Tag Archives: Jana & Lorna Italy 2016

Jana & Lorna’s Italian Adventure – July 4 – Verona!

 

Ciao!  Yes, it’s been a little while since my last story of adventure…but I continue!

Ah, Venice Mestre train station. This was our shortest train ride, only about an hour or so to Verona from Venice. We got to the train station very early, since we were only about 10 minutes away. We got there in plenty of time before our departure of 8:32am. We were able 20160704_073915to have a leisurely breakfast and scout out our train track. The Venice train station was not quite as sophisticated as Florence, so we knew we had to go down and up again to find our train. We looked on the schedule, but could not see our train. There were three trains to Verona, but none that left at our exact time. That seemed strange. So, we made our best guestimate and chose the one track. I was still a bit skeptical, but the time was the closest. I was able to ask a lady, in Italian, and she seemed to think we were on the wrong one, we needed to be a few tracks over and the schedule was on the posted sign. I think it was like a regular commuter train, so it didn’t have a special departure scheduled, which is why it wasn’t posted. I went back to Lorna and we discussed it. It kind of made sense, but we stayed where we were anyway. Ok, here comes our train. We get on where we think our car is, but when we boarded, there were no seat numbers on the seats. We had first class tickets with assigned seating! I said aloud, in English, “But there are no numbers on the seats?” A nice, young lady heard me speaking in English and said, “You are on the wrong train!” “What? Dove?,” I said, and showed her our tickets. She pointed to the other track, same track the other lady told us. I looked at my phone – it was 8:27a! We literally had 5 minutes to get down and back up again, and make it to the other train. We literally FLEW off that train and a nice Italian gentleman hefted our suitcases up the long flight of stairs to the other side. We were literally walking/running as fast as we could toward our train. The conductor saw us and asked if we were on this train, we said yes. We started to get on and he said, no, other car. Then he changed his mind and said to go ahead, and we could walk from there. We literally no sooner got on the train and it took off! It was the last train to Verona for that day! Yes, we almost missed the Verona concert! Ok, “dove” the prosecco that morning!

 

We made it to the Verona train station – again, similar to Venice, we had to once again go down the closet sized elevator and up the other side. Another long wait for the taxi, but we made it. When we got there, it was still quite early and check-in wasn’t until much later in the afternoon. So, we were able to stow our bags in the reception area. The concierge gave 1-veorna-fus a map of the city and we took off, map and Google Maps in hand on our way to find out where the Arena di Verona was. Looked like it was in walking distance from the hotel, so we set off. It reminded me of “following the yellow brick road” except it was a wide 1-verona-gasphalt running/walking path to the main part of the city. We quickly got off the map we were sort of following and I gave up and got out Google again. We got turned around a few times, but I figured it out. On the way to the Arena, Lorna stopped in a shoe shop and bought these really cool flowered tennis shoes. The sun was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds and it looked like it might rain. When we neared the Arena, the sun finally decided it was going to stick around.20160704_115104 I took a few pictures as we were in the surroundings of the arena with a plethora of outdoor restaurants/cafes to choose from for lunch. We had worked up quite the appetite by then.

 

