Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Walkabout Tour - Pisa

As our last stop for the day tour with Walkabout Tours, we went to Pisa. We had less than two hours but it was all free time. (Some people bought extra tickets when booking the tour and climbed the leaning tower.)

Mom, Aunt Gail, and I enjoyed the time walking around. We mostly walked around the main plaza, Piazza dei Miracoli. Within the plaza, there is the cathedral (duomo), baptistry, and leaning tower.

Duomo di Pisa

Welp, the signs are working well...

Le Sorelle -- so cute  : )

We were quite tired by the end of the day (8am - 9pm), but also very satisfied. It was a GREAT day and we were able to see A LOT!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Walkabout Tour - San Gimignano

I really like the small, medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. After lunch, the next stop on our day-tour with Walkabout was having some free time to wander and explore San Gimignano. This was my second time here, the first being about 10 years ago during college. This was my mom and Aunt Gail's first time to San Gimignano. I think we all could have used a bit more time here, but we did enjoy a wander through and climbing up to see beautiful sights of the Tuscan hills.

Piazza della Cisterna

Le Sorelle (The Sisters)

San Gimignano's duomo
(a bit different from Siena's, eh?!)

Loving the time with Mom in Italy!

I wish this was the view I received after climbing all staircases:

The three ladies  : )
Adventuring through Italy

San Gimignano still have 14 towers standing

<3 Tuscany

Il Vecchio Maneggio - Agriturismo

After our time in Siena, the bus took our tour group into the hillsides of Tuscany. Gooooorgeous!

We stopped at an organic farm, which was part of where we were going to have lunch. There were vineyards, cows, honeybees, and more.

You can see San Gimignano across the way! (Our next stop.)

Me and mom at lunch:

Although I don't have pictures of our lunch, it was great! We were impressed. Our tour group was probably about 60 people and we all fit in one room. The food was ready and came out quickly. We could have second helpings... and thirds... as much as we wanted!

The starter was my favorite... plates of bread, cheeses, and a couple different kinds of honey were passed. (That could have been my entire meal!)

We also had pasta, coldcuts, and lunch included 3 or 4 different types of wine. EVERYTHING is made locally on this farm. That is the basis of an agriturismo -- everything you eat is made on that farm, or at least locally.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Duomo di Siena

The cathedral (duomo) in Siena is one of my favorites! (...at least of the ones I've seen)

The black and white striped marble, both outside and inside, makes me feel like I've stepped into a scene from Alice in Wonderland. It is stunning.

Our tour through included a ticket to go into the duomo and this time I went into a side room that I have never visited before. It was covered in frecoes on the ceiling... and was a library! (No wonder I loved it so much):

Walkabout Tour - Siena

My, Aunt Gail, and I really enjoyed the day-tour through Walkabout. I did their "Best of Tuscany Tour" and it really seemed like the best!

In one full day we visited Siena, San Gimignano, and Pisa, and also had a lovely lunch on an organic farm set in a Chianti vineyard. (Yes, please!)

Our morning began in Siena, where we had a one-hour tour. The tour ended inside the duomo and then we had a bit of free time before meeting back up to head to the vineyard as our next stop.

Siena is one of my favorites  : )

 Siena is built among steep hills. Narrow alleyways feel like a maze.
Below is a view of an older church (not the duomo) and looking out on the outskirts of the city:

Our tour group in the main square:

We were there towards the end of June and the city was busy preparing and setting up for the Palio, a horse race held twice a year. The race is very traditional and the entire city gets involved! The main square is sectioned off for the different groups or 'contrades'. The first Palio was held in 1656 !!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Florence - best airbnb apartment ever

We took the train from Cinque Terre to Florence. Easy ride -- we transferred about 15 minutes in, at the La Spezia train station and it was direct from there!

Following the directions to walk from the train station to our airbnb apartment, it was a nice 10-minute walk. Arriving, we found that we had booked, basically, the best apartment ever! It was lovely inside but the view and location were truly amazing. The apartment (here on airbnb) is next to the duomo (cathedral) in the center of the city and the place's terrace has an amazing view of the dome!

Seriously. This was our view from the apartment's terrace... and not zoomed in!

One more time... now a nighttime view:

I very much enjoyed our time in Florence. We went on a full day-trip the day after arriving and that was great. I'll post about that next. The tour was through Walkabout and it was great. I'm usually not a big fan of tours but I liked that this one was set up with structured time AND free time. Everything was really nicely done and the day was well-balanced. It was recommended to me by a friend here and I can see why. (Walkabout also does a tour to Cinque Terre from Florence!)

Back to Florence, though... we shopped in the market, enjoyed a great dinner at the same restaurant that my mom and I went to about 7 years ago with my dad and brothers, and enjoyed walking through the city. We really only had about half a day to enjoy the city since we chose to do the Tuscany tour on our full day.

The place we had dinner at is Trattoria dal Giorgio. It's a fixed price (I think about 13 or 14 euro each) and you are able to choose a drink, first course, second course, side, and dessert. We love the price and we love the food!

On our walk, we went along the river to the Ponte Vecchio
(ponte vecchio translates to old bridge)

In the Piazza della Signoria, is the Palazzo Vecchio

Florence's duomo from the front (the same building that we can see the side and main dome from the apartment we stayed at!)

al fresco painting on the outside of a building

Social time on the steps of the duomo

During my undergrad, I studied Italian for about a month in Florence. It was my first time abroad and my first time to Italy. A dream come true! I remember the moment that I first saw the duomo. My friend and I had gone for a walk at dusk and thought we were lost. We were attempting to find our way to school so that we would know how to get there the next morning for the first day of classes. We turned a corner... then turned around... and all of a sudden the duomo was towering (literally!) over us. In the darkening sky, it looked like cardboard and I thought it was fake. To this day, that is still one of the most surreal moments of my life. It took a few moments for me to realize it was real, it was a gigantic church, AND that we had found our school! (Our Italian language school was three doors down from the duomo. Incredible.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Manarola - Cinque Terre

Back to Manarola -- the town that we stayed in -- for my last post about our time in Cinque Terre this past June. I love Cinque Terre; I think it is a magical place. I especially love Manarola -- one of the five towns.
The apartment we stayed in is in the midst of these buildings!
(We took a walk through the terraced farming to look back on the town.)

I meeeaaannn...

Stunningly majestic:


Riomaggiore - Cinque Terre

Each town has its own feel and they are only apart from one another by 3 or 4 minutes by train!

Below are pictures taken in Riomaggiore. From our beach time in Monterosso, we took a boat all the way to the other end of the five towns -- to Riomaggiore. We took a little walk and picked up lunch to eat in the main square.

Le sorelle: