A Tribute To The Sights And Tastes of Tuscany…or….Our Ever Expanding Waistline 😳

As our time in Europe is rapidly slipping away, Dan and I decided that exploring some of Italy’s inland sights (places neither of us had ever been) was just what the Doctor ordered.  Rain was coming in, so it seemed like a good time to escape the confines of boat and secluded island life.  Our ultimate goal was to explore Tuscany, but that was the extent of our planning…..no reservations anywhere, just a rental car and the two of us. We quickly packed our bags and headed out.  Well, the packing was quick anyway.  To get anywhere from the island we are living on is quite a challenge.  We need to walk 1/2 mile from our boat to the vaporetto stop (think bus on the water).  Obviously, this runs on a schedule and not on demand, and our timing always seems to be off.  We grabbed a seat in the rocking “bus stop” and waited for a ride.  We jumped on board and grabbed a seat for the 40 minute ride through the canals of Venice to where the rental car was booked (it’s 10 stops from our island to our stop in Piazzale Roma.)  This is a very busy part of the city, so we navigate ourselves around the traffic and people congestion in search of the elusive rental car facility (for some reason, these places are always hidden away in some really obscure location).  We managed to find it about 1/2 an hour before closing…yikes.  We were finally off on our grand, land adventure.

The countryside is amazingly picturesque

Part of our purpose for this last minute planning was to time it with the weather system that was coming….we didn’t want to be confined to our quarters when the rain came.  Sure enough, as we hit the road, the rain began….just intermittent drizzle…nothing major.  Our first stop was about an hour away, in the town of Bologna.  Driving here was very interesting.  The city center is electronically fenced and restricted to resident travel only.  Electronically fenced means there are cameras at every driving entrance to the city that snap your picture if you drive into the city without being a resident.  Unfortunately, the signs that warn you of this are all in Italian!  The fine is 50 euro per camera capture!  I have a bad feeling we will be getting a bill sometime down the road.  We won’t mention the ridiculous number of speed cameras along the route that I am sure “Mario Andretti” tripped more than once🤣  Anyway, we finally found the appropriate parking area and headed into Bologna.  It was a charming town with beautiful architecture, cafes and shops.  By this time, the drizzle was coming down more steadily.  Since we had not yet eaten today, we decided to stop for a late lunch.  One meal a day is often the theme here for us when dining out.  You’d think we’d lose weight on this plan, but those one meals are usually ridiculously large.  Today was no different.  We found a cute looking place with an intriguing menu and chose a table outside, under the canopy.  We opted for the Taste of Bologna which consisted of 4 courses of specialties of the region.  The meal began with a plate of assorted meats and cheeses.  Along with the typical, hard meats of Europe, there was boloney.  I haven’t eaten baloney in probably 35 years!  I vaguely remember losing my taste for it, but….when in Balogna….yada, yada, yada.  It was actually quite fabulous….great….now I’m craving a boloney sandwich from my childhood years!  After this starter, we were treated to 2 types of pasta….also fabulous.  Next came sliced beef with arugula salad (I am already full at this point!)  You guessed it….delish also.  We finished with an unusual interpretation of tiramisu and limoncello.  The waiter seemed to enjoy chatting with us so he brought us a complimentary blueberry liqueur as well.  It was quite a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon (by this time it was pouring).  Dan quickly did a search to find us a place to stay for the night out in the countryside.  I give him an A+ on this one.  He found us an awesome little cottage on a farm in the country.  When we arrived in the pouring rain, the owner greeted us at the door to our cottage and already had a roaring fire going.  It was cozy and romantic, and I wish we could’ve spent several days here, but we had a number of places we wanted to see and not much time to do it in.  My desire to stay did wane a bit when I discovered a GIANT spider in the bathroom, and Dan was unsuccessful at killing it 😳  Time to go!

Our airbnb Farm stay for the night. Fireplace was perfect on a rainy cold night!

The next day was a beautiful, sunny day as we headed out to the city of Florence.  After an hour and a half drive, we once again found ourselves in the chaos of a city center that was electronically fenced.  It was extremely busy and confusing here, but we eventually found the proper parking and headed out on foot to Florence.  Once again, we were treated to breathtaking architectural structures, sculptures and art.  Long considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, the historical beauty does not disappoint.  We walked around the Duomo which is a huge, domed cathedral in the center of the city.  All around the city are these amazing, full bodied sculptures of famous people or depicting a historical moment in time.  As you can imagine, the city was jam-packed with tourists (my favorite).  It was challenging to move around with any efficiency, and there were huge lines for every place of interest.  It probably did not help that we were there on a Sunday either.  Needless to say, my crowd-a-phobia kicked in, so our visit was not as thorough as it could (and should) have been.  I will try again on another visit 🙂  I find that my words fall short in truly describing Florence, so I am going to let our pictures do the talking.