We walked to the arena to see exactly where it was and where the entrances were. After that, we perused the various restaurants and picked out a table. It ended up being a 20160704_121205beautiful afternoon and we splurged on our lunch that day. Lorna had some kind of pasta with seafood. I had a Caprese salad and a pizza and we even had a bottle of Moscato.1-verona-a It was a very leisurely lunch and we just chatted and relaxed and wondered where the guys might be? We finally decided it was time to go. On our way, we passed by this one hotel and there were a herd of girls standing outside. Ok, this must be the place! Lol! Yes, apparently the guys were staying at the hotel aptly called “The Gentleman of Verona.” No, we never saw them, although we strolled by and asked the girls if this was where Il Volo was. Of course they said yes. We kept walking and continued our tour of the city, with the sun playing more peek-a-boo with the clouds. With my faithful companion of Google Maps, we took the long way around, but thankfully made it back to the hotel. It was 1-verona-elate enough by then, so we could check in. Another small elevator, but at least we both fit. We got to our room and it was very nice. The sun decided it was going to stay out at last. We had a tiny, enclosed, little balcony with a window you could open. The view from our room was gorgeous and amazing. You could see over the entire city. Took some more pictures and then we decided to relax a little. We took a nap and decided we’d get ready and take a cab to the Arena. I was still trying to hook up with Betty, but we kept missing each other! When we got downstairs we asked the concierge to call us a cab again, to the Arena. She said had just called one for 2 other ladies and maybe we could 1-verona-bshare it? We thought that would be nice, so we went outside and communicated roughly in Italian, and asked if they were going to Il Volo also and could we share the cab. They said yes. We got in and was happily expecting to share the cab fare and they paid the whole thing! Such nice Italian hospitality! We were still a bit full from lunch, but decided we should eat something. So, we went back to the same restaurant where we had lunch. However, we just ordered dessert. Lorna had Tiramisu and espresso, and I had chocolate torte cake. We also ordered another bottle of Moscato. The cake was good, although a bit on the dry side. As previously mentioned, Lorna graciously let me have the 2nd row seat…but as we were sitting at our table, we were watching the crowd get in line – it was over an hour before the concert started.1-verona-c People were everywhere! It was kind of crazy. We knew we had assigned seats, so we thought we’d just sit and watch everyone instead. We finally gave up and decided to fight our way through the crowds. Lorna went first, as she went through a different entrance. I paid the bill and ventured on to the other side of the Arena. I showed my ticket and they let me in. I bought a few souvenir t-shirts and scarves and found my way to the 2nd row seat. My new friends Veronica, Laura, and Daniela, arrived about 15 minutes later. This was exciting. Before the concert began, we heard the orchestra warming up “Per Te Ci Saro” was playing! Oh, yes, I was finally going to hear them sing it live! Since I reviewed the concert already, a few days after it happened, I won’t go into detail again. Yes, you are welcome. Lol! But a quick recap of starting with “Per Te Ci 20160704_213618-1Saro” and ending with their usual 2 of “Surrender” and “Grande Amore” it was pretty awesome. And I swear it happened just that quickly. Again, I was quite surprised they did the Godfather routine…

 

Part of my mission to the Verona concert was to take a few little presents to 2 friends of Sharon’s. They were sitting in the front row, but on the other side. Unfortunately, security would not let me leave my seat, even though it was just a row up. Fortunately, I was able to text her and Veronica communicated in Italian 1-verona-3of my plight. Luckily, we were able to connect after the concert. Lorna and I also quickly met up afterward and Veronica took our pictures. We then made our way to the taxi line and got back to our hotel. I was determined I did not want to forget a thing, so I stayed up til about 2am finishing my post! Was the shortest night on1-verona-d record.   We had to be at the train station very early, as we had a 7a train to Rome and it was a 3-hour trip. After what I believe was about a 3-4 hour “nap” I dragged myself out of bed about 5:30a to take a shower and we were out of there. Again, missing breakfast at the hotel!  Next stop – Roma and the Adriatic Sea!

And the winning bid goes to….?

 

 

It was August 24th, the PBS night of magic.  We had just finished seeing the guys, and we were waiting to imagego into the taping area.  Mary had just received her present of the Il Volo welcome sign.  A few moments later, Michelle wheeled out this beautifully framed picture signed by Gianluca, Piero, and Ignazio!  She said they would be auctioning it off on ebay next week.  Wow, I thought, so cool!  I wonder who will bid on it?  I wonder how much it will go for?  The auction was up for 10 days – wow, that seemed like a long time?  Guess they wanted everyone to have ample time to bid – and save up for it!  Finally, the 10th day came – it was Monday, September 12th

 

Lorna was seated at her computer.  Anxiously waiting… She got an email with the latest bid; it was $615!  Twenty-one minutes to go.  I’m not sure if I’m the highest bidder, she thought.  I better add a little more to it, just in case!  Ok, I’m the highest bidder now!  She waited and waited…finally, she 3-guys-pbswatched the seconds count down.  Three, two, one, zero!  Ok, did she get it?  She dared not look again.  Ding!  Her email just went off.  YES!  She WON!  It was hers for $620!

