Big yawn! Is it really 6am already? Ugh, another 10 minutes please! Still trying to come
View from bathroom at Martindago
back down to earth after the “tenors” concert. Darned near got dive-bombed by a pigeon walking back to our hotel! Ok, a quick shower, hair, and breakfast were in order.
It was actually a beautiful morning, sunny, not too hot – yet. There was such a quiet peacefulness, and sense of calm, as we ate our breakfast, once again, with the little birds. It was hard to imagine that such a magical night had happened just 10 hours before. The trucks were already heading in, starting to take down the stage sets, etc. We were able to scarf down our breakfast of our daily cappuccino and croissant. We grabbed a bottle of water with our breakfast and we were off. Good old Google Maps came to our assistance, yet, once again. Only about a 22 minute walk it said, to our meeting place, which was at the Burger King, near the Florence train station. We had to meet by 8:15a at our meeting place, so we figured we’d better leave by about 7:30a, just in case.
We set forth in our now usual direction – about due west. Zigging and zagging here and there, looking for the right street names upon the buildings. Around the corner, we happened upon the Duomo!
Duomo – Florence
Wow, it was magnificent and absolutely mammoth. I’d say it took up several “city” blocks, but city blocks are relative! I took a few pictures and we kept on walking. We finally made it to the main street and passed by 2 different McDonald’s. However, it was too soon to stop for anything, so we kept walking. Ah, getting closer, we finally see Burger King! Happy hour – you could get wine and prosecco with your snacks from BK! (see picture!) Unfortunately, Burger King wasn’t open for breakfast there, so we settled on a nearby caffe stand for a few more cappuccinos.
We went to check in for our tour and they said it wasn’t paid? What?? I was a bit upset, but had been having issues with the credit card companies/banks. I called each one of them and told them I was going to Italy and I still had issues. I was not happy, but the tour guide was very kind and said it happened often. Luckily, I was able to pull out another card and it worked! While drinking my capp, I called the bank and was able to get through to someone and they said, “oh, sorry, that request never really went through – ok, fixed now!” Ugh!! But at least I was able to get through to them.
It was time to board the bus! We were on our way to our all day tour of Siena, San Gimignano, Monte Riggioni, and the wine tasting in Chianti. The tour group was a mix of Americans, Spanish, and I think a few Italians, or other countries. The tour guide repeated everything in all 3 languages. I believe our first stop was MonteRiggioni. We got out and walked, and walked, up this steep hill and steps. We had barely about 40 minutes or so to walk up this hill, take a few pictures, and walk down again. I was exhausted already! Really wasn’t much to see there, but the scenery was pretty. There were a few old buildings, a church and some food/souvenir stores and a few art stores. Below, pictures of MonteRiggioni – arch/courtyard.
MonteRiggioni – Arch
MonteRiggioni – Courtyard
Ok, time to go back down the hill. Which way did we come up? You really need to pay attention sometimes on these tours when they lead you there and then they say “meet back at the bus” and you can’t remember how to get back to it! Fortunately, we did find our way to the correct bus – there were two! Lol!
At that point, they were taking our lunch orders and I think most of the group went with the group lunch. It was not included in the price of the tour, as it was optional, but I think it was around 13 euros, so not bad. We did not know what it was going to be, but we didn’t have to worry about it, so it was a good deal! Ok, next stop – Siena!
Siena was a beautiful little city, and lots more hills and steps, and cobblestones to walk
Crowded streets of Siena
over! This time we were led into the city by our guide, where we met up with another tour guide that spoke our language. We were then guided through the city. They give you these little headset things, so you can hear them and then you get to keep the earbuds and they are nice ones! Siena is also the place where they have the famous Porto Palio horse race every year and we were fortunate (or not) to be there on the same day the race was to happen! So, the city was very crowded with people everywhere, but hard to judge what it would be like on a normal day – it didn’t seem that much more crowded than walking the streets of Florence! Alas, we never saw the horses, or the race! I was able to snap a few pictures here and there. We were led to this famous church, the Siena Cathedral, it was big and made of white marble. The tickets to this were included in our tour price.
