Strolling through Venice

24 September 2014

We packed our bags and headed out to explore the city one last time. Our first stop for the day was St. Mark’s and this time we made it inside the church.

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While it was beautiful it was not as spectacular as the church in Siena. That or I am finally becoming super jaded and places others talk so highly of I always in ready to chime in with a ‘well, in [insert city/site here] there is x,y,z.’

After making it out alive from St. Mark’s square we made our way to the Rialto Bridge to snap some photos and just watch the boats and gondola’s go by.

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While hanging out we once again noticed the Mercato Rialto so we wandered on over.

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It was still too early to eat gelato (look at that self-control) so we just found a seat on a small dock next to the market to watch the world go by.

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Feeling the heat of the early morning sun, we deiced to find our way to Basilica dei Frari to grab gelato at Grom and hang out on the steps near the water and people watch. There just so happened to be a family having a few drinks at the bar across the way before a wedding, which provided some great entertainment.

It was then off to see the city from the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore Church.

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When we arrived our jaws hit the floor at the cost to climb up to the top so we just wandered around the church and the area around the church. After the short walk we once again found ourselves just hanging out on the walkway with our feet dangling over the water looking out at St. Mark’s square.

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After an hour we  were back on the vaporetto back to St. Mark’s square and walked south, dodging tourists and vendors along the way, until we found ourselves along wandering the streets and hung out in a small neighborhood square to kill some more time. There were kids playing soccer and older women watching the neighborhood from her window and trying to help two tourist get into their rental apartment, which was like watching a game of charades.

As we pondered what we wanted to do next we became a bit restless so we decided to keeping on walking with no destination in mind. We ended up heading north until we came to Saints Giovanni and Paolo Basilica. There was an entrance fee so we just saw as much as we could while standing in the entry way. We headed back out into the piazza which was very popular with kids and moms; I have never seen so many kids running around! We then walked into what I thought would lead us to a cool old pharmacy, but unbeknown to us we then found ourselves walking thru the hospital, which is located on beautiful grounds. I thought I could find a free toilet, but alas I could not.

We carried on our aimess path, taking in the quiet side streets, lovely architecture and people watching for a few more hours before grabbing dinner. After arriving in Venice and finding it nearly impossible to get cheap good eats, we turned to the internet to find Dal Moro’s. During our 36ish hours in Venice we ate three meals here. To say we really enjoyed it would be an understatement, the pasta was fresh and the sauces were so tasty we saw no need to find something else. Plus it is centrally located and easy to walk to from almost anywhere on the island.

Plus you can't beat the views from standing by the canal.

Plus you can’t beat the views from standing by the canal.

After finishing our dinner we made our way back through St. Mark’s Square for a few more photos and then back to our hotel to grab our bags and head to the train station.

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By the time we left for the train station I was looking at the city map and realized that we had walked almost the entire island and a few sections many times over.

Arriving at the station for our night train to Munich an hour or so early we just parked ourselves and our stuff on the ground and waited for the track number to show up on the board. And no train trip would be complete without another fun story. As the ticket taker arrived at our bunk, he looked at our ticket and in German began to tell us that we had the wrong ticket (again based on tone and his pointing). After a few attempts at understanding he grabbed the ticket of our bunk mates and we realized we didn’t print our ticket in the proper dimensions. At that point I wanted to tell him that we printed this at our hotel in Italy where the staff spoke minimal English and we had to print from our email and not from the pdf so dimensions of the QR code were off. After this short lecture, he scanned the code and our credit card and our reservation appeared on the screen. We had a good laugh as we both thought that the next time we are on a train, we will most likely just have a QR code on our phone and we will have to scan it to open the car door. So maybe this ticket taker was going to take his job seriously until technology caught up on the German train system and this guy’s role would be obsolete.

Today’s Travel: Venice to Munich on the night train

Accommodations: Overnight train from Venice to Munich. Just a typical bunk bed 4 berth night train; nothing fancy about it but I was able to get a few hours of sleep.

The Islands of Venice

23 September 2014

With our plans of spending the evening exploring Venice last night having the kibosh put on them, we started today with a full agenda. I guess a full agenda for us as we had three different places we wanted to visit.

We hoped on the vaporetto and after a few transfers we made it to the lovely little island of Murano.