Florence is amazing

After a few brief hours in Florence, we were back on the road to our next destination, San Gimignano.  The hour drive took us through some of the most beautiful countryside you could imagine.  We were surrounded by rolling hills canvased in vineyards and olive groves.  The vegetation along the way was already beginning its transition to fall with a spectacular array of changing colors.  Periodically the scenery was dotted with a sprawling Tuscan villa or a charming hilltop fortress.  Prior to departing Florence, Dan quickly did some research and booked us an apartment in the heart of the hilltop fortress of San Gimignano.  I was a little skeptical after our last stay in a hilltop fortress in Croatia.  There had been very little to actually do there, and you had to park far away and outside the walls (making it a painful trek with bags).  Well, this started out very familiar….parking WAY down the hill and schlepping our bags a long, vertical distance.  Thankfully, this is where the similarities ended.  The town was bustling with people and encircled a wealth of specialty shops, cafes, wine shops, and historical sights.  It was like stepping back in time.  We met our host outside of the apartment, and he showed us to our place (at the very top of the building…..noooo).  The accommodations were fabulous.  We had a lovely one bedroom apartment right off the main “drag” of this walled city.  Once settled, we headed out to get the lay of the land and line up our plans.  We decided that this evening we would just relax in our apartment with a mattress picnic of local specialties.  We found a great little shop where we purchased some wine, meat, cheese, and marinated artichokes.  We also decided that this amazing place needed an additional night.  We were able to keep the apartment for another night, so the next day we spent exploring every nook and cranny.  As with Florence, I think the pictures are far better than what I could describe.

San Gimignano…the “Manhattan” of the middle ages!

For our last night in San Gimignano, we decided to try this Michelin starred restaurant that was practically next door to our apartment.  Their menu showed a 5, 7, and 9 course chef’s tasting menu to which you could add a wine pairing.  We figured we’d try the 7 course and therefore fasted the entire day in preparation…haha.  I’m sure this will come as a complete shocker….it was amazing.  We were able to select our tastings from the menu…two from each of three different categories plus a chef inspired dessert.  I really do not want this to become a food blog (it’s suppose to be an adventure blog), so I will leave you with pictures to peruse if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, this particular land based adventure was heavily food based.  After our wonderful evening, we wandered the old city once more, taking in the nighttime beauty and its lighting.  Tomorrow we were headed into the Chianti region of Tuscany.

Photobomb fun at the restaurant….
Menu had three choices..
All of which were amazing

Castello di Brolio in Chianti

It was said that when these castle walls shook, the town of Siena trembled

Once again, my fabulous travel planner made a few phone calls and found us a room at a vineyard where we would participate in an Italian cooking class the following day.  We spent another hour driving through the countryside….it’s a sight you just can’t grow tired of seeing.  We arrived at the winery on a beautifully warm, sunny afternoon.  The manager was busy with some visitors doing a wine tasting, so he handed us each a glass of wine, told us to sit and enjoy the courtyard and would be with us shortly.  Once finished, he checked us in and took us to our room.  Another stellar find by Dan!  The next morning, we met with the owner (wife) and she walked us through the items we would be learning to make.  She took us into the restaurant’s kitchen, handed us an apron, and so began our private cooking class.  It was awesome!  First we made a tiramisu so that it could chill while we continued.  The great thing about the cooking class is that you then dine on the treasures you have made.  Given Dan’s lack of cooking experience and time spent in the kitchen, there was a great deal of laughter and joking as we learned.  Next was the pasta lesson.  We made the pasta dough, in their traditional manner, which would then be used for ravioli and tagliatelle. While Dan worked on pressing out his ravioli dough, I made the filling.  This was a potato based filling which is prominent in the northern mountain regions of Italy.  The other special ingredient we used in the filling was saffron.  This winery was also a saffron farm, so this was a rare treat.  We had a lot of fun making the pasta, but wow, ravioli is A LOT of work!  The last dish was a lightly floured, pan fried slice of chicken breast in a dessert wine reduction sauce.  She had me throw together a quick bruschetta bite for a starter.  After, she had us relax in the courtyard while she brought us each dish to enjoy and were expertly paired with wines made from their vineyard.  This will truly be one of those memorable experiences (especially if I can replicate the dishes when I get home).  