After the church tour, it was, thankfully, time for lunch! We had worked up quite the appetite, up and down and up and down and trying to catch up if you took a picture. Our guide was nice, unfortunately, she was not too tall! It was hard keeping track of her, even when she poked her umbrella up in the air!
Lunch, ah, we could finally sit down and relax. Needed a bathroom break also. Was smart and went first, then sat down to lunch. Luckily, they had reserved the lower floor of the restaurant for us and it was blessedly cool. It was getting quite hot outside and I was near dripping wet. We sat family style at 3 long tables. Lunch was really fantastic, except for the wine – it was pretty awful! First course was a chopped lettuce salad with shredded carrots, tomatoes, and olives? Can’t remember exactly, and you made your own dressing – they had the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the tables and you just poured your own! Oh wow! I have to say my favorite part of the trip were those tomatoes in that salad! They were like little red sugar bombs! So sweet – OMG! I’ve never tasted anything like them! I don’t know what it is about the Italian sun and soil, but they make the best tomatoes! The next course was pasta with Bolognese sauce. It was really good, also, swimming in olive oil! The next course was very thinly sliced pork and roasted potatoes. That was awesome also! For dessert, they passed around an assortment of 3 different little cookies/pastries. Again, delicioso!! Our lunch was over and everyone else was visiting the bathroom! I waited upstairs for Lorna. Ok, finally some free time!
We did not have much free time, maybe about 40 minutes or so. I walked up and down a few more streets, snapping a few more pictures. I wanted to buy a scarf or something, but decided not to and didn’t buy anything. One thing, almost every store we passed was having a sale! It’s kind of funny seeing modern stores in such almost ancient buildings/settings. Time to meet back up with the guide. It was about 2:30p or so? We had to walk back out of the city and back to the bus, at least another 30 minute walk. We still had 2 more cities to find! Back to the bus we trekked. I swear it was not where we left it and we almost got on the wrong one! We quickly headed to the back of the bus, where we had claimed our seats! It was hot and I was thirsty and tired. I put my leg up and tried to get in a few winks. Was a quick ride to the next city – San Gimignano!
Another long walk and steep hill – what a surprise!? Molto, molto, steep hill and steps. By the time I got to the top, there was a cement wall/ledge, under a shady tree. I pretty much
San Gimignano and Ledge I sat on!
collapsed on it. The guide is trying to motion all of us to come forward to hear what he was saying. I was not budging; I did not care what they were saying. My legs were swelling, my heart was beating, and I was spent! Lorna went to hear what he was saying and then came back. I have to say, the guide was concerned with me and came back to give me the high level overview of what he had said. Anyway, course of action was to walk into town, up some more steep hills and cobblestones, and find this gelato place for a free gelato. Was it really worth it for free gelato? My feet were beginning to
Building in San Gimignano
doubt it….it was hot and I was tired. But, trouper that I am, we forged on to find the gelato stand! It was a tiny little place, but the line went quickly. I got pistachio and chocolate. I have to say it was good, but anything cold and creamy and chocolate would have been good at that point! Again, lots of little stores to buy things, but I refrained. I was really trying to watch my spending budget!
Ok, I was ready to go home – one more stop – the wine tasting! Another short ride, up a steep and narrow hill. Luckily, we didn’t have to walk up it this time. We parked and got off the bus and into this cooler building, where everything was set up for our wine tasting. Wow, if anyone needed a glass of wine at that point, it was me!
