Under the Tuscan Sun (Italy Part 2)

In case you missed last week’s post, I talked about the first half of my trip to Italy here: Roman Holiday (Italy Part 1).

To say that I’m still battling an Italian hangover would be the understatement of the century. A Fiat drives by, and images of narrow, cobblestone roads flash across my mind. Or I’m sitting at my desk at half-past twelve, and memories of early afternoon aperitifs and people-watching from a piazza café bring a smile to my face. Maybe it’s borderline obsessive, but it’s an obsession you can’t possibly understand until you’ve experienced Italy for yourself.

After five amazing days in Rome, we packed up, said arrivederci to the beautiful city, and hopped on a high-speed train to Florence. The ride took a little less than two hours and was full of spectacular countryside scenery. I absolutely love train travel! At least for me, it’s the perfect setting to sit down and write. My next book takes place on a train, so you can only imagine how giddy I was to be able to write part of the story on this trip!

And I'd say that Audrey was pretty productive, too (thanks Syd for this photo!).

When we arrived in Florence, we picked up our rental car. Actually, I think I’m being too conservative with the word car. Do you remember the mockery that was Jon and Kate Plus 8? And that gargantuan bus they traveled in? That was us and the van we rented. Minus the multiples. And the awkward husband bashing. And the unflattering soccer mom haircut.

We needed something big enough to fit all eight of us, but we weren’t expecting a semi. Now, if you’ve been to Italy, you’re probably laughing and shaking your head at me because who the hell rents something this big over there (cue the laughing, Robin)? Especially if you visit the little towns, the streets are SUPER narrow. There were so many times we’d be driving through a town, and the road would grow so narrow, we figured that it had to be a walkway. Most of them were, in fact, roads, but this one I’m not so sure about. We barely passed through this tunnel with probably no more than six inches of space on each side. I almost died.

Nevertheless, I have to applaud my hubby and his stellar Italian driving skills. And I hope he’s reading this because he will never hear me say those words about his driving here in the U.S.

The Tuscan villa we called home for the next five days was located in a town called Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, about thirty minutes outside of Florence. There is no doubt, I AM IN LOVE WITH TUSCANY. It’s everything you would imagine when you think of the area—the rolling hills, the mile-long vineyards, the cottony-pink sunsets. It’s absolutely stunning.

And how could I not fall in love with it when I woke up to this view every morning?

The owners of the villa and our hosts, Lucia and Roberto, were so welcoming and hospitable, and their villa is beyond beautiful. Check out their website here: I Glicini. They named their property after the Glicina flower which just happened to bloom at the entrance the first day we arrived.

That night, we celebrated my birthday at this amazing restaurant not too far away called Osteria Il Poggio. It’s another year older, and had I been back home, I probably would have spent it with a cheap bottle of Merlot while looking up alternatives to Botox and binge watching the Fuller House revamp. But how many times can I say that I spent my birthday in Tuscany?

We ate like kings and queens that night. Just look at this spread!

And since we’re on the subject of food, let’s cut to the good stuff. Yes, I was the annoying American who took pictures of all her food. Every meal we had was phenomenal. Other than the restaurant we went to for my birthday, we didn’t eat at any fancy places. Most were simple restaurants with simple menus but were just so GOOD.

I stuffed my face with pastas and meat dishes…

Proscuitto and cheese…

And this butcher shop. I don’t even know if that’s what you call it. We were in awe of it. It smelled like death inside but all the prosciutto and salami and every cut of pork you could ever want was in it.

Of course there was gelato…

And lots and lots of wine.

How I miss the joy and freedom of buying a bottle of wine from a sidewalk street vendor and walking around the city with a glass full of Chardonnay and a nice buzz.

Over the next few days, we walked around Florence…

And Siena…

The architecture is spectacular and rich with history.  

And the sights. Oh the sights…

I just couldn't resist.

But my favorite place that we visited was the small-walled medieval town of San Gimignano. I could have easily spent a few days here, just cozied up in a little apartment overlooking Via San Giovanni. There were so many cute little shops, including a store that sold all types of olive and truffle oils, and one that offered an array of hand-painted ceramics.  

Needless to say, each one of us fell into a deep depression when we had to leave Tuscany. It was a sad, sad day, having to say goodbye to our villa and the beautiful views. We did have a scare on the train ride back to Rome and was probably the only disappointing part of the trip. When we boarded the train at the station in Florence and were getting situated, I discovered an unattended luggage shoved in between the seats. Here in the U.S., any time you see an unattended bag ANYWHERE, you’re supposed to report it. Of course, we were freaking out, especially since the U.S. government issued warnings about Americans traveling to Europe. But here’s the kicker. When we reported it, the train steward didn’t do anything. Granted, my husband shouldn’t have touched it and should have left it where it was, but David was more concerned about getting the luggage off the train. They actually told him to put it back on the train. SERIOUSLY?! We were flabbergasted. And even before we could decide if we wanted to get off the train, it was already pulling away from the station. No other passengers seemed to be bothered by the situation which completely irritated us. Anyway, long story short, the train steward finally realized why we were so worried and investigated it. The luggage actually belonged to a passenger on the train but was sitting on the opposite end of the car. Why she put it where she did, I have no clue. The train steward reprimanded her while I was cursing her in my head. I didn’t want to think bad thoughts, but you can only imagine what was going through my mind in those ten minutes. Although I love Italy and everything about that country, that incident made me appreciate our country and how our government strives to keep our citizens safe. If this incident occurred in the U.S., the entire train would have been cleared. Everyone would have been asked to get off the train. No hesitation.

