Saturday, July 30, 2011

Road to Rome

Montepulciano- where’s Edward?
The Twilight Saga’s New Moon was filmed in Montepulciano even though the story takes place in Volterra. Both cities are amazing, but Montepulciano was chosen because it seems to be more “medieval” and beautiful than Volterra. Both cities are relatively undiscovered and don’t have many tourists. On this road from Florence to Rome we decided to stop by Montepulciano and see what all the fuss was about since we had never been there. There is a scene in New Moon where you see Alice driving a yellow Porsche down the road and then you get a view of the city. Well, we saw that view first hand! It’s pretty amazing to see the city pop out from the trees on top of its hill. The city of Montepulciano is designed in rings that go towards the city center (similar to the yellow brick road), and there are few cars allowed inside the city walls. The city is full of enotecas and gelato shops, so naturally the boys were excited (Josh was excited about the enotecas and James for the gelato). It was another hot day and all we wanted to do was eat gelato! But, but we kept it to only one gelato stop. The city is known for its wine “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano”, cheese, pici (a type of pasta), honey and pork.

Pinocchio clock tower

well in the city center

We walked up the main road to the city center and along the way we found a lot of churches and beautiful views of the region. When we arrived in the city center I could definitely recognize it from New Moon. There is no fountain in the center of the square as the movie shows, however there is a great church and Communal Palace. This city was a welcome relief after the craziness of Florence… there were hardly any tourists in the city! It seems that this city is an undiscovered medieval location.
view from the city
Communal Palace

One of the many churches
After spending some time in Montepulciano we continued on to Rome. Most of us slept in the car on the way, but once we got close to Rome we were all pretty excited. The energy in the car kicked up a notch about half an hour outside of Rome. Once we arrived we checked into our b&b and walked by the Vatican. Sofia was dying all week to see the Vatican and couldn’t wait to see it. So we walked by at night and it is amazing when it is all lit up! Since we were all famished, we decided to go to another part of town for dinner. We stopped to buy bus tickets on the street from one of the vending machines and the machine tried to eat a 50 euro bill! The machine spit it out because it would have to give more change that the limit of 6 euros change and the slot was blocked. We sought the help of the carabinieri that were standing 10 meters away, but they just looked at us like we were crazy. I’m sure they were thinking “stupid Americans”… After a few minutes of prying with our skeleton key, Josh was finally able to get the 50 back. Phew!! When we finally made it to dinner we definitely enjoyed it. We were all so tired and hungry that I think someone was about to throw down on that ticket machine!

After dinner we walked back to our b&b and on the way we saw the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and a few other fun places. Rome is such a great city with so much history! For me, the best part of Rome is the knowledge that people walked the streets thousands of years ago. It’s a concept that is surreal to me, but makes me feel like I am a part of something special. The architecture in Rome is unbelievable and I know my dad would love it! He’s an architect and he would be like a kid in a candy store in Rome. Hopefully he’ll be able to visit and see the city! I remember as a kid he would pull out a thick book from college that he studied from and he would show me pictures of the sites in Rome. He was so excited about the architecture in Rome but he has never had the opportunity to see it. The next couple of days we were able to explore the city and see some new sights. There is so much to see in Rome that a solid week would not be enough time! Unfortunately we only had a couple of days, but there will be other trips!

Fountain at Piazza Navona

Friday, July 29, 2011

My birthday! ...and more cinghiale!

My birthday was a fabulous day! We all took a day trip to see San Gimignano and Josh surprised me with a trail ride through the vineyards overlooking the city! I had been requesting that we go riding in Tuscany for a long time and Josh surprised me with that. He's so thoughtful J

the paparazzi was out that morning

The day was another amazingly beautiful day in Italy, the land of sun! Although, it was really hot and we were struggling to stay cool in San Gimignano. This city is so fun! It is one of Josh’s favorite cities and definitely climbed my list of favorites as well!! San Gimignano is a medieval hill town, complete with city walls and medieval architecture. The town is famous for its towers and 14 of them still stand today. They have been preserved and are now a symbol of the town. During its splendor in the late 1100’s there were more than 70 towers standing! The higher the tower, the wealthier you were. “My tower is bigger than your tower!”

enjoying the view

Sweaty cinghiale!