I am sitting here now with Lorna, the excited winner of the signed picture of Il Volo from the Una Notte
Magica in Firenze.

Me:  So, Lorna, tell me, when you saw Michelle wheel out the signed picture, what did you think?

LornaOMG that’s too gorgeous. I would really love to have that to look at day after day in my own home! But I was leery about the price.

 

Me:  So, what changed your mind?

Lorna:  I had just come into a small pile of money and thought, why not? When will I ever have a second chance?

 

Me:  That’s a true Ilvolover!   When you finally got the link to the picture on ebay, what did you think of the initial bid suggestion?

Lorna:  It did seem a little high, but it was one-of-a-kind, so…. I started thinking of ways I could afford it. Just like I afforded my trip to Italy!

 

Me:  Bidding on items on ebay can be nail-biting, what were you feeling during the bidding process?

    Lorna:  I checked every day, sometimes several times a day. There were very few bids. Didn’t ever think I’d really get it, though.

  I checked back several times and my bid was remaining the high bid. The last time I looked there were 21 minutes left so I kicked it up a bit and won!

 

Me:  Did you set a price limit for yourself, saying you won’t go higher than a certain amount?

Lorna:  Yeah, well, my Il Volove got the best of me.

 

Me:   When you got the notification that you won, what did you think?

Lorna: I was just beyond thrilled that I had actually won the auction.  Sure, it will put some other bills on the back burner, but we must consider what is MOST important in life!

 

Me:  After you knew you won, did you know how long it would be before you got it?

Lorna:  I’m driving out there on Monday, September 19th to pick it up!

 

Me:  Well, Lorna, where are you going to put this new prized possession?

Lorna:  I have the perfect spot for it on a large wall in my living room. Now I can say buongiorno, buonasera, and buonanotte, to the guys everyday!

lorna-florence
Look at that Il Volo Smile! (night of Una Notte Magica in Firenze!)

 

And, there you have it folks – Il Volo,

possibly worth more than life, itself!

 

Lorna & Jana: Sunday, July 3 – Our Day in Venice – trains, taxis, and trams!

Ah, so where did I leave off? Oh yes, we were about to get our train to Venice! After feeling a bit guilty having woken up our hosts at our B&B, they graciously called us a taxi to the train station. While waiting for our taxi, we briefly met this nice young man who had apparently been staying there for about a month on some kind of work study program – from Iowa or somewhere, can’t remember, but definitely from the US! So, where was he the last few days!? Anyway, we made it to the train station, and lucky for us, a McDonald’s was there and they served breakfast. I parked Lorna and our luggage at a table and got in line. It wasn’t too bad and we had time. I have to say, it took me a few minutes to figure out their combo meal. But I did and I ordered 2 capps, 2 OJs, and 2 breakfast sandwiches. Oddly, they didn’t have Canadian bacon for their egg McMuffin, it came with just regular bacon. After breakfast, we easily spotted our flight, posted on the marquis. Right on time,

italian countryside between florence and venice
Somewhere between Florence & Venice

Florence to Venice – piece of cake! We waited at our track, figured out which coach we were supposed to be in, and boarded the train. I have to say, it was a bit of a pain having to lug our luggage around in the narrow passages and then LIFT them over our heads to put them in the overheads, but we managed. It was about a 2-hour train ride to Venice from Florence. We had first class tickets. It was a very nice train, with nice, comfy chairs. About a half hour into the ride, the beverage cart came along. Ah, yes – Prosecco at 9am! Lol! Ok, they give you a really little

train prosecco
Salute!

glass, maybe 4 ounces at best! But it was fun. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the scenery on the way. I took a bunch of pictures!

