfect scoop of caffe turko (coffee and cardamom) flavored gelato.

9/24 – Florence to Venice


Pooja and Dadi


San Marco Square


Venice Coast


Dinner with Dan and Becca

No glitches with our train travel this morning! Successfully made our tight connection in Bologna. 
We arrived in Venice and boarded a very full bus to get to our hotel. We sort of guessed when to get off the bus because we couldn’t see anything … And we were only a stop off. 
We were greeted by a woman our age and her father who run a small hotel … And shortly thereafter, their 4 month old puppy named Dadi! We melted. We played with her for a little while before getting ourselves ready to see Venice. Our hotel is on the mainland, and they’ve recently started a tramline to the island of Venice which was quite convenient. 
We walked through St Mark’s Square, visited the Correr Museum (art, history, archeology), and then just got lost walking through the crooked streets and over bridges and canals. We have taken a few vaporetto rides (water taxi) which were beautiful. The old buildings along the water are just stunning. We saw many gondoliers and their passengers … And heard a few singers with their accompanying accordions. 
Capped our night off perfectly with a dinner with Dan and Becca. We went to their wedding in the Bay Area just before this trip, and found out at their wedding that they were honeymooning here! We crashed their last night in Italy, and enjoyed a very nice meal and terrific company. Thanks for a great evening, you guys!

9/23 – Florence


Boboli gardens


Roof of baptistry


view of duomo partway up the tower climb


Palazzo Vecchio with statues


After enjoying our morning pastry and cappuccino, we headed across the Arno River to visit the Boboli Garden (Medici family) and to get some good views of the city. On our way there, we crossed Ponte Vecchio which historically was home to butcher shops and now houses jewelry stores. Butchers used to drop their discards in the river for sanitary purposes. While we were over there, rain began to come down. This made for a very wet walk back to our apartment. We took a moment to dry off and change clothes and in the meantime the rain quieted down a little bit.
Next we headed to the market to find some lunch. The downstairs was more of a traditional market with produce, meats, cheeses, and fish. Upstairs there were a dozen restaurants and shops where we found a good bruschetta and eggplant parmesan. 
Then we were off to visit the duomo complex. The duomo was beautiful, and below, there was a crypt which is really an excavation of the Roman ruins beneath the church. The baptistery was absolutely stunning with its gold mosaics on the ceiling. We finished it off by climbing the campanile (Giotto’s Tower), a 270 ft bell tower with great views of the duomo and city. 
Afterward, we perused the leather goods in the market. Then, we walked through Palazzo Vecchio with it’s outdoor statue gallery including a replica of Michelangelo’s David. 
Grabbed some  incredible pizza for dinner. It had a 7 grain crust that was cooked to perfection. Topped with potato, gingered squash, and balsamic.  

Will be heading to Venice in the morning after catching an early morning train with another tight connection in Bologna. Wish us luck!

9/22 – Cinque Terre to Florence


Ruins under the church

Lucca view from bell tower

Lucca view from bell tower

Florence waterfront

  We left our favorite hotel thus far and rushed down the road to Lucca. En route, we stopped to grab a quick breakfast. Somehow, the cord for the GPS was wrapped around Pooja’s purse, and before she knew it, she had closed the car door on our navigation lifeline. Of course this had to happen on our last day with the car driving into the busiest city (Florence). Hmm ..

Well .. It’s a good thing we had a terrific Tuscany map that we initially debated on purchasing prior to picking up our car rental. We continued on the country roads navigating our way through the small towns and didn’t have to turn around too many times.

Lucca, a well-preserved walled town with very few cars, was a great stop for a few hours. We learned that the city is one of Europe’s major producers of toilet paper and tissues! Apparently they have a monopoly on the machinery required to make it. We walked the ramparts and then meandered our way into the town. One of the churches we visited had excavated Roman ruins beneath the church floor which they then opened up to visitors. We also walked up the bell tower to get a great view of the city… And I could feel our sore little calves from yesterday.

Now the part that we were nervous about… Getting our car safely to Florence without a GPS. We avoided the highway for about half of this trip because we had read about how expensive that tolls could be. After a bit of a tricky drive that took much longer than we had expected, we decided to hop on the autostrada. We are very glad we did! It was a quick last half of a highway drive and was quite reasonable! We were very successful at getting the car to the garage despite a few construction obstacles, heavy traffic, etc. Hooray!