Scenes from the grand canal

Scenes from the grand canal

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We arrived mid-day to a sleepy little island and spent some time just wandering.

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We popped into a few shops and found a quintessential Christmas ornament, Santa the gondolier. We both had no interest in seeing someone blow glass and then getting herded into a shop to buy something. I had seen this a few years back and if we really want to we can always go to Balboa Park on the weekends to watch the artisans blow glass there.

It was then back on the water taxi to our favorite place in Venice, Burano. Each home is painted in a bright cheery color, if my memory serves me from my last tour this has been done so the fisherman knew how to find their homes after many days out at sea. This is one place that actually feels like it is still a living and breathing city.

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While there are sections that are totally touristic, there are still plenty of narrow alleys to explore and take in all the beauty of this city. We also made our way to a nice restaurant that was featured on Mr. Bourdain’s ‘No Reservation,’ and like most places in Europe that are featured on his show, they are now overpriced and provide decent food and relying on his show to continue to bring in business. After lunch we continued to wander around and I think we covered the small island before we made our way back to Venice.

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That evening we made our second and successful trip to St. Mark’s to capture this tourist haven with fewer crowds.

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I was shocked when we arrived and there were still large tour groups going thru. Although it is nothing like the daytime when you can’t even see the ground, only people.

Today’s Travel: Vaporetto out to the islands of Murano and Burano and wandering around the city

Accommodations: Ca’Turelli

From blue skies to hail, thanks for the welcome Venice

22 September 2014

We had an early alarm as we had to return the rental car in Siena. Armed with multiple maps, I thought it would be easy to navigate us back. As it turns out I really had no clue what I was doing with three maps in hand. After a pulling over a few times to read the map and some yelling at each other we ended up taking the longer way (I think) via the town of Volterra, which meant getting stuck behind lots of tour buses, to Siena. As we made it back into the city, we made a few more wrong turns before making it back to the rental car agency. The guy at the desk was kind enough to waive the late fee and told us to just return the car at the same time we picked it up. Maybe he could tell that we were both almost at each other’s throat. It was then a power walk to the train station as we had a train to catch. We arrived with just five minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. Of course there was a line at the self-service machine but we still got to the front with two minutes to spare. And just our luck the machine would not take any of our bills. We then resolved ourselves to waiting in the ticket counter line and have to wait another hour to catch the train. As Adam waited in line for a few minutes and seeing that it would be awhile before the line moved, he went back to the self-service machine and like magic it worked. Thankfully this is Italy and train time tables are just a mere suggestion. We had just enough time to validate our ticket and run onto the train and wait a few more minutes before the doors closed. Whew! It was back to Florence and we were now crossing our fingers that we would make our train to Venice.

Once at the Florence station, we had no problem with the self-service machine, although we technically did cut a few people in line as they did not realize there were more machines behind the ones they were waiting to open up. It was then on the fast train to Venice! As we crossed the water we were excited that our day of travel was coming to an end and we were ready to explore a new city. As we walked out of the station we were greeted by some beautiful views of the canal. It was then on to the water taxi to find our B&B.

While on the vaporetto I was able to catch up on some gossip as I overheard some women telling a nosey tourist that Mr. Clooney was tying the knot here this coming Saturday. Who knew a water taxi could be such a source of gossip. Once we settled in we made our way to start to explore the city. We only made it out for about an hour exploring the area around the Accademia.

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The weather had decided to take a quick turn. While it was blue skies for us overhead, as we looked across the water to St. Mark’s square all we could see were dark ominous clouds and we could feel the wind picking up. Once we saw the lightning bolts across the way we know it was time to head back to our room. After getting caught in one too many storms, we decided to finally apply some common sense and not try to press our luck. It was no more than 10 minutes after we made it back that the skies unleashed. As we heard the downpour the heavy rain turned to the sounds of pelts and pings bouncing off the gutters. We opened the window to find hail. I haven’t seen much hail but these hail balls were the biggest I have ever seen.

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The remnants of the hail the next morning

The remnants of the hail the next morning

As we sat in the comfort of our room, both of us were very thankful that we made the train. If we had missed that original train out of Siena, we would be arriving now and getting soaked and most likely wanting to kill each other.