 

 

Venice Mestre train station! Ok, looked a lot different from Florence! Like, where were all these people going and why were they heading toward these little closets that were apparently elevators? Well, we just kind of followed the crowd. We got in and there was no choice but to go down, so, we hit the button. We went down a level; the street level, I guess you would say? We got out and looked around – hmm… ok, need a taxi. Again, we followed the signs toward the exit and found the outside. There was this long line to get a taxi. We got in line. Someone yelled at us, in Italian, that we weren’t at the end of the line, but someone else was blocking the way, so we couldn’t get to the end of the line. Natives? So much for everyone being so friendly. We did move, when we were able. You’d think they’d have LOTS of taxis just waiting there for the travelers. But no! There were like 2 or 3 at a time, if you were really lucky. One time I think we actually saw 4 arrive at the same time. I was seriously beginning to think it was the same 5 taxis just going in circles to the various hotels, etc. After at least a good 20-minute wait, our taxi arrived and we headed to Hotel Alexander. About a 10-minute taxi ride. I felt I did pretty well, booking close to the train station. We were able to check in pretty much right away. It was just about noon when we arrived. We told the concierge we were going to Venice, proper, for the Murano tour. He told us how to get there. We asked him when we should leave and he said “now.” “What?” we just got here!

 

Our tour was for 2:30p and we were to meet near San Marco square by the statue of the man with the horse. Sounded a little clandestine to me! We figured out how to get the tram, a few blocks walk from our hotel. The tram took you to the actual Venice island. It was about a 20 minute or so ride. The concierge said it was about a 45-minute walk to the meeting place from the train station area. Ok, we had plenty of time. The tram dropped us off and there we were, but where were we? We were looking around and I guess I expected to see a big sign that said “Venice – this way…” lol, but we didn’t. Again, we kind of followed the crowd and I looked up and saw the train station and this really big bridge! I said to Lorna – I think we are here! We go over this bridge! Like I said, it was a REALLY BIG bridge and lots of steps! I was really glad I changed my mind and booked our hotel on the mainland. I did not envy those persons having to lug one or two suitcases over that bridge, and later, onto the water taxis! (hint, hint, Marie and Jane). After we finally made it over the bridge, we looked around and realized we had no clue where we were going, so decided to get the water taxi to take us to the San Marco port. I am really not a big being “on the water” fan, but when in Rome, er, I mean Venice, you go with the flow – of the waves… We boarded the water taxi, unfortunately, there were no seats, so we had to stand, in the MIDDLE of this water taxi, with nothing to hang onto. I have a problem with my feet/legs swelling, so the standing was not doing them any good. We did get a nice tour of the Grand Canal that way and after at least a 30-minute ride, or so it seemed, I had to get off! We got off at the port actually before San Marco and walked the rest of the way, it was only about 5 minutes and we arrived at just about the same time as the water taxi. It was just about 2p by then, so we had a little time, as we were supposed to meet by 2:15p. Breakfast was a long time ago, so I grabbed a can of Coke and a bag of chips and called it lunch!

 

Our guide arrived right on time – the rest of our group was also from the US. She spoke very good English and gave us a little history of Venice, while we waited for our little speed boat to take us to Murano, about another 30-minute boat ride! Did I say I was not that fond of boats? Lol! Our boat arrived and wow, that was a really big step down! Had to duck so I wouldn’t hit my head, and down I plopped. The sky overhead was going back and forth from big heavy clouds to sunshine. We thought for sure it was going to rain any minute! We arrived at Murano and, sure enough, I bopped my head getting out of the seating area. I think I actually saw stars! Ok, cleared the head and got off the boat.behind boat venice We headed toward the Murano glass factory where they actually blow, form, and mold the glass. My feet/legs were screaming at that point, so I found a little platform area, where I climbed and was able to sit down. Ironically, in Dearborn, we have something called “The Glass Factory” and it is just about identical to the Murano factory! So, I watched the demo, which consisted of the artisan actually blowing some glass, then he made a horse. I’ve seen this done before, so I wasn’t really missing anything, except I was in the real, Murano factory, watching this being done. After the demo, we were led into their showroom where you could purchase their art. It was our lucky day, they said “just for our special group” you could purchase things at a discount and even make them an offer and they would ship it for free, etc. Of course, even at the discount, the normal person could not afford most of it! For a simple tumbler, glass, the cost was 65 Euros! And it went up from there into the thousands! You weren’t allowed to take pictures in there, but I have to say it fed my glass junkie habit for at least an hour. I looked, and drooled, and wanted one of everything! There were pictures made of glass, sconces, wall lights, your little animal figurines, paperweightdecanters with matching glasses, these huge pieces of art, sculptures, vases (and I mean “vahses!”), in all colors imaginable – the reds, the blues, the greens, the purples! They had coasters, and jewelry, and beads! I was not going to go there and not buy SOMEthing, so I ended up with this pretty little square paper weight with an angel fish on it. (see picture)