Ravioli is hard!


Sadly, it was time for us to make our way back to Venice.  We had a 3 1/2 hour drive ahead of us, and the joy of supply shopping 😢 Here lies the problem with living in a marina on an island in Venice.  We have no easy access to anything.  To put the boat up for winter, we needed some supplies (including 20 liters of motor oil!)

Despite being on the mainland of Venice, shopping was still quite challenging.  After a couple of stops, including a giant mall, we decided we had done all we could.  We weren’t due to return the car until the next day, but at this point, we were eager to get home.  We headed to the car return (long since closed), took video of the car for our records, and loaded up our bags with close to 100 pounds of stuff.  Needless to say, this was not fun.  The thought of dragging all of this on and off the vaporetto (which would require transfers this late at night) had us both feeling really stressed.  So, we went to find a water taxi.  We knew this would be more expensive, but it would go directly to Certosa (our island home), and more importantly, to our boat (remember, we are 1/2 mile walk from the vaporetto stop).  We just about choked on our tongues when the taxi driver told us it would be 80 euros….yikes!  Yes, we splurged on this.  Not only were we treated to a beautiful night ride through the grand canal and back canals of Venice, but we were dropped one boat away from ours with help hefting our bags on and off.  Ahhhh, we were home once again…..and it felt good.

Venezia bound at last

We made it through the nasty storm without issue, and despite the winds not dying down overnight.  The next day, we planned to head to the ancient city of Poreč (have you noticed that pretty much every city we’ve gone to is “ancient?”).  This was going to be our jumping off point for our crossover to Venice.  We also needed to make sure that wherever we chose as our departure point had an immigration and harbor patrol office so that we could check ourselves, and our boat, out of the country.  When we arrived, we decided to grab a mooring ball instead of tying up to the city wall.  The weather was suppose to be pretty nice, and we much prefer the quiet of the bay versus being on display in front of all the restaurants and people strolling the town.  By the time we got tied up, it was only 3:30, so we quickly pumped up our still deflating dinghy and headed to the immigration office.  Deflating dinghy you ask?  If you will recall, we came back to a partially deflated dinghy in Primošten (wow, that seemed like forever ago!).  While prepping for our departure from Cres, we worked on finding the leak and patching it.  Needless to say, it didn’t fix the problem 🙁  

Back to our current story…..we headed into town on our dinghy and tied up to the wall.  We walked over to the customs office only to discover it was closed!  Are you kidding me?  They are typically open until 5 p.m.  it is only 4:30.  As we stood there trying to figure out what to do, we noticed the sign indicating that 4 days a week they closed at 3 p.m.  Well wasn’t that just great!  We had a 55 mile crossing the next day, so our goal was to be underway by 6:30 a.m. to ensure we arrived in Venice with plenty of daylight to find our way through the lagoon.  Now what!?  They didn’t open until 8 a.m.  We decided at this point to wander the town and check out the beautiful sights since we were already onshore.  It was shockingly crowded here for the end of September.  We walked the cobblestone alleys exploring the beautiful architecture of the city.  We even stumbled onto a intercultural event with blaring music and different countries represented by groups of people dressed alike and dancing in the square.  Ironically, most of the music was American (but all the flags on display were from the EU).  We enjoyed the scene for a bit, and then continued on our way.  Unfortunately, our hearts weren’t totally into this visit as we were both preoccupied with how we were going to proceed in getting out of Croatia on time and in safe weather.