We all sat down to plates filled with a few pieces of cheese, salame, potato chips, saltines, and bread. Our host was Leonardo – he says, but not DiCaprio! I’d say he was in his 30s or so and very personable. He told us how to hold the wine glass from the bottom and how to swirl it in the glass, and finally get it in our mouth, and swish it around a little more! I know that is supposed to be the proper way to really taste wine, but personally, I just like to sip it slowly… We tasted about 5 different wines – all Chianti – red, and one white, as well as a dessert wine. They also came around and gave us samples of some balsamic vinegar, as well as truffle oil. I have to say, I’d heard rather negative things about truffle oil, but I have to say it was quite tasty! He asked if there were any single ladies and only about 4 of us raised our hands. Then he asked for a volunteer and Lorna ran up! (see video). He was instructing us on how to dip the biscotti into the dessert wine and Lorna was his audience participation. Shortly after that it was time to go home. They, of course, wanted to sell you some wine! Well, for “such a deal” shipping, tax, included, if you bought 5 bottles of wine, shipping was free. A bit out of my budget, but Lorna bought 5 bottles. Can’t wait til we get them!
Ok, about an hours drive back to Florence! We were able to get a few snoozes in before we were dropped off at our meeting place. We almost literally drove by our hotel, but they were not allowed to drop people anywhere else. I was rested, although not well…however, we decided to walk back to our hotel. It was about 7p or so, the sun was starting to set. It had cooled off a bit, and there was a slight breeze. I was getting really familiar with Florence by then, as we had traversed the same paths several times already. I was going to be brave and not use Google Maps, let’s see if I can get us back to our hotel! Ok, sun was on my right, I knew we had to go east! We did not take the same route as we had come, it seemed too out of the way at that point. So, we zigged and we zagged, turned right and turned left. We’d been walking a little ways and Lorna asked if I knew where I was. “No, not really, but it kind of looks familiar…” We walked a little more, and I was thinking, if we don’t see something familiar real soon, I’d get out Google again. Well, we turned the one corner and “eureka!” There were the bleacher seats and the Piazza Santa Croce! We had made it, without the help of Google Maps! We knew our destination was right down the block and around the corner. I’m pretty sure Lorna was close to doubting me before that point….
Ah, our room at last! I still wanted dessert, as we didn’t really eat dinner, so I went to the restaurant next door to our hotel where we ate the previous night. We had this really nice waiter, named Stefano. He was very friendly and we had stopped by the night before after the Il Volo concert and he told us how much he liked them and would like to go. We told him we had 2 extra tickets to Verona. He said he and his mother might like to go. Anyway, Lorna stayed to relax in the room and I went in search of dessert and Stefano. I got there and asked for him. I sat by the bar area and ordered dessert, coffee, and a bottle of frizzante! Ok, here he comes. I asked him if he really wanted the tickets and pulled them out. By this time it’s about 8:30p or so. I figure ok, I eat dessert, give him the tickets and back to the room I go. Dessert comes, Stefano pops by. He looks at the tickets and says “you really want to give them to me?” “Yes,” I said, “if you want them, they are yours.” Some more time passed, I finished my dessert, was working on the coffee, and water. It was nearing 10pm! They closed about 11p. He comes by one more time and says he wants to finish first. ??? Ok, I’m waiting… I tuck the tickets under the envelope and I wait. It’s 10:30p. The manager asks if I want my bill? Yes, please. Ok, here he comes – runs into the kitchen, out again and around the corner. The other wait staff are leaving for the night. Still, I wait. Finally, he comes by and asks me again – am I sure I want to give him the tickets? Yes, they are yours! It’s after 11pm by then, I have the keys and Lorna thought for sure we had run away together by then! His shift is officially finished. He comes by and asks me again, I say yes, and he grabs my shoulders and gives me the big Italian kiss on each cheek (real kisses, too, not just air) and says grazie! He looks very happy! It was close to 11:30p by then and I was so exhausted! I quickly got up and said ciao and out the door I went! We had to get packed that night as we were leaving for Venice in the morning. Although we could have walked, we decided to take a taxi to the train station.
Our Venice adventure awaits!