 

We then waited in this little outdoor gazebo area with this gorgeous Murano glass murano factchandelier hanging from the top! Ok, now we were headed to Burano – island of lace – another 20-minute boat ride on a different boat, and it was smaller than the first one!burano 2

 

It was getting pretty cloudy again as we headed toward Burano. The guide led us into town to this one lace shop and we got a little tour. We got a discount on anything we purchased. It was beautiful lace, but nothing really piqued my fancy until I saw this scarf.   Italian silk floral in shades of muted, soft greens, ivory, and turquoisescarf (see picture). It looked like the clouds were definitely going to stick around. I was pretty bummed, as it was a beautiful island with brightly colored houses. I gave up and took pictures with the clouds anyway. A few people told me that you wanted to take pictures when it was cloudy – really? Who says “look at the gorgeous cloud – how it shadows that house?” No, you say, “look at the gorgeous water, how the sun sparkles on it!” However, most of the pictures did turn out pretty awesome! Even with no sun! I bought a few more items and convinced Lorna to buy this beautiful lace tunic, which she wore to the Verona concert!

burano 3
Burano

 

 

By then it was close to 6:00p and I think we were leaving about 6:30p or so. It was another good 45-minute boat ride back to our meeting place. I was really tired and sat in the back of the boat, trying to get in a few winks. I think I may have actually dozed off a few times…? FINALLY, back on solid ground. We had purchased round-trip tickets, but I had had enough water for one day. I told Lorna we were walking back. This former Navy person was a bit disappointed, but this land lubber was ready to trade in her unfit sea legs! So, we started walking. The guide gave us some general directions, to head toward this or that sign, and we marched off. Oh, how good it felt to be walking on solid ground again! However, it was up and over one little bridge after another, down an alleyway, through a piazza, and all over again, basically heading in the right direction I knew we needed to go. We had a map, although I have to say it was not overly helpful for the most part. After we’d been walking for about an hour, I think Lorna thought for sure we were figuratively “lost in Venice.” Nah, never lost! I got out my savior, Google Maps and knew we needed to head toward the train station. So, in I punched Venice train station and up popped the directions – we were only about a 10-minute walk away! I did pretty good! We started walking and the distance said we were further away. We knew where we had to go, but couldn’t get there because of all the canals, so we had to find the right bridges. We did walk in circles a few times, but eventually, our “distance” was decreasing and we were heading in the right direction. By now, it was close to or after 8p. We were tired and hungry. We made it to just about where we needed to go and decided to stop for dinner. We did not make it to the restaurant suggested by Giada, as it was too far in the other direction.   We decided on this one little pizzeria and decided to sit inside. We got our usual naturale and frizzante waters and both ordered pizza. I have to say, out of the 3 pizzas I ate in Italy, I think this was the best one. I ordered sauce (yes, not always a requirement…), cheese, olives, and I think, prosciutto? It came quickly and it was good. Just a little fyi… be careful if you order pizza there with olives – apparently they don’t always take out the pits? Yes, that was a surprise, hot, cooked, big green olives, pits and all! We finished and got out of there. It was about 9p by them and dusk and dark, were quickly setting it. We figured out how to get back to our big bridge. Oh, those steps! I think we burned off our pizza in no time! It was darned near dark by the time we got to the tram. We were really lucky there was one there waiting for us and we quickly got on. Unfortunately, again, there was no place to sit. We managed to remember where our stop was and made it back to our hotel with just a little detour – saved again, by Google maps! By the time we got back to our hotel it was nearly 10:30p!   Again, we were exhausted. Funny, the toilet is sometimes called the water closet, but I was beginning to think all showers in hotels in Italy were more like a closet with running water!