Briefly walks the waterfront in Florence and are now planning our day of walking the city tomorrow.

9/21 – Cinque Terre


Sunrise at our hotel







Or more like sei (6) or sette (7) terre … 

We hit the trail early to beat the heat and we’re very glad we did! We started off the hike in Monterosso and headed west. We had read that the first two legs were the most hilly and difficult so we wanted to get those out of the way before it got too hot and while our legs weren’t tired. The hike was nice with lots of greenery, grape vines, the occasional fig tree, and lemon and olive trees. The views from up above the towns were lovely. 
We got into Vernazza, the next town, and wandered through the beautiful harbor and streets. There was a local woman doing water aerobics on her own in the harbor. We saw a young man wearing a Univ of Minnesota Duluth shirt so we talked to him for a few minutes. Small world … 
Then we climbed over the next hill onward to Corniglia. This is the only one of the 5 towns that is not right on the water. It sits on a bluff just above (maybe 100 ft). By this point we were getting tired and hungry. The guide book said it was a “sleepy town” so we chose to skirt the outside instead of headed in. We passed a national park trail check booth and the attendant informed us that the next too trails were still closed from a flash flood a few years ago (2011). We had read about this flood and trail closures ahead of time but most sites we read said they were likely to open for the 2015 season. More importantly the curt, unhelpful young woman at the tourist info center in Monterosso told us (when we asked) that the entire coastal trail was open.
So… Instead of the flat section of the coastal trail, we were detoured up and down a steep mountain. It was a trail through the grapevine terraces. Beautiful and very tiring. A hike that was supposed to be mere meters above the ocean was 100s of meters of climbing in full sun (hot!) and at least twice as long. We watched the farmers with their 1 rail work carts climb straight up the hillside and wished we could have hopped on. We headed back down the other side to Manarola, another colorful town on the ocean were we rested our legs and had a great lunch. We tried our first focaccia and also had a pesto, tomato, olive salad.
Again the trail (supposed to be 0.5 miles) to Riomaggiori, the last of the 5 towns, was closed and what should have been a flat 25 minute walk was a 1 hour 800+ stairclimber up and over the hill separating the two towns. Again, the hidden reward of all this climbing was spectacular views. 
This is why we feel like we really did a six or seven town walk rather than the five town walk we had intended… But it was an enjoyable day.
We then caught the ferry back to Monterosso and enjoyed a spectacular dinner. Dessert was an out of this world orange and star anise mousse. What a way to cap off a beautiful day.
Off to Florence tomorrow and will get rid of our car rental. 

9/20 – Pisa and onward to Cinque Terre




Pisa waterfront


John woke up early to photograph sunrise over San Gimignano. No spectacular colors, but nice light. 
Then, we hit the road to Pisa. After circling to find parking, we headed into the touristy area. Every third person was posing for a photo pretending to hold up the leaning tower. We explored the square and visited the cathedral, baptistery, cemetery, and a museum. The baptistery was beautiful and the acoustics were impressive. Every 30 mins, the security guard sings so that the visitors can hear one person harmonize with oneself as each note lingers for 10 seconds or so. The museum was interesting – it housed sketches (sinopias) of frescoes that decorate the walls of the cemetery. Unfortunately, the cemetery was bombed during WWII, so many of the frescoes were destroyed. The remainder of the sites around the square were untouched during the war. 
After lunch, we walked toward the Arno river which had a very nice riverfront walk. 
Then .. We were off to Vernazza, one of the towns in Cinque Terre. A few treacherous skinny windy roads. Another afternoon of difficulty finding our lodging, but boy when we arrived .. We were astonished by the view! We are staying at a little hotel up above the ocean. The view from the patio is really breathtaking. 
We decided to head down Monterroso for dinner to scope it out for the morning .. But before we can do so we had to get the car out of a tricky spot on the hill in front of the garage. After a few attempts, we decided to humbly ask for some help…
We found a good dinner place where Pooja tried a local pasta which is baked and then fried. It looked like a big pancake. Apparently pesto originates from this region and it was very tasty! John had a pasta with the sauce which was also very good. Dessert was delicious and was something like a chocolate lava cake but better!
We enjoyed walking the waterfront of Monterroso and are very excited about our plan to walk the 5 towns (Cinque Terre) tomorrow. 