Poreč’s lovely cobblestoned alleyways

Poreč’s old city fortifications
Cultural Festival

We returned to the boat to begin strategizing.  If the customs office opened at 8:00 like the sign said, and the process was expeditious, we could be on our way to Venice by 9:00.  We looked at the weather forecasts, re-calculated our distance, and calculated time.  At best, it would take us 8 hours but could take up to 12 if we tried to sail in less than sustained 15-20 knot winds or only used 1 motor.  We both agreed that the 12 hour version was not an option.  We did not want to navigate the Venice lagoon and an unknown marina in the dark.  The second option we tossed around was to delay Venice for a day or two and continue our way north.  We would be close enough to Slovenia to tap us out of Croatia on time, it would be a shorter open water crossing (however more miles due to moving north along the coast).  Delaying our crossing could put us into another bad weather window since the storms seemed to be rolling in on a more regular basis now that fall had arrived.  After much consideration, we made a pact (my requirement, of course).  I made Dan promise that the only way we would lift sails was if we had at least 15-20 knot sustained winds…gusts don’t count.  You lose time powering down the boat and changing course to hoist the sails, and we did not have time to spare.  I also requested that if we were unable to keep 6 knots (about 7 miles per hour), under 1 engine, that we would motor under both engines.  With our agreement in place, we decided to go ahead and make the jump the following day provided there were no delays with immigration. Needless to say, it was a rough night (of course it was!  A long, draining day awaits you!).  The wind had kicked up yet again…..and NOT in any of the forecasts!  This was our first time on a mooring ball in high winds, and the noises were actually louder and more intense than when tied up in port (lots of creaking and cracking as the boat pulls and twists on the single point of the ball).

When morning arrived, we scrambled to get to the immigration office right as they opened.  We tied up the dinghy and raced over there.  A group had already beat us 🙁    I whispered to Dan that they were on the catamaran that had come in a few hours after us last night.  We soon realized (more like overheard) they were headed to Venice as well.  This was oddly comforting knowing someone else would be on the same path as us.  We finished our clearance and were told to head across the way to the police station to finish our check out.  The group was just finishing as we approached, so we stopped to talk.  They were, in fact, headed to the exact marina  in Venice that we were.  After a brief discussion about engine size (Men!  Always comparing sizes 🤣), the race was on!  We both got back to our boats at about the same time, and quickly prepared for departure.  They had the jump on us after dropping our mooring lines, but had to make a side trip to the fuel station (that would easily cost them a 1/2 hour).  We were out of the breakwater by 8:40 and ahead of schedule.  Yeah us!  There was not much wind forecasted by any of the models (but we’ve seen how well that’s been working), so we knew motoring was probably going to be the case for most of the journey.  We also knew that after several days of heavy wind, coming down the gut of the gulf, that we were likely going to have uncomfortable seas.  We decided we would do an hour on/hour off rotation at the helm since neither of us had a great night sleep, and it was going to be a long day.  Since I was on the wheel coming out of the breakwater, I started.  There was some wind….not enough to sail with but enough to chill you to the bone….and it looked like the seas were going to progressively get worse.  Warm clothes, heavy weather jacket, life jacket and tether attached to the helm station were the theme of the day.  When Dan came up to relieve me, I asked him if what I was seeing on the horizon was rough water.  The entire horizon looked like the boiling surface of water.  Neither one of us could figure out if we were seeing the line of rough water or our eyes were playing tricks on us.  It didn’t take too long before we had our answer…..large swells,  breaking waves, and whitecaps…..let the fun begin.  We alternated our shifts, catnapped when off, and tried to keep warm.  Surprisingly, the 8 hours was over before we knew it.  I didn’t think I would like the switching every hour (too quick), but I think it made the passage go really fast.

As we approached the entrance to the lagoon, things got really interesting.  The water color shifted from the beautiful, clear, deep blues to this milky, murky, grayish-green.  That wasn’t the interesting thing though….it was this really bizarre, roiling, washing machine of confused waves that greeted us (greeted is probably not the right word since the water seemed angry as hell).  We made sure to give the land and any water markers a wide berth so as not to get pitched into them by the crazy movement and hellacious current.  The water stayed this way for a very long time as we made our way deeper into the lagoon.  We later learned that coming into the lagoon can be a challenge if you don’t enter during a slack tide.  Hmmmm….we missed that little tidbit.  So of course, we entered during the tidal change and against 2 knot currents!  Needless to say, it was a slow journey to our marina. 

Crossing into the Lagoon

The next piece of fun was entering the main “traffic” canal.  OH MY GOD!  This was your worst freeway at commuter time….only you are not at a stand still, you are playing frogger on steroids with high speed powerboats, ferries, water taxis, etc.  This is Dan’s specialty and one of my greatest nightmares.  Whew!  Glad we were done with that!  As we entered the transit dock area to our marina, Dan repeatedly tried to reach the marina for direction and assistance.  Finally, they answered and sent the marinero out in his dinghy.  He told us it was too rolly on the transit dock and to follow him into the main marina.  Ummmm, this isn’t