Today’s Travel: From Terricciola to Venice by trains, car and water taxi

Accommodations: Ca’Turelli. It a quiet but easy to get to section of Venice, this B&B provided us a spacious place to call home. Our bed was comfortable and we had plenty of space in our armoire and the bathroom was spacious too. Plus staying on the Island meant we had the whole city at our fingertips and the home had the charm and character this city is known for.

Learning about wine

21 September 2014

If you want to know how to get me somewhere on time, tell me there will be wine involved. As part of the wine festival the city provides a bus that takes you around to the nearby wineries which according to the brochure left the town center at 10:00. Adam was ready to go so we’d be there by 9:45, however this is Italy and Adam is still operating on German time, while I have always operated on Italian time so we made it there at 10:05.

As we parked we saw ‘Bus 1’ departing from the stop as we walked up the hill into town and were slightly nervous that we were going to miss our bus (cue power walking mode). But as we saw it go by we noticed that no one was on the bus and there were a few people still standing at the stop. A minute later we were at the second bus stop and then began the process of waiting. For about 10 minutes we were the only ones there and we started to debate once again if our attempt at translating the flyer on our own was correct. The flyer called out two timeframes and two different bus stops. Originally Adam interpreted the times to mean bus 1 would run in the morning and bus 2 would run in the afternoon. My interpretation was that both buses would run at the same time and there was just an afternoon break for the drivers. At this point I was wondering if we should have used google translate to figure this all out. We walked back over to the first bus stop to see if there was anyone there to help us figure out if we had interpreted the times correctly, but there was no one there. Back at the second bus stop, we decided to wait just a few more minutes before we would give up and just have our own tasting at home. No sooner than we made this plan two other people joined us and shortly after that the bus arrived. When the bus driver opened the door to ask us where we wanted to go, at first we had no clue what he was asking and when I pointed to all (silly American thinking we would be driven to all) he pointed and with hand gestures we determined that he was telling us to pick one. We simply shrugged our shoulders not knowing where to go; lucky for us the two gentlemen who joined us had a plan and a place in mind.

As we drove out to Fibbiano it turns out the two guys who joined us were from Northern Italy near Lake Como and speak English very well, one even had a daughter in school in Ohio. And we learned a bit more about this tour set up as they make this trip often. It was just a short drive and soon we were waiting in front of the winery and let ourselves into the production area as we waited.

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A few minutes later we saw the vintner was speeding up the hill to let us in. He too wasn’t too sure how the schedule worked and read the time as 3pm to 6pm (I guess Adam wasn’t the only one). Soon enough he was walking us thru the winery explaining the production process for the different types of wines and answering our questions.  Having been to a few wineries and even a fancy wine event, I have never learned so much about the production process of wine. As we waited for the bus driver to return the vintner gave us a glass to try. I am not sure if it was still the coffee on my breath or that is was just after 10 but the first sip was a shock to my palate. But that second sip was very tasty!

When the bus arrived to pick us back up, I quickly finished my drink and we were off to our second and final stop of the day Castelvecchio. There we learned about another wine making process of a very sweet wine that involved drying out the grapes on bamboo like racks.

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The room just smelled like sweetness and it was so cool to see. Before we left we had another tasting this time it included a handful of wines and the set up was just like you would expect to see at US wineries, in fact the owner was heading to Berkeley in a few weeks to attended a wine maker conference. They had a wine that was called Il Tocco, which essentially translates to the touch or strike which they used to mean when the clock strikes on or aka the 1pm wine, a rose that I had to buy.

It then quickly back on the bus as it was almost 12 and the end of the morning tours. We said goodbye to our new friends and with the afternoon wide open we made our way back over to the wine shop in Peccioli to continue with our tasting.

Unfortunately we didn’t drink our 1pm wine at the appropriate time, we had to wait to 3pm when it was nice and chilled.

As it was the last night in our huge home we stayed in and made a very tasty dinner while watching the sunset behind the rolling hillside.

Accidental Italian flag while prepping dinner

Accidental Italian flag while prepping dinner

Today’s Travel: From home down to downtown Terricciola and on the wine bus to Fibbiano and Castelvecchio. And a quick wine run to Peccioli

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

Wine tasting weekend

20 September 2014

Not surprisingly we decided to stick with our established morning and afternoon routine of lounging and reading. We really are doing our best to perfect this skill and I think we have reached expert status.

