Video!!

Finally, after some major life distractions and a snow storm or two… I finished a video of pictures from our trip. I hope you enjoy it.

Video of Italy

Arrivederci…

Our last night in Florence we made it back to the gelato shop we went to on our first night. After we arrived back from Cortona we could never quite remember where, in our jet lagged haze, we had been. Finally mid-week we figured it out and were able to return. The guys working there was so nice and the gelato,was great. He said that the day before, New Year’s Eve, he had worked 14 straight hours! Poor guy.

All of our flights from Thanksgiving and to Italy were entirely smooth so it was only a matter of time and statistics until something went wrong. After we boarded the flight from Frankfurt to Denver they had engine trouble and we sat in the plane about four hours before finally taking off. Honestly, I wouldn’t be that upset about it but we boarded the plane hungry thinking they would feed us right away and they didn’t! During all the time on the ground they passed out water once and nothing else. Of course, we’d rather fly with working engines so you can’t blame them, and they had to change crews, blah, blah, blah. Minor complaints really.

Throughout our trip to Florence we relied on Rick Steves. He was a helpful and friendly guide except for a couple spots. One was a restaurant he said his readers liked it and that it was “Flintstone Chic.” We never quite figured that out and we thought that the restaurant was in a bad neighborhood. It didn’t look appealing to us but other than that, he’s great.

We were really happy to fly from Florence to Frankfurt with Cath, Shawn and the boys. It was hard to say goodbye at the airport but we all had such a good time. It was truly a Christmas and anniversary celebration to remember. I’m just glad that after 10 years and two weeks with my family Rick still seems to like me. I kinda like him too.

We plan to see Taylor and Martin tonight when we finally get to Denver and then home tomorrow. I’m so happy about the thought of sleeping in my own bed! I have plans to review all the photos and make a little music video… so stay tuned!

Now that I’ve seen Italy, I’d say I could die a happy person but I haven’t seen France or Ireland or….and I definitely need more limoncello.

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Don’t get killed by an ambulance…and other advice for tourists

This is a walking town. Everyone here walks or bicycles. But the few motorcycles and cars around think they own the world. And they don’t wait for peds! I’m surprised we haven’t seen any accidents.

Today we didn’t have an agenda since everything “official” was closed. So we went for a really long walk around town and down to the river. It was the first time that we went far afield from the hotel and didn’t have to stop to consult the map. We were so proud! And then we laughed at the silly tourists walking around with their maps. However, Rick pointed out that with the camera wrapped around my neck I still looked like a tourist. Momma Mia!

During our walk we stopped at a lovely wine bar that seemed to be semi-related to the place that we went in Montepulciano. Both started by the family of the Hedgehog man but now owned by different people. It was another good learning experience about fine wine. Additionally, we learned that the way to get around buildings that were built before indoor plumbing and now need a bathroom… Just put a big glass cube in the middle of your room. It was sleek and effective, it even had a roof.

On Tuesday we ate lunch/dinner (first meal since breakfast) at what we decided was the best restaurant in Florence that we have sampled so far. So for tonight’s meal we wanted to go back there for dinner. After our long walk it was about 4:30 and we tried to go in. The owner was trying to shoo everyone out and said he would reopen at 6:00pm.

So we just continued our walk, looking at the sights and the crazy tourists. Along the way we stumbled across the church of Dante & Beatrix! Cute little church tucked away down a dark alley. It was fun to see since I’d just re-read the part about it in Dan Brown’s Inferno. High above my head on the wall was a plaque that marked the high water spot from the flood in 1966. Quite impressive and sad to think about all that was damaged at the time.

We arrived back at our dinner spot about 5:50 and the place was packed! The owner was clearly there alone without his wait staff and was a little frazzled until they showed up. Not quite sure why he didn’t just keep the door closed. Nonetheless, the wait was worth it and the food was marvelous!!!

Taking a small break and then we might just have to go out for gelato tonight. Can’t pass up the opportunity.
Beside, we are on the third floor of this hotel and the stairs are Cortona steep and we have done them a million times. I’m sure we’ve earned it.

Here is the lovely view from our room this afternoon.

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Happy New Year!

Last night we went out and had a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary. We were glad we made reservations since everything was crazy but it was a fun crazy.

