Tuscany wine tasting

This morning began with an early wake up call and then a 5 hour bus trip up to the Tuscany region. We slept for the most part, stopping twice along the way for bathroom breaks and lunch. Our guide gave us a great historic synopsis of the region and it’s importance to the Renaissance and the Italian culture as a whole.

Driving into Tuscany was exactly what you would picture, large villas up on top of the rolling hills, with those tall pointed shrub like trees lining the roads and rows of perfectly manicured olive and grape trees. We stopped at La Bottega del Palagio, a castle and winery in chianti. There we took a tour of the castle which was once a military fortress and was given to a prominent military family from the Florence government in recognition of their service. The family turned it into their own villa and winery and have been making wine there ever since. In addition to the various wines they make, they also produce extra virgin olive oil. All of which is stored and aged in the former castle dungeon (basement)

After a tour of the castle we got to sample a few of their wines and olive oils. We tasted several different wines that they produced including the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserve which are made only in the Chianti region; the Apoteosi which is a combination of a merlot and chianti and finally their dessert wine called Vin Santa Del Chianti Classico “amabile”. The dessert wine was by far our favorite. It had a very sweet honey like flavor to it.

wine sampling

After filling up on wine, cheese and olive oil soaked bread, we headed to Florence to check into our hotel for the night. We had a group dinner at a local restaurant: bruscetta with the sweetest tomatoes, garlic bread, spaghetti, salad, chocolate cake and limoncello for dessert. It was delicious. We wandered around town for a while after. Tomorrow is their “republic day” which is about the same as our July 4th holiday so there will be a lot of celebrations going on.

No Snookie or DJ Pauly D sights as of yet, although thanks to Grace’s super creeping skills we found the club that they frequent.

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The Isle of Capri

The isle of Capri is located in the bay of Naples, it’s a 30 min high speed ferry ride from downtown Sorrento. Once we got onto there we took a private boat tour around the island. Our first stop was the infamous Blue Grotto. Pictures cannot do justice for this grotto. It’s a small cave that you can only enter when the tide is low and through a small opening. We got into rowboats and had to lay down going into the Grotto because it was such a low entry. Once inside the grotto we saw the luminescent blue water which makes the grotto so famous. It literally looked like it was glowing in the dark, as the rest of the cave was pitch black. There were about 7 rowboats inside of the grotto at once and we spent about 5-6 minutes in there. The men rowing us through began singing and it echoed creating a beautiful song. Here are a few pictures from the grotto.

squished into our little rowboat before going into the Grotto

Although the blue grotto was definitely the highlight of the boat tour, we also got to see the whole island from the water which was really neat. We passed through the “Lovers acrch” and went for a swim at one of the rocky beaches. There is only 1 sand beach on the island, however the rocks on the rocky beach were so smooth and small that they were just as comfortable as a sandy beach. The water was cool, but not freezing. Oddly enough we didn’t spot any fish or crabs or shells in the water.

The island is also home to 2 other grottos, the green and the white. These were more open and our larger tour boat could go into them. We also saw a lighthouse up on a cliff which dad would have been very excited to see.

lighthouse for dad

green grotto

After the boat tour, we had a few hours to wander around the town of Capri. We took a cable car up the steep incline to the main village of Capri. It’s mostly all high end luxury shops and restaurants downtown. We grabbed some lunch and then went to see the Gardens of Augustus. The view from the Gardens, which are located on top of a cliff, were breathtaking.

Via krupp leading to the gardens

capri street lined with shops

After a long day of fun in the sun on Capri, we took the high speed ferry back to Sorrento. We shopped around a bit and taste tested the various types of Limoncello. Tomorrow we head to Florence

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Pompeii & Sorrento

Up and at em bright and early we had breakfast then a 3 hour trek from Rome to Pompeii. We stopped along the way for gas at a rest area which had the most diverse convenience store. They had  a full restaurant and cafe as well as a mini mart with everything from wines and cheese to the worlds large lolly pops and hello kitty mini golf clubs. It was interesting.

Mount Vesuvius

In Pompeii we took a guided tour through the ruins. The town was much larger than we had anticipated. It was amazing to see how much has been excavated in the site. They discovered that by pouring plaster into air pockets in the ash, they would come out with the forms of human remains in various states of when they died. I had always thought that they died from the ash and lava, but most actually died from the toxic gases that the volcano sprayed. Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano and it is the most closely monitored volcano in the world, since it will erupt again one day.

Pompeii was a very advanced city for 2000 years ago. Their streets had small pieces of white marble in them which served as reflectors from the moon, to light the streets themselves. They had an extensive aqueduct water system, where they had pipes running from Mount Vesuvius into the town and public water fountains. Since there were no street signs, each fountain had a different carving that the water flowed from, usually an animal, and this was used as a land mark. Since there was no underground sewage system, the waste water ran down the streets, therefore they had crosswalks built in the form of large stones that were raised to the level of the sidewalks. Also, these stones were spaced apart in the same width that we now use as the standard in our railroad system.

plaster body

"crosswalks"

white marble reflectors

We got to see homes of both the wealthy and the middle class which were well preserved and even had stucco colored paintings still preserved on the walls. We walked through one of the men’s bath houses. There were 3 different rooms; a hot shower, then a sauna and massage room and finally a cold shower room. Romans viewed the baths as a relaxing time and visited as often as possible.