In the evening, we made our way to join the 52nd Festa dell Uva and del Vino in Terricciola celebration.

I'm not double fisting, just holding Adam's glass while he took the photo

I’m not double fisting, just holding Adam’s glass while he took the photo…and yes that is a holder for you wine glass.

By dumb luck we happened to be here for their annual wine and olive oil celebration so the whole town (all 200 or so) were out in force at the neighborhood square. There was a food tent set up where they were serving up some local dishes along with wine tasting from all the local vineyards afterwards. We had dinner and joined in on the wine tasting while a local band was entertaining the crowd. It was a fun small town celebration to partake in.

Today’s Travel: From home down to downtown Terricciola

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

More lazy days

19 September 2014

With rain showers on and off throughout the morning our now daily routine of hanging out by the pool turned into hanging out on the couches reading. Our one adventure for the day was a drive down to Salumerifico San Michele since we had finished off the tasty meats already we had to go back and get some more. As we walked in we were greeted with a big smile and of course a few samples to go along with our purchase of delicious salami and Soppressata.

Today’s Travel: From home down to La Rosa (to Salumerifico San Michele)

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

Relax by the pool, eat well, drink wine, eat well and repeat

18 September 2014

This could almost sum up the last few months, but it perfectly describes the last few days.

We made our morning drive into town to pick up dinners for the next few nights. It even included a big smile and thumbs up from the women at the small mini market when we brought back the bag she used gave us for our last round of groceries (just doing our part to dis-prove that all Americans are wasteful). And with the stop at the fruit and veg stand we could have caught up on all the town gossip as the ladies in the shop chatted away with one another and the shop owner, if only we knew Italian! But the best part of our morning adventure was to a small Salumerifico San Michele just down the hill. We had passed by the shop on our drive to Peccioli yesterday and knew that we would have to stop by. When we walked in, it was pretty clear that foreigners didn’t visit this butcher too often and that he would be more than happy to serve us. And when we ordered up some soppressata he made sure to cut off an extra slice after he clearly knew he cut the request 200 grams for us to try. Since trying soppressata a few weeks ago we have been trying it here and there. When we both took that first bite we knew it was the best we had tasted and to see the pride in his work from our reaction was priceless. This butcher was old school, cutting everything by hand and he knew weights just by sight, as he would place it on the scale and be just at the requested weight.

Once we made it back home we headed down to the pool for an afternoon of reading and napping. My late afternoon nap was only broken by the gardener cutting the lawn. If only I wasn’t so allergic to fresh cut grass I would have hung outside longer.

And this interruption meant it was only time to start ‘wine hour(s).’ We had a fun break to catch up with Adam’s sister on FaceTime before it was time to continue wine hour and start prepping for dinner.

It really is a rough life but someone has to do it.

Today’s Travel: A short drive around Terricciola commune (we went right out of the estate for a short drive) before heading into town and down the hill to La Rosa

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

Laundry and wine

17 September 2014

After breakfast was another fun adventure in laundry and luckily I am now fluent in Italian when it comes to laundry settings. But it was comical when I had to ask for a clothes drying rack from the ladies at the front desk. After two failed attempts, my third try of holding up laundry on an imaginary clothes line I nailed it! (Who wants to challenge us at charades?!?!)

Later that afternoon we drove the 7 km east to the town of Peccioli. It was a cute hillside town with winding streets, beautiful views and even some unique modern art.

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Plus we found a great little wine shop, Il Grano E L’Uva, and with the suggestion of the shop owner picked up what turned out to be some of the best Chianti I have ever had.

That evening we made another great dinner and enjoyed our wines!

Today’s Travel: From home to Peccioli and back

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

Wine tasting at home

16 September 2014

Since this would be home for the next few days our first adventure was to the local markets to figure out where we should buy our meats, fruits and vegetables. So we made our way into town to pick up some meats from the butcher, fresh pasta and pesto from the small store, bread and sweets from the baker and fruits and veg from the fruits and veg man. The fun of walking around the town square to pick up all the fresh and yummy foods has not gotten old at all. In fact it really makes me want to search out these specialty shops at home and do this more often.