 

However, we got up early and took our showers in the morning. I didn’t realize how your body reacted to standing on a boat for 30 minutes and being on a boat like I had been. When I took my shower the next morning, I still had the sensation of being on that water taxi, listing and swaying, and literally almost lost my balance in the shower. But no problem about falling – there was nowhere to go! That sensation actually lasted for a few days! Breakfast was served about 7a, and we got down there about 7:15a, thinking we had at least 15 minutes to grab something. We again asked the concierge to call us a cab. I guess we should have specified what TIME we wanted the cab, as we were only about 5 minutes away. They hung up and said the cab would be there in 5 minutes! Oh crap – missed breakfast again! I quickly ran in there and grabbed what I could in a few napkins and by the time I ran out, Lorna was packing the suitcases into the taxi!

So, did we make it to Verona on time??

Read on for our next adventure!

Nessun Dorma Video!

The official video from Sony.

Thanks for the heads-up Lydka.

*********

Also…Lorna and next to her our Jana (center in light blue) from the beginning of the video.

Jana and Lona

*********

And the CD…

Notte

Amazon  $11.98  This title will be released on September 30, 2016.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Turandot: Nessun Dorma
  2. Granada
  3. Mattinata (from “West Side Story”)
  4. L’elisir d’amore: Una furtiva lagrima
  5. La danza
  6. Tosca: E lucevan le stelle
  7. Torna a surriento
  8. Core ‘ngrato
  9. ‘O paese d’o sole
  10. Maria (from “West Side Story”)
  11. My Way
  12. Tonight
  13. ‘O surdato ‘nnammurato
  14. Mamma
  15. Cielito lindo
  16. En aranjuez con tu amor
  17. La tabernera del puerto: No puede ser
  18. Non ti scordar di me – Il Volo with Plácido Domingo
  19. Sole mio
  20. La Traviata: Libiamo ne’ i calici
  21. Ave Maria, Mater Misericordiae
  22. Adeste Fideles

Editorial Reviews

On July 7, 1990, a magical night took place in Rome: Jose Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti sang together for the very first time in one of the most evocative temples of opera, the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome giving life to the biggest classical music project of the century, The Three Tenors. Twenty-six years later, worldwide platinum selling artists, Il Volo, pay tribute to the event and to the Three Maestri with their new album of a live concert event, Notte Magica A Tribute to The Three Tenors. The concert took place on July 1st at the Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful plazas in Florence with the famous Teatro Massimo di Palermo orchestra. Il Volo performed some of the most famous Neapolitan songs and arias from the Italian and international operatic repertoire all of which were sung by the original Three Tenors. As a special guest, Maestro Plácido Domingo conducted almost half of the program and joined Il Volo singing the classic Non ti scordar di me. Although Il Volo were not yet born when The Three Tenors first performed, they grew up listening to them, being fascinated and inspired by their voices and legendary achievements. Now, Il Volo deliver this music to a younger audience so they can experience the same emotions from that long ago magical night.

Italian tenor vocal trio Il Volo are one of the biggest names in classical crossover pop worldwide, with a sound that combines traditional opera, pop, and classical symphonic music. Formed in 2009 while the members were all contestants on the reality television vocal competition Ti Lascio una Canzone (Leaving You with a Song), Il Volo feature the talents of Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto, and Gianluca Ginoble. Il Volo’s self-titled debut was released in Europe in November 2010 and earned platinum status; it arrived in the U.S. in May 2011, when the group also performed on American Idol. In February 2015 Il Volo won the Sanremo Festival in Italy with the song Grande Amore . After this triumph, the video for Grande Amore went viral with over 66 million views on YouTube up-to-date. Il Volo also represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, achieving a runaway phone-in success and won the Marcel Bezençon Award 2015 from international critics.

Jana & Lorna’s Adventure – Sat, Jul 2, 2016 – All Day Tour!

 

Big yawn!   Is it really 6am already? Ugh, another 10 minutes please! Still trying to come

Martindago bath view
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 ofbreakfast birds 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 flrence
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.mcCafe

 

 

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 burger kingguide 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.

 

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
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.

siena cath
Siena Cathedral

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 view and ledge
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

san gimignano flowers building
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!