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A taste of Italy

Author: Habari
Date of Trip: June 2009

It is truly a no brainer why Italy is such a popular tourist destination. Great food, wine, culture, history ; what else do you need on a vacation. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances sometimes planned vacations are cut short. It happened to my Italy trip so instead of a whole two week vacation to see the north and south of Italy we only traveled for a week. But what an amazing week that was.

We flew into Venice and the sight of Venice from the air is truly something, this city with intricate winding canals teeming with life. We took the ATVO bus into Piazzale Roma for 3Euros each. We noticed a lot of people having trouble using the machine in the baggage collect area to buy tickets and though it is multilingual it requires some patience. Our B&B was just a few minutes walk from the Piazza so it was a relief not to have to lug our backpacks around. I would recommend the Al Gallion B&B to anyone, it is such a cute little place run by a terrific lady and her family. She gave us a personal map of Venice with important sites, authentic restaurants, walking routes, traghetto schedules all which truly saves time for any first time tourist. Her map was our only guide and it made our stay in a Venice effortless and absolutely heavenly.

After two days in Venice we bought train tickets to Florence from the train station the day before traveling. We tried the machines first where the lines seemed a bit shorter than the counters. The machine did not have any tickets available for the next morning in first or economy class. So we decided to take a chance with the counter. Well we thought we were smart to try the counters instead of relying on the machine but little did we know that our tickets had no seat assignments! So the next morning we got into the train asked the conductor where do we sit and he replied anywhere. As the train approached different stations more and more passengers got on and we were told we were sitting in someone’s seat. This kept happening till all seats were taken and we were pushed to the end of the car where there were actually a lot of people with no seats just standing or sitting on the floor. So we made our way to the snack car and stood around the tables there for another two hours till we reached Florence. I guess maybe they tell you these things in guide books but since I didn’t have one this time it was something new we learnt the hard way.

Florence is a big tourist city due to its large number of museums and sites. We had to take a taxi to our B&B as it was located on the outskirts. It was about 15Euros. Fiorenza B&B is a well run 3 room house with a huge garden. The bus stop to town is about 5 minutes down the road or it’s about a 20 minute walk. Florence is a pedestrian city and everything can be seen on foot. The lines for the more famous museums like the Uffizi are really long so it is better to book them advance if you plan ahead. A must do is buy either Italian handmade shoes, a gorgeous leather bad or a leather coat. One restaurant we liked was La Grotto Guelfa near Piazza Republica. The ribollita and the grilled sole was divine.

We ran into a guest at the B&B who recommended we walk down to the Church of San Miniato from where you a get a panoramic view of Florence. It was a nice half an hour walk and when we reached Piazza Michelangelo we took the steps down towards the Rialto bridge into town again. There is just so much to see in Florence you can spend weeks there.

After two days in Florence we rented a car and drove down to Pisa. I must recommend a GPS, especially if you want to drive through the little towns in Tuscany. Pisa is a seedy little town with nothing much to experience besides the Tower though I’m sure people who live there might think differently. I had a really lemony lasagna from one of the many characterless restaurants around the tower and we drove down towards Siena via the little town roads and avoided the highway. Even though it was raining, the Tuscan countryside seemed so alive. And endless sea of prairie, vineyards and olive trees all seemed like they were planted intentionally like little legos on a board.

Some towns worth visiting on the way to Siena are Volterra and San Gimignano, had it not been raining we probably would have stopped at one. Siena in the rain was empty and dark which made it not feel like summer. I think it was sleeping and that aura of the empty Piazza Del Campo with its red ground was surreal yet still romantic.

Driving down to the region of the famous Brunello di Montalcino we encountered more and more vineyards. Montalcino has perched itself on a hill like a king watching over his vineyard subjects.Since we arrived on an Italian public holiday most of the tours at the vineyards were closed. I got a list of all vineyards from the tourist office in Montalcino and took a chance by calling some just in case they were open. I got lucky on my second call was to a small vineyard called Pian Dell Orino run by Jan and his wife. He was so nice to give us a private tour around the cellar and explained the process in great detail. He then allowed us to taste his Rosso Di Montalcino. We ended up purchasing a divine Brunello and a Rosso as well. It is truly worth visiting a vineyard, the experience is enriching and enthusing at the same time.

We spent our last evening downing Rosso and Brunello under the Tuscan sunse. So every trip has to come to an end and this was when I had to give up on my hopes of seeing the Amalfi Coast, Pompei, Capri and Rome on this trip. We drove back to Rome the next morning and flew back to reality. One week of bliss.

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