Aside from that little incident, everything about Italy was perfect—the people, the food, the sights, the architecture. And to think I haven’t even seen it all. There’s still Venice…Milan…the Amalfi Coast. I wait for the day.

I leave you now with a few “bookish” photos. I made it my mission to find some of my favorite books in Italian, and I didn’t come back empty handed. And aren’t these bookstores so cute?

Until next time, Italy. Ciao for now.

 

Roman Holiday (Italy Part 1)

Note: I’m dividing this post into two parts and posting the second half next week because one, it would be way too long, and two, I’ll do anything to keep Italy fresh on my mind as long as I can! Also, I have to give credit to my fam bam for letting me borrow some of these photos. 

It has been almost two weeks since I returned from one of the most amazing trips of my life. Italy is like crack, and I am going through some major withdrawals here, folks. That country is just...wow. What I write/show here isn't going to do that country justice because you have to experience it to understand my newfound love for it. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be there, and I haven't even seen the entire country. I'm almost hoping that Donald Trump wins the election because if he does, I'm saying peace out and buying a Tuscan villa. Hey, I said almost!

This was a trip that my family and I had planned for over a year. We had never taken a trip like this together…ever…so we knew it was going to be interesting. And oh, it was interesting all right! There were eight of us total—me, my husband, and daughter; my mom and dad; my brother; my sister and her husband. Together for almost two weeks, twenty-four hours a day. Different personalities and unpredictable moods. Imagine the McAllisters in Home Alone, Parts One and Two. That was us, and I say that with so much love.

We departed out of LAX on an early flight, and this was Audrey, my sister Sydney, and I at 4:00 in the morning. Early ONLY looks good when Italy is involved.

With a layover in Chicago, our flight time was a total of about thirteen hours, so of course I used much of my time for reading and writing. I had been warned about all of the thieves in Italy, so I was apprehensive about taking my laptop with me and took the iPad instead. And how I love international flights! International flights = FREE wine! And how I love the words FREE and WINE when used in the same sentence! Plus, our flight attendant was extra generous with the pours, but I knew I had to be careful because “one drink at thirty-thousand feet equals two” (thank you, Corinne Bennett).

We spent the first leg of our trip in Rome. In order to cut costs and save money, we rented a 4-bedroom apartment on VRBO.com. Our host Cristina was so warm and welcoming, and we loved her apartment! It was well-located and affordable, and I’d highly recommend this apartment if you’re traveling with a large group (click here for Cristina’s Rome Apartment). We arrived early Thursday morning in Rome and were super jet-lagged, so we all passed out the moment we got to the apartment. By late afternoon, we were all showered and ready to see our first glimpse of Rome at night! We visited the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon, and then had dinner at the Piazza Navona. I absolutely LOVED all of the little outdoor restaurants. I wish we had more restaurants like that in the U.S. After dinner, we went to the Trevi Fountain and I made sure to throw a coin in. I guess that means I’ll be going back to Rome one day!

On Friday, we visited Vatican City. Guys…ever since I learned about the Renaissance, I had dreamed about visiting the Sistine Chapel and seeing Michaelangelo’s Creation. So you can imagine how LIVID I was when we were ushered in and out of the chapel by the docents. We were literally in there not even a minute before we had to leave. There were tons of people visiting that day, so they were probably just trying to get the crowds in and out. I was so disappointed because I didn’t even get to enjoy it.

On the other hand, my goofy brother always knows how to cheer me up. In true Zachary form, he had a field day with the statues, and did a few face swaps. I thought I’d share this one with you.

And my mom, sister, and I thought it would be fun to mail ourselves a postcard from the Vatican! However, the postcard arrived a couple of days after we returned from our trip, and was the nail in the coffin to my vacation hangover. 

My sister, Sydney, took this amazing shot of the spiral staircase at the Vatican. Isn't it so pretty?

Saturday was a looooong day. We took a three-hour bus ride down to Naples to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii. We weren’t too keen on the long bus ride, but Pompeii was a must-see (plus, I made sure to bring some reading material with me for the ride…I read RUSH by Emma Scott and I absolutely LOVED it!). It was cold and rainy that day, but luckily the sun peeked out just after noon and we were able to walk around without having to worry about the rain.

Pompeii was another place that I had always wanted to visit after learning about it in school. It’s massive, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t actually see the entire city. It may look like nothing but slabs of concrete now, but the story and the history behind it is so rich and real, especially when you see this…

We spent Sunday touring Ancient Rome and saw the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. Being inside the Coliseum was such a surreal experience. You read about it in school. Countless movies have been made about it. But there’s nothing that compares to actually being inside it.

The entire time we there, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, all I kept thinking about was “Audrey has no idea.” This little four-year-old got to experience the Coliseum before she even learned about it! I’d say she’s one lucky gal.

And that was Rome. Next week, I’ll be posting about the second leg of our trip to Tuscany and our TO-DIE-FOR villa..like Under the Tuscan Sun-type of villa. And I haven’t forgotten about the food. OMG the food. And wine. I’m obsessed.

Have I mentioned that I want a Fiat now?