9/19 – Siena to San Gimignano 


Siena Duomo Floor

Wow what a day meandering though Tuscany. We slept in late (7:00) as nothing in Sienna opens until at least 10:00. We walked back to Il Campo and found a tasty cafe with probably the best cappuccino we have had yet. After seeing another couple order a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, we decided we needed one too. It was delicious! That killed enough time to head over to the city tower and climb the 300 steps for a sweeping view of the city, cathedrals, and countryside. Next we toured the main cathedral. It was one of the most impressive displays of art we have seen. The floors were all murals of biblical scenes in cut stone and the library was wall to wall brilliant frescoes.
We headed up the road a few kilometers to Monteriggioni, a small completely walled town. It had strong turrets and still looks well built to defend itself from Florence like it did back a few hundred years ago. Next we meandered through the heart of the Chianti vineyards and olive orchards up to Castilina di Chianti. This small town is at the top of one of the highest hills in the area and provided spectacular views of the Tuscan landscape. Nothing for lunch had been striking us all day and by 2:30 we were starving and ready to eat anything. We stopped at a market to buy some fresh produce to tide us over .. The shop happened to sell panini but seemed to just have meet and cheese options. We thought we would ask if he could make a veggie one. We showed us an assortment of grilled eggplant, artichoke, sundries tomatoes, pecorino cheese, and great looking pesto. yummmm! Glad we waited and spoiled dinner!
We then made our way to San Gimignano, another hilltop town. Today, this walled town is know for its 14 towers (once numbered in the 70s) and its striking presence over the valley. Our 82 year old host, Bruno, told us about a great panoramic viewpoint down a back road that didn’t disappoint and then we strolled up to the city to catch the last of sunset and a bite to eat.
A direct trip from Siena would have been 45 minutes, but we spent half a day meandering and could have spend much more.

9/18 – Orvieto to Siena

We started out with a nice morning stroll around the ramparts of Orvieto. Beautiful walk! We visited a museum in town which had remarkably well preserved Etruscan ruins. They even managed to preserve and transfer wall paintings from a tomb. It was quite impressive. 

Next … We picked up our rental car and hit the road to explore Tuscany. Well … Technically we started out in Umbria and then headed into Tuscany. 

John picked up his stick shift driving right where he left off from our last trip to Argentina. He did great!

We started off in Civita, a tiny “dead” town connected to the mainland by a mile long bridge. We didn’t cross the bridge, but it was a neat site. 

We headed north to Tuscany, enjoying the beautiful drive along the way. We stopped at a nice town called Pienza where we did a quick walk and found the world’s most AMAZING pear gelato. Can’t get over it. 

Just past Pienza, another beautiful town called Montepulciano came up. We looked at it from a distance where we got some great views. 

Onward to Siena. John navigated his first real Italian city well! We had a heck of a time finding our lodging, but after asking a few folks and walking in circle, we eventually stumbled upon it. We stayed in an apartment of a very sweet old man who didn’t speak a word of English, but remarkably, we got by. 

Siena was a great city to explore in the evening. The town square, Il Campo, was quite the happening place with music and lots of folks out. We had an absolutely delicious meal that we won’t forgot! We have a specific meal that sticks out in our minds from our France trip, and we think it’ll be the same for this one! Pooja had an amazing vegetable risotto and John had a delicious tagliatelle with arugula and porcini mushrooms. Wow. We also tried soft pecorino with pears and honey which, in itself, could have been a perfect meal!

We enjoyed Siena in the evening, and scoped out our plan for the morning. 

9/17 – Amalfi to Orvieto

We awoke early to pack and grab a bite to eat. John chose a cannoli for breakfast. It was the first we have seen of them, but boy was this one good. We then grabbed the bus to Ravello, a town near the top of the Amalfi coast hillside.

We toured Villa Ruffalo, an old villa on the edge of a bluff that has a commanding view and has been converted into a beautiful landscaped garden. After the garden, we walked the streets and went to buy a fresh peach for a snack, but saw a yummy eggplant, arugula, tomato, and mozzarella sandwich that we had to eat, so we had a 10:30 lunch. Wow was it tasty!

We caught the bus to Salerno and the our train to Rome. The train arrived 10 minutes late to Salerno which was a little nerve-racking as we only had 15 minutes for our connecting train to Orvieto! We arrived into Rome and ran to catch the train … and thankfully we caught it (it was the last train of the night). We arrived in Orvieto just in time to catch the last bus to the town square and our hotel, dropped our bags and took an evening stroll.

It was stressful, but it all worked out perfectly in the end.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.