Next up on the must do list was to become acquainted with the pool.

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There isn’t too much to do here and after the last few months of constant movement and sightseeing it is a welcome change of pace to sit by the pool with a book and maybe get some cat naps in too. There were plenty of paperback books to read so we didn’t have to fight over the kindle (crisis adverted).

Who can really say they have been wine tasting in their backyard? Since this is our home we can say that we had a tour and tasting just behind our home. We cleared our afternoon pool schedule so that we could make it to the late afternoon wine tasting.

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And since we had received a complimentary bottle we carried on with evening enjoying a tasting and eating way too much food. We decided to make ourselves a feast and once again we ate until it hurt.

Today’s Travel: Into Terricciola by car and around the estate

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo

Another roadtrip begins

15 September 2014

After checking out of our hotel we walked the mile or so to the rental car office to pick up our rental car. When we got there we thought we might get GPS, but it was never an offered option to upgrade so I immediately became way too nervous and a little grumpy because I thought this just might end up as a horrible decision. Once in the car we saw a small tobacco shop two doors down, so after making a loop a few looking for a place to park, I jumped out and bought a map of the Siena province. Back in the car, Adam took one look at the map and told me I bought the wrong one. Again this made me feel even worse and I was wondering if this was going to be a complete disaster. We did have a smaller city/region map of Siena that we had received from our hotel which had a map that would get us to the city of Volterra, where we planned on making a stop, so we were going to have to rely on that and the directions to get out to the highway the rental agent had given us. We made it out of the city and on to a local road, avoiding the highway and their hefty tolls, and were soon out in the rolling Tuscan foothills. By this point I had finally relaxed about the maps and directions as road sign were everywhere and we really didn’t even look at the maps and there was no yelling over directions, it was like a Christmas miracle.

We decided to make a slight detour to Volterra to explore the town and grab some lunch while we were on our way out to the village of Terricciola where we’d be staying for a week. Volterra turned out to be a great spot for an afternoon detour as its large enough that you can enjoy getting lost while wandering, but because there’s no train that stops here there are only a handful of tourists who make the journey.

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Spying on the local who’s spying on the tourists

We also bought a region map here which had Terricciola called out and other small towns along the way. With a week in town we thought we might do some short drives in the region as well. After spending a few hours wandering the town streets and waiting around for the church to open (good thing we got a late start) we hopped back in our car to drive the final 45 minutes to Terricciola.

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Weird modern art in the ruins of an old coliseum

We did have a good laugh as we were approaching Terricciola, Adam looked into the rearview mirror and laughed as he said, ‘oh how things have changed when you have a grandma tailgating you.’ You can’t say you have been on a road trip in Italy until you have a grandma tailgating you. I think it is a rite of passage here as a tourist.

Once we were settled in we made our way into town for dinner and to do some exploration.

I think we picked the right town

I think we picked the right town

We wandered along the main road and when we saw the sign for the view point we followed along a nice path below the homes in town with views of rolling foothills for miles. It was also a great spot to watch the sunset before the two restaurants in town opened for dinner.

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While our meal was okay, our highlight for the evening was listening in on what our fellow Americans from the south were discussing at the table behind us. We now have this weird need to just listen to native English speakers and what topics they discuss.

Today’s Travel: Driving from Siena to Terricciola along highway 429 to 68 to Volterra for a stop then along a side road to highway 439 to Terricciola

Accommodations: Casale Podernovo. Holy wow! This place is straight out of a movie. When we booked this place and saw a few pictures (slow internet made it impossible to watch their video) I assumed we were going to be staying in a nice place, but arriving here we were both blown away. The property sits on the end of gravel road as a lone hill surrounded by valleys of vineyards and olive trees with various small hill towns on the perimeter in the distance. When we checked in we were told our room was double booked but that we would be staying in the Aliotto room to which turns out to be the biggest on the property and located on the second and third floors with windows everywhere gave us sweeping views of almost every angle (if they hadn’t locked the tower we would have had even better views).

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I really didn’t know what window had the best view. And of course everything about the place was great, a living area with fireplace, a big kitchen with seating for 8 and a large room with an ensuite. As we walked around we had to laugh as it felt like this place was bigger than the home we had sold.