Roman Forum

After lunch we headed to Sorrento, about an hour on the bus. The views were breathtaking as the main road traveled along the coast for much of the trip. We checked into our hotel, had a quick rest and then headed into Sorrento to look around at the local shops. Limoncello and hand made leather sandals are 2 popular items in the area. Our group had cocktails at a small bar overlooking the Bay of Naples, we both had procescco. Then we went for a pizza dinner. They took us into the kitchen and we watched them make our pizzas, super thin crusted in an open fire oven. It only takes them 3 minutes to cook since the crust is so thin and the fire so hot. We had chocolate cake and limoncello for dessert. Stuffed and exhausted we’re back at the hotel and heading to bed.

epic traffic jam on the narrow curvy roads

 

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Tour time!

After a long day in Milan and Piacenza we headed down to Rome. It was a quick flight from Milan to Rome and the airline was similar to Southwest, just a whole lot more chaotic. It was packed full and although it was a short flight, we were on a large plane. Once we got to Rome, we had to take a train from the airport; which is a good hour outside of the city. Then from the train we took a bus to our hotel. It was quite the experience to say the least and I think it’s safe to say that we have mastered public transportation around Italy at this point. We got to our hotel and eventually checked in and had our orientation meeting. There are 42 people on our tour and they’re from everywhere from Australia to Canada. All speak English luckily.

We did orientation and paperwork then were set off on our own for dinner. We walked around for a little while, exploring the area and had a quick dinner at a local cafe. Apparently everyone eats dinner much later in the evening here… more like 8pm than our normal 6pm. Throughout the day we had seen numerous people wearing pink shirts, scarves and hats. They were everywhere and we finally figured out that it was in support of the local University soccer team who was playing. They were a pretty rowdy and excitable crowd. We headed to bed shortly after late dinner, as we had a 6:15am wake up call. Here are a few pictures we took from the Eurorail trip through the Alps

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Piacenza

We talked a little bit about our journey to our maternal grandmother’s family hometown, here are a few of the pictures we took

town crest on a map and welcome sign to the town outside of the train station

one of the few town squares we found. This one had a large chruch and shops around it

 

 

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Day 2: Milan and Piacenza

We were up bright and early this morning taking the EuroRail from Geneva to Milan. It was a long but really pretty trip through the Alps with a few stops along the way. The Eurorail was quite the experience, people brought everything from dogs to bikes onto the train and apparently they sell standing room tickets, so while the train was full, people were just standing in the aisles. Pretty choatic, especailly when half way through the trip we figured out we were in the wrong car, and had to move 1 up. Whoops.

The Milan train station was a complete zoo. We eventually found a bank outside of it with an ATM and got our Euros. Then we took a shuttle bus from Milan to the Malpensa airport and then caught a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. We checked in and then headed to find our ancestors in Piacenza.

Piacenza is a beautiful town that is exactly what you would picture a small town in Italy to be. It had several small parks and a city square with a few old churchs and many different statues. We wandered around for a few hours and saw no one who looked like us. We stuck out like sore thumbs and got a whole lot of looks and a few marriage proposals. We learned that it is pronounced pi-chen-za and that people there tend to ride bicycles and mopeds or go speeding down the narrow one way streets in their mini cars.

Finally we headed back to Milan and then our hotel. We’re beyond exhausted and heading to bed now, we’ll post some pictures tomorrow. Off to Rome early in morning for our tour!

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Day 1: Geneva, Switzerland

It’s about 9pm here, 3pm at home in New England and we are exhausted! After checking into the hotel this morning, we took the tram into Geneva’s city center. The T has got nothing on the Switz tram; it was clean, efficient and on time! We had heard that Geneva was a clean city, and that rang very true. We wandered around for a while and checked out the waterfront and the Jet d’Eau which is a waterspout that reaches up to 140 meters in height. We saw a family of little ducklings by the waters edge and it brought back memories of our Turtle Pond duck families.  We took the above picture of the spout. It was truely beautiful.

Next we ventured up to the St. Pierre Cathedral which is best known as the church where John Calvin gave his inspiring sermons during the mid-16th century. To say it was breathtaking is an understatement. The intricate stone work was a marvel and the stained glass windows gorgeous. We were in complete awe just thinking about what it would have taken at that time in age to build such a massive building.

Finally we decided to test out some of the local fare. We ventured into several chocolate stores and tasted some of the swiss specialties. There were quite a few American stores in Geneva, H&M, Lacoste, and Tommy Hilfiger among others. Don’t worry Dad, we stayed out of them for the most part. We took a side trip into McDonalds because Chrissy had heard that the European versions had different menu items. The menu was similar, perhaps only having more salad and wrap options, however the decor was a drastic change. This McDonalds had more of a trendy Panera feeling to it than a true American McDonalds. We were both very shocked at the number of scooter owners/drivers that inhabit this city. They were everywhere and seem like one of the most popular forms of transportation here.

After a long day of walking up and down the hill that Geneva sits on, we took the tram back towards our hotel. There’s a HUGE grocery store right near it so we decided to go play Super Market Sweep. This place was amazing. I would love to have grocery stores this large and clean in the States. The aisles were huge and there was no one bumping into your cart or running over your toes. Mom would have loved the great selection of items there. We even found Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and some Sam Adams beer. We bought a Local cheese selection plate, some grapes and crackers and salmon and shrimp canapes and had a feast on the beds of our room.

We’re heading to bed early tonight since we’re off to Milan and Piacenza in the morning! Can’t wait to see what else we find along the way.

PS- Dad and Buckwheat you better make sure my Bruins win tonight!!

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