Italy, Man, Part Two

After our amazing first couple of days in Italy, it seemed like nothing could top the experiences we’d already had. How could something beat the views? The awesome towns? The delicious food and wine?

We spent a day with a local tour guide walking around Cinque Terre, which is a small area consisting of five towns built into the coastline along the Italian Riviera. These little towns are picturesque, with the classic (at least to my mind) image of Mediterranean coastal towns: lots of multi colored buildings built into what appears to be the side of a mountain.

Cinque Terre

It is rumored (no idea of its accuracy) that the houses are all painted different colors so that when the men were off working in the sea, fishing, or perhaps on their way home, they could easily look back and know which house was theirs and thus which house had their wives and children inside them. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

Cinque Terre

We only ended up visiting three of the five towns, a fact that to me simply means I have to go back one day. Each of the little villages was similar, consisting of narrow winding roads, steep stairways, and laundry hanging from windows. Each village also had unique features, from the size, to the steepness, to the popularity, to the beach access, to the specific types of food. I really enjoyed walking down the tiny, narrow paths, up steps upon steps upon steps, and hearing the stories about the residents pouring boiling oil from the second or third floor of their homes onto the Pirates who routinely got lost among the narrow streets.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

There is a trail you can take between each and every town, and otherwise the towns are only accessible by train or a very narrow, not recommended to traverse, road. When the towns were built, the only access was by foot or by sea.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

When we reached the second town on our stop, we had to put our feet in the Mediterranean Sea. How could we not? The water was warm, and blue, and just…perfection. The pictures don’t do it justice because I’m a total amateur, and the haziness of the day really made it tough to capture some of the amazingness of it all. I swear to you, though, the water was a blue I’ve never seen before. It reminded me a bit of the Caribbean, but a deeper blue.

Cinque Terre

Alex started off just putting his feet in, but that quickly became a laughable endeavor of staying dry. His shorts got wet, his shirt got wet, and pretty soon we let him take his shirt of and he ended up totally submerging himself in the waves.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

After so many busy days, we had a day of rest: a day of hanging out by the pool, a day to do laundry, snack, read, and recover. The pool was a bit chilly, but was so clean, salt water!, and so crazy beautiful as it overlooked the mountains and farm land and the small personal vineyard.

Pool Day

Pool Day

Alex, of course, loved this day. While he found some aspects enjoyable in our busy days of walking around and doing tourist-y things, he was so happy to have a day at “home” to relax.

Pizza Chef Workshop!

As if the day couldn’t have been perfect enough for Alex, we ended the evening with a five hour Pizza Making Workshop with a real chef!

Pizza Chef Workshop!

We made the dough from scratch, and got to enjoy cheese, wine, cecina, a chickpea flour flatbread that was so good I wished I could eat one whole pan of it, while we waited for the dough to rise.

Pizza Chef Workshop!

Each one of us got to make a pizza, picking as many toppings from the beautiful array of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, as we wanted.

Pizza Chef Workshop!

In the end, we were handed certificates, indicating that we “passed” the Pizza Chef Workshop.

Pizza Chef Workshop!

It was a great night, and we all went to bed stuffed. Between the appetizers, our home made pizza, and then the chefs making us a few different dessert pizzas to try (nutella, sugar, pear and cheese!), it was a great way to spend our last night in the Villa.

The next day, we packed up. We said goodbye to the amazing villa, drove about an hour away, and spent a few hours in Florence before taking a train to France the next morning. I could easily have spent another day or two wandering around the beautiful streets of Florence, but even the limited time we were there was lovely. The shopping alone could have been an all day activity!

Florence

Florence

Florence was cool. The artists, the craftsmen, the gorgeous buildings, the religious history, the bridges, and, of course, the street vendors.

Florence

Florence

We definitely got sucked in, as a group, to the street vendors selling all sorts of goods, and ended up buying a few things. Alex found a bag, eyed in on it right away, and wanted it so badly. “For my friend here? 100 dollars,” is how the conversation started with the salesman. Alex, of course, nodded and said, “YES!” instantly. Laughing, we got the vendor down quite a bit, and Alex ended up really, really, happy with his purchase. He also learned a bit about haggling, a very important lesson that school would not have taught him.

Florence

All in all, I couldn’t have been happier with our time in Italy. The only thing that would have made it better would have been more time, but for our one week stay? It was pretty much perfection. Delicious food, wine, a happy child, really beautiful sights, and an opportunity to experience just a touch of another culture.

Swell.

Florence

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Italy, Man

The mountains surprised me.

I don’t know what I had expected when hearing “the hills of Tuscany” over and over again, but somehow I was still surprised by them. The landscape was, simply put, exquisite.

Wine Tours

Wine Tours

The villa we rented for our week in Italy was in the cutest little town, with a population of around 1,500. We joked at the car rental station outside of the airport that people must do weird things with their cars here because they were all so dirty, but the reality is that many of the roads are simply dirt roads. Our little villa was on one, the last house on a stretch of dirt road. It looked off into the (again, surprising!) mountains, over a small vineyard (used for the owner’s use only).

View from the rental!

Even on the cloudy days it was breathtaking.

We ventured out most days, visiting various villages/towns/cities and, of course, spending one full day enjoying three wine tours.

Pisa was as expected: touristy, some cool buildings, a good place to spend a few hours. Alex loved seeing The Leaning Tower of Pisa. “MOM! It actually leans!”

Pisa

Pisa

Pisa

Pisa

The same day we visited Pisa, we went on to Lucca, which was maybe (possibly? How to decide?!) my favorite place of the whole trip. A walled-in city, it has the quintessential narrow streets, dark alleys, tiny turn after tiny turn. More touristy than I was expecting, it somehow wasn’t an annoyance. We walked along the wall because that’s a thing that you can do (!), and generally enjoyed our short time there, including an unbelievably good dinner.

Lucca

Lucca

Lucca

The wine tours were my favorite day of the whole week in Italy, maybe of the whole trip. I only wished I could have spent it with Alex, but we were lucky enough to be able to leave him behind with an uncle who wasn’t interested in wine.

We went to three different vineyards, learning all about the process of making wine, organic production, fermentation, the awesome barrels and all that good stuff. It was really interesting, and each vineyard that we visited somehow was even better than the last (and it wasn’t just because we tasted wine at each place!). The first vineyard offered us our initial experience of learning all about wine making, and came with an adorably attractive Italian guide.

Wine Tours

Wine Tours

Wine Tours

The second vineyard had breathtaking views over the landscape of Tuscany, served us a delicious lunch, and is renowned for a sweet wine. The sweet wine that is so famous, winning many awards year after year, we were lucky enough to witness a rare part of: the air drying of the grapes.

Wine Tours

Wine Tours

Wine Tours

After two vineyards, we were all pretty tired. It was getting late, entering the early evening hours, and we had been out of the house since nine in the morning. We asked our wonderful tour guide to keep the last tour short, but once we got to the vineyard and were greeted by the owners we were too in love to leave quickly. This third vineyard could not have been a more perfect way to end the day.

Wine Tours

The property of this vineyard was beyond comprehension. It was too beautiful. The buildings, the land, the view.

Wine Tours

The owners were some of the most fun people I could have imagined enjoying some time with. An Italian man and his French wife have created some delicious wines, and were the most gracious hosts. This really was the icing on top of the cake for this day.

Wine Tours

Our last three days were also pretty great (Cinque Terre, Pool + Pizza Day, and Florence), but they’ll have to wait. Can’t overload the system with too much Cool Italy Stuff.

Lucca