One of the towers is open to tourists and is part of the Palazzo Comunale, so we decided to climb up to the top. Inside there were a lot of rooms in the palace that were turned into a museum with medieval artwork and alters. The palace is right off of one of the main squares outside of the duomo and was built in the late 13th century. The tower was completed in 1300 and is 54 meters tall (the tallest tower in town). The tower windows were completely covered up with sheets of plastic (even though there were bars on them). So,there was no air coming in to cool off the tower. By the time we reached the top we were all a little sweaty and thankful for fresh air! Somehow during the climb James turned out to be a sweaty cinghiale!! Being the good sport that he is, he allowed us to take pictures of him as a sweaty cinghialeJ

the stairs on the way down
After cooling off, taking some photos and enjoying the view, it was time to head back down the tower and meander through the streets of the town. There are some great shops where you can buy cheese, cinghiale sausage (which is fantastic!!), and other fun hand painted things. We purchased a new olive oil pourer that was much needed! We tossed ours before moving to Italy- we didn’t realize how much we would miss it!! Josh and James also went to the Museum of Torture while Sofia and I shopped. Don’t be fooled, there are a few museums of torture in San Gimignano, but only one is worth going to (according to Josh). They spent some time looking at all of the medieval torture devices (which would have given me nightmares) and Josh took TONS of pictures (I'll refrain from posting them...). Yikes.

Cinghiale! This shop had some great cinghiale sausage 

After all of that excitement, it was time to go horseback riding! We drove about ten minutes outside of San Gimignano to the agritourismo that had the horses, and we were off. It was a beautiful ride and it was much cooler outside of the city. I hadn’t been on a horse in years, but it was like riding a bike. Just hop back on and it all comes back to you! It makes me want to find a place in Milan where I can take lessons again. That is one thing that I really miss!! We had a great time and it was Josh’s first time on a horse. He did a great job in an English saddle! There was no horn for Josh to hold on to. It was a great birthday present!! Thank you sweetie!!  In addition to that… Josh also surprised me with the knowledge that I could pick out a pair of shoes at Ferragamo for my birthday! So, we planned on stopping by Ferragamo in Rome to see what they had to offer. That man spoils me J

and they're off!

Thank you!

On our way back to the b&b from the trail ride we stopped at a fun town for a few pictures, and then took some time to get cleaned up before dinner. We decided on dinner at the b&b and it was great! There was great food, great company, great scenery… It was perfect. And Josh brought out a bottle of my favorite wine, Tignanello!! They even had a little cake for me! After I blew out my candles everyone eating dinner started clapping. I was pretty embarrassed!! But we had a great conversation (in Italian!) with the table next to us. Thank you to Sofia for translating a few words!! I guess that having Spanish as your native language helps you to better understand Italian J

Sun flowers and San Gimignano

outside of the fun town we found

All in all, it was a fantastic birthday and definitely my favorite birthday so far! Thanks to Josh for organizing everything and to James and Sofia for celebrating with me!


Next stop: Rome!

Cinghiale, Ferragamo and Monkey Business! Oh My!

Florence! This is one of my favorite cities in the world (at least before this trip…) and I was so excited to be back in the city! I was even more excited that James and Sofia could experience the culture, history, and fun atmosphere of Florence. Although… that was the LAST time I will go to Florence in July!! The city was packed wall to wall with tourists!!
Fun facts about Florence:
·         Michelangelo’s David is located in the Galleria dell’ Accademia
·         Florence is the capital of Tuscany
·         1.5 million people live in the city and its suburbs
·         The old city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight
·         Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance
·         The Medici family ruled Florence in the 15thcentury and became the hereditary dukes of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were patrons of the arts and commissioned works from DaVinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli.
·         Gucci was founded in Florence
·         Machiavelli was born and lived in Florence