After a quick break we went out to the square in front of our hotel to hear the Harlem Gospel Choir. They started right after 10pm and didn’t end until about 12:40am. We were very impressed with both their singing and their stamina! Especially considering the amount of fireworks that went off during their set from the people in the crowd. Some were pretty sparklers and some were just freaking LOUD!

At the start of the music Shawn and Nick came and found us. We were easy to spot in our red Nike hats -thanks to Colleen! So we listened to the music for about half an hour and then wandered down the street to a bar. We sat outside so we could still hear the music but were far enough away that we could talk. It was so great to visit and Mark found us while we were there.

At about 11:30 Nick and Shawn headed home and we went back to the music. So we were in the square at midnight and it was a beautiful way to start the New Year. However, I do feel sorry for the street cleaners this morning.

A nice breakfast and a lazy day today before wrapping up our grand adventure. As a homebody, I’m a little bit ready to be home but I wouldn’t wanted to have missed a second of this trip!

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Happy Anniversary!

Today is our 8th wedding anniversary and I’d say this was a pretty good way to celebrate.

Unfortunately, I’m still fighting my cold a little bit so we got a late start this am. I’m sure I just haven’t had enough limoncello! After breakfast we went to the Duomo Museum. It is under renovation so there wasn’t much there but Michelangelo’s Pieta and the “Gates of Paradise” but that was enough to make it worth the journey. We also saw Shawn which was good luck! We had hoped to climb the Duomo after this but the line was still crazy long so we took a break for a while and had a picnic lunch in our room.

At 1:30 we met Mark in the piazza and went to the Uffizi Gallery. Wow. What an amazing gallery and space. We walked our little feet off and saw some truly beautiful things. We are taking another small break before we venture out for dinner and the evening celebration. We are looking forward to hearing the music in our square!

Things I won’t miss about Italy – the crazy crowds in Florence, seeing all the fur coats(I can’t remember the last time I saw one but they are rampant here!), our rock hard mattress….

Things I’ll miss about Italy – good wine, good olive oil, Michelangelo, the Duomo, hanging out with my family, hearing cathedral bells, art, gelato….

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Sculpture and sculpted buns

Today we had a nice day of walking. The city continues to be crazy crowded and we are glad to know we aren’t here during the highest tourist season. Although this week between Christmas and New Year is probably also a high point. It definitely wasn’t this crowded before we went to Cortona so my parents made the right choice on timing. We just couldn’t make it that early with our schedules.

We first tried to go climb the Duomo but the line was several blocks long so we skipped it. As we walked around the corner we saw a small sign that said “Look Up” so we did and found a marker showing it was the last building perfectly preserved since 1350. Very cool. And right next to that was the Duomo art studio where they are repairing and copying old sculptures. You could totally pass by and never notice it but I could have stood there for hours. Just a normal days work for some people, working on marble that is 600 years old.

After that we went to the Bargello Museum which houses several Michelangelo and Donatello sculptures among other treasure. Literally, you could touch them if you thought the guards weren’t looking. I thought about it. Then thought about it again and decided I didn’t want to end my vacation in jail. But I was tempted!!!

After a quick coffee we went to the Galileo Museum. There are many fascinating things in the museum. I was particularly taken with the oversized globes which they made in pairs – one for the earth and one for the stars.

As we returned from there we walked back through the Plaza of the Uffizi Gallery, which we plan to see tomorrow, and we were able to look again at the replica of David that is in the Square. Nice butt. I think mine should looked like chiseled marble after all this walking but at least for now my jeans still fit!

We checked again on the line to climb the Duomo and it was still around the block so we decided to stop and have dinner. We found a magnificent place and had a long civilized Italian meal. On our way home we discovered that they are setting up music for tomorrow night in the square outside our hotel. Ironically, it is the Gospel Choir of Harlem. In Cortona we thought we would see an American gospel choir but we ended up being too late that night after our day in Montepulciano. So we haven’t decided on a dinner spot yet but we won’t have to go far for our celebration!

A date with David.

Last night we had a lovely dinner with the whole family. It was sad saying goodbye to my parents and we just can’t thank them enough for our amazing trip!!!

After dinner Shawn, Bill, Nick, Jake, Rick and I all walked down through town to an Irish pub. It was similar to the one in Cortona where we hung out. This one had t-shirts in it on the ceiling from many American universities. Jake found the one for Oregon and said that he recognized lots of the names.

This morning, Sunday, after a nice breakfast we are at the laundromat. Now this is the European experience! But we are just so excited to have a dryer. Yeah, spoiled Americans.

