Fantastic Florence

Although this is a trip that focuses on hilltop Tuscan towns, no visit to Tuscany would be complete without a stop in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence.
My sister Sandy and I were lucky enough to spend two days in Florence in July, 2012, and Mike and I had done a day trip about 10 years ago, so we didn’t feel compelled to “do it all” this time around.  Instead, we were satisfied with a leisurely and informative stroll with our wonderful local guide, Fernanda.
The evening before Fernanda  had given us a fascinating overview of the Medici family, Renaissance art and the connections between the two.  I’m sure I heard it all before in various history classes, but Fernanda really made it come to life during the lecture, and again, the next day during our stroll through Florence.

The Piazza Della Signoria was the first home of an important Medici couple, Eleonora and Cosimo I. This arranged match was not off to a great start. Those in the know wondered why this Spanish old maid was not spoken for? (She was 17).  The groom didn’t even make it to his own wedding, so they were married by proxy. Fortunately, things improved greatly  after that: it turned out to be a love match that produced 11 children.

Well, Eleanora was not happy with her  “starter home”.  It was devoid of gardens for the children to play in, so Eleanora used her own money (how cool is that–a woman with $$$ of her own back in the 1400’s) to purchase from the Pitti family a little “cottage” across the river.

The interior of the "starter" house
The interior of the “starter” house

Sandy and I spent a day wandering through the Pitti Palace, a glorious edifice, which now houses 6 or 7 museums. The Pitti Palace does indeed have spectacular gardens, plus a breathtaking view of the river and the duomo. No photos of the Pitti from this trip, because there was no time to visit it.  You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was grand.
But I digress.  Back to the Piazza Della Signoria . In front of the “starter home” is a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original was moved from there to the protection of the Academia, but it was not initially created for that plaza.  Instead, it was supposed to be placed on the facade of the Duomo.  Fernanda explained that was why the hands are so enormous.  When viewed from below, the hands would be correctly proportioned.

Formulating his Goliath slaying strategy
Formulating his Goliath slaying strategy

There are lots of other wonderful sculptures, but my favorite is below–the rape of the Sabine women.
We had considered visiting a museum during our free time. Instead, we decided to take Anna’s advice not to succumb to “Stendhal Syndrome” and become over saturated with culture.
After a fantastic lunch at Boccadama, Mike and I stopped for gelato, then wandered up an alley near the church of Santa Croce to visit Italian Loves, a wonderful little shop.
The proprietor allows you to sample his wares. You can taste the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and the wine. I was deeply regretting having a gelato BEFORE visiting Italian Loves. What to do? Why, buy a little of everything. Those near and dear to me know what THAT means. Yes, there just MAY be a gift in your future.

Yes, that wine was wonderful-and yes, we have already polished it off
Yes, that wine was wonderful-and yes, we have already polished it off

Although my BLOG is only on our second day in Tuscany, WE are actually in Sorrento.   The problem with posts lagging well behind the visits is one can get confused. Particularly when that “one” is me.  If you are following my posts, true confession time.  We didn’t stop at the American cemetery after our feast at Giuseppe’s Pianciorciano Cheese Factory.  It was after this visit to Florence,  which is only important if you want to find the cemetery. You’d have a hell of a time if you were looking in the  Radicofani area, because it is located between Florence and Chianciano Terme. Ah well. Accuracy is a small price to pay for all the wine drinking and cafe sitting done instead of blogging, right?

The Eternal City

Our first trip with Grand Circle is off to an amazing start! After an uneventful flight (and these days, uneventful is about as good as it gets), we were met at baggage claim by a Grand Circle representative who escorted us through the airport to meet our driver. What a pleasure not to have to hang around the airport waiting for other travelers to arrive.

Although we hit big city morning traffic, our driver took some “sneaky roads” that not only got us to the hotel quickly, but also gave us a little extra tour of the eternal city.

Anna, our tour director, was waiting in the lobby to greet us. When I expressed surprise at her American accent, she explained that she learned English in the USA. She IS Italian (and Greek), but it turns out her dad was a “rocket scientist” who worked on the lunar rover in Huntsville, Alabama. No, she did not have an Alabama accent. And despite graduating from Harvard, she doesn’t have a Boston accent.

Before the trip began, Anna had communicated with us via email, asking what we particularly wanted to see and do during our time in Italy. Although the group is big, (42 travelers), we are already experiencing the kind of attention you get with a much smaller group.

Much to my amazement, we weren’t tired after our overnight flight, so Anna gave us a map, marked the places we wanted to visit, gave us great directions and off we went.

The Hotel Albani is close to the Borghese garden, so we strolled through it on our way to the Museo Dell’Ara Pacis, one of the “not to be missed” places on Mike’s list.

The birthday boy, doing his Borghese prince imitation.
The birthday boy, doing his Borghese prince imitation.

Anna directed us to an overlook that provided a fantastic panoramic view of the city.

A small slice of the panoramic view
A small slice of the panoramic view


And now a close up of the statue in the square
And now a close up of the statue in the square

But today wasn’t just museums and statues. We also people watched. I continue to be fascinated by the ability of women to navigate cobblestone streets in unbelievable footwear.
After a late lunch at a sidewalk cafe, and a detour to the Spanish Steps, we hiked back to the hotel for a quick nap and a peek at CNN for an update on the pope’s visit in Washington DC. Time to meet the rest of our group for an introductory drink.

Happy Birth Month to You!

italy trip (1)Mike has a milestone birthday this year, and what better way to celebrate than with Italian food, wine and scenery?   I couldn’t quite get the trip scheduled so that we would be in Italy on the actual date, but then we have never been good at following calendars.

In the past, I just used to declare that according to the Mayan calendar, the date was really—-and fill in the blank with whatever date we were celebrating.

But then I thought why not start for a new tradition?  Instead of Birth Day, why not celebrate Birth Month?  Think about it–you would have a full month to schedule that special event.  The odds that you could find a day that would allow everyone to attend just increased 30 fold, except, of course, for those born in February.  Sorry.

It is especially helpful for those of us that left the Homeland (Massachusetts) for the Hinterlands (New Jersey).  My family has sorta gotten used to my inability to be calendar bound, although I DO usually get the month right.  Anybody ready to join the Birth/Anniversary Month movement?

To celebrate Mike’s birth-month, we will be wandering through Tuscany, ending up in Sorrento.  This will be our first trip with Grand Circle, a sister company of Overseas Adventure Travel.  Although the group is a bit larger than we normally choose, we liked the itinerary, which has us plopped in two towns, each for one week.  Another selling point was the number of optional trips, so we can stay with the group, or choose to strike out on our own, should we feel the need.

The best part?  Our good friends, Shirley and Owen, will be on the tour.

We arrive in Rome, then head for a town I never knew existed, and whose name I am probably mispronouncing: Chianciano.  It will be our base for a week, as we explore the other Tuscany towns shown on the map above.

Our second week will be in Sorrento, a great base for all of the incredible area attractions.

We already received a lovely welcome note from our guide, Anna (pronounced like Donna, without the D) Costes, full of helpful information.  She very kindly responded to my questions about our day trip to Florence.  We are off to a great start!