James and Sofia with the Ponte Vecchio
Ok, enough with the history lesson. As we were walking into Florence, we were still recovering from our amazing dinner the previous night and kept laughing about “gallo nero grande”… We were soon to discover more about Cinghiale (boar) which would take over the fun of the gallo nero. One of the specialties of Tuscany is cinghiale with tagliatelle and you can find boar everywhere (at least the meat). Stores even have stuffed wild boars in their shops to display this crazy animal. They are very proud of the cinghiale.

admiring the jewelry

We started out on the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) where all of the jewelers have their shops. This is a mecca for tourists and since it was a gorgeous summer day… we could hardly walk without bumping into someone. Sofia and I were eying up some beautiful jewelry and I also showed her how Italian men are romantic by leaving “locks of love” on the bridge. This is an old tradition and it seems that the city is trying to stop it from continuing. Men bring their girlfriends to the bridge with a lock (sometimes with their names on it), they lock it to the bridge and then throw away the key into the river to symbolize their commitment to each other. The city has been removing these locks and has even removed the big rings that people would attach them to. As I’ve learned about this tradition, it’s something that I see everywhere in Italy. Bridges in all cities have the “locks of love,” you just have to look for them.

Medusa and David
Statue of Cosmo Medici in front of the
Palazzo Vecchio


Medusa and Aslan

Dracula in Florence??

Me and Asia

Moving on from the bridge we started to walk towards the Ferragamo museum and headquarters and parted ways with James and Sofia. Sofia had plans to meet up with her cousin while in Florence and they also had tickets to see David, so they were off to do their thing. In the meantime, Josh and I went into Ferragamo and enjoyed the fun displays of vintage shoes as well as current designs. I fell in love with an amazing python leather purse that was brushed to look like suede. It was amazing!! It was also over 4,000 euros…. So I can look from afar and dream. It was on this day that I realized I had a love for python purses and for Ferragamo.

After visiting Ferragamo we were famished, so we decided to search for a place to grab lunch. It was difficult though because there were so many people in the city that day!!! It was frustrating because all of the restaurants were full, and the one we found was so busy that we sat for about 20 minutes before our waiter came over to get our order, then another 30 minutes before receiving our food. At that point I was so hungry I almost ate my napkin! But all ended well and after we ate we continued our day in Florence. Weaving through the cruise ship tour groups (yes- cruise ship tour groups, and no- Florence isn’t on the sea), we went to the main piazza where Medusa is strategically placed near a replica of the statue of David. It is also right outside of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi museum. We had some more fun with Asia, and also admired the amazing statues, then decided to head to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. I’ve read quite a bit about the Medici family in a biography of Catherine de Medici and I was interested in learning more about how the family lived. The palace is huge and it definitely is a home for an aristocratic family. There was an amazing hall that looked like it was modeled after the hall of mirrors at Versailles where a business meeting was taking place. Personally, if I was in a room that amazing for work, I would not be able to pay attention! There was too much to look at and the artwork on the walls was amazing!!

Entrance to the Palazzo Medici

the Great Hall with the business meeting

Office in the Palazzo

One of the many sitting rooms

our enormous glasses of Limoncello

So, after that, we met up with James and Sofia again and grabbed a pre-dinner drink. We sat down at a fun little bar on one of the side streets and Sofia and I decided on Limoncello (typically an after dinner drink, but I thought I would introduce it to Sofia and she was interested in trying it). This typically comes in a very small glass about the size of a shot, but somehow we ended up with half of the Limoncello bottle in two glasses! Sofia’s cousin joined us for drinks and then we grabbed pizza at a very fun place!! The pizza chef typically makes pizza’s in the shape of a heart for the women, and normal round pizzas for the men. On our visit I received a circle pizza and Josh received the heart shaped pizza. Was the pizza chef trying to tell Josh something??

Drinks with Sofia's cousin (they are deep in conversation
and speaking rapid Spanish!)

Gay Pizza?