Later Sunday….. We had a full day of walking around town. We spent the major chunk of the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia seeing Michelangelo’s David and the other works. I could die happy now. But maybe I still need more wine. And gelato. I saw two paintings from the 1400’s that included harps!

After that we tried to walk down near the Uffizi Gallery to see the Galileo Museum but somehow we got lost and ended up doing a big circle back to the Duomo. Oh, well it was still a lovely walk despite the crazy crowds. We stopped and had a nice dinner. We are reading now but might go back out for more gelato later.

One thing we have noticed is that all the restaurants play American music. We have heard more top-40 songs that we ever have at home so we are feeling pretty hip.

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Florence on foot.

I think I wore my shoes out today! Keeping up with the long legs of my brother Bill is a challenge. I don’t know how Colleen does it!

We were able to check into our sweet hotel when we got here and then dashed back out for lunch. After that we walked and walked. Luckily it was GORGEOUS, sunny, and fairly warm today. We see a chance of rain in the forecast for the next few days but not today.

We walked out over the Arno River and up to the highest point in the city. It was a beautiful view down onto the Duomo and the landscape. From there we walked into the Boboli Gardens. This was a must see for us and we weren’t disappointed. Even better there was free admittance today! Score. 🙂

Going back down and across Ponte Vecchio was where we hit the crowds and it was crazy. We were glad that we had been able to walk around that area the other day when it wasn’t so crowded. It will be interesting to see what the next few days bring. I think it will continue to be crowded.

We are taking a break now in the room. Catching up now that we finally have good internet again. In a bit we will go have dinner with the family and then half the group leaves in the am. Cath, Shawn and the boys will stay here with us the next few days so we can continue to explore. There is still so much to see!

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Tuscany for the win!

Friday we had an amazing day visiting two wineries in Montepulciano. It was about an hour drive from Cortona. In the morning as we drove it was all clouded over but by the time we arrived it was clearing.

We first visited a small family run vineyard. It was a fascinating look at their process. They let us taste their olive oil, three regular wines and their dessert wine. Mmmmmm!

We learned a lot about olive oil from them and our guide, Selena. I fear I’ve been irrevocably spoiled by this experience.

Next we went into the heart of Montepulciano and into a larger winery. They started in caves that were first occupied in the 1100’s by a guy with a hedgehog. The winery was family run from that guy until 2003 when his line ran out. Now it is run by another family but is one of the largest wineries in the area. They fed us a magnificent lunch and we tried three more regular wines plus a dessert wine. And some amazing chocolate. Yes, it was a tough day at the office!

When we drove home to Cortona the sky was clear so the views were gorgeous and sunset was amazing.

We stopped and had coffee and tea along the way before we went home. As we had been warned the town was much busier with tourists than it had been earlier in the week. We all felt a little like “what are these tourists doing in our town”? Silly Americans.

After a short stop at the house we walked back up to Saint Margherita church. And although it was dark the sky was clear and the stars were out so it was a very different feeling from when we walked up there Christmas Eve night. The view from the top of the town is worth every step.

Rick, Shawn, Nick and I all stopped at the pub on the way home for a final visit. Then Rick, Bill, Nick and I sat in the kitchen until late in the night talking. Priceless times.

This morning it was clear and crisp as we all loaded up and left the house. The fire department was in high gear on a search and rescue so we had an official send off complete with a helicopter. We are now almost back to Florence.

Cortona will be remembered forever and we are already talking about when we can go back. It was worth being cold in the stone house and climbing the crazy hills to see the beautiful scenery, drink the wine and spend time with the family.

Now we look forward to a few more days of sightseeing in Florence.

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Momma Mia!

We had a reasonably lazy day today (Thursday). It is lovely to wake up to the sound of cathedral bells. They chime throughout the day in glorious cascades. We stayed in town and visited our new friends at one of the coffee shops, a cheese shop and the vegetable shop. For dinner I’m making Tuscan vegetables and Colleen is making pasta. Bill has gotten us more excellent local wine.

We also visited the two local museums. Very, very interesting. I had my first harp sighting today! It was a painting from about 1475.

Along the way we also had to stop for gelato. It was a rainy day so it was a good one for being lazy. However, the sunset was glorious! It is so interesting up here in the hills with the different views of the fog and the valley.

After dinner we sat around and told stories from the year. We all have much to be grateful for and we always spend a lot of time laughing!

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