After all of that, we were exhausted and headed back to the b&b. We realized that James and Sofia had a huge room up in the old attic of the house with large support beams that you could hang from. We told James that if we heard any monkeys that night we would know why! There may have been some monkey business going on… J

The next day: My birthday!! …and San Gimignano 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Update- our electricity sucks...

Hey everyone!

So I still have more posts about Italy with the Beabouts, also a recent trip to Croatia and this past weekend in Germany with the Konig Ludwig Half! Unfortunately American computers/electronics + an old Italian house = no electricity in our office!! We haven't had electricity in our office for a week now and I'm hoping that our maintenance guy will stop by this afternoon to fix it. Something like this happens about every other week. Good times!! In the meantime, I am unable to pull pictures or posts that I started working on last week  :(

Once we are back up and running I'll be able to upload more photos and catch up on my blogs. Sorry for the delay! I know you all have been pining away to read them ;)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Italy with the Beabouts #3: I'm free!!

View from La Catinetta di Rignana

Chianti country, in the region of Tuscany, is known for its wine but more famously for its scenery. The country is so beautiful with its never ending vineyards, hilltop towns and clay pot factories. It is breathtaking to just drive around the mountainous area and see a new vista around every turn. The capital of Tuscany is Florence and before heading there we stopped for some wine tasting in Chianti country at a few wineries that Josh and I found on our last trip there. The symbol of Chianti Classico is a black rooster (gallo nero), and you see billboards with the rooster everywhere in Chianti. The area is bigger than Sonoma or Napa Valleys, and the Chianti Classico region (a small section of Chianti) covers about 100 square miles between Florence and Siena. Since the symbol of Chianti is a rooster, we had the conversation “in my country, roosters say….” and it lead to some interesting discussion!

After leaving Venice we drove straight down to Chianti for some wine tasting. At our first stop we visited Villa Cafaggio. This beautiful winery overlooks the hills of Tuscany and has a beautiful property that looks brand new. They produce not only wine, but also chocolates and jams. We had a private tour of the winery and then tried the four basic wines that they offer (Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, and their IGT- or Super Tuscan). When we were there we discussed the sound that a rooster makes. In the US we say “cock-a-doodle-doo!” but in Mexico they say “kee-kaa-ree-kee!”. Apparently even roosters have different languages J We mentioned what we say in the US to our tour guide (cock-a-doodle-doo!) and she just laughed and said “It’s not possible!” Apparently roosters in Italy sound more like the Mexican roosters, “kee-ka-reekee!” We had fun with that new knowledge that roosters had their own dialect as well!

I'm free!!

After Villa Cafaggio we stopped at another winery for a tasting, then checked into our agritourismo (bed and breakfast). The b&b was amazing! It overlooked the vineyards nearby and was close to a small hilltop town. It was a great location about 30-45 minutes from Florence. After getting checked in, taking a short nap, and drinking a coffee, we went to dinner at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to! On our way there we stopped for pictures at a cute little town called Badia a Passignano. It is a beautiful location that is very Tuscan. Being in the area was a relaxing change after the craziness of Venice. At this point James realized that he was so happy to be in Chianti, that he felt like he was free!

Picture time!

La Cantinetta di Rignana is a fabulous restaurant at an agritourismo that is not easy to get to. After driving through the mountains you stop driving on paved roads and start on dirt roads. They are narrow and windy, but at the end you emerge at this adorable place with the best food! It is definitely worth it. We sat down for dinner and stayed so long that we pretty much shut the restaurant down! I had ricotta stuffed noodles (similar to ravioli) with a truffle sauce (OMG! Sooo good when it touches the lips!). It was heaven on a plate! Between the view of our table overlooking the vineyards, the wonderful food, and the good wine/company, this restaurant shot to the top of my list of favorites! We were having such a great time that we decided to bring some wine back to our b&b and drink it on the patio. No doubt we kept up the neighbors staying there, but no one said anything. Our time in Tuscany was off to a great start!
My half eaten ravioli, mmm...

Keeping up the neighbors :)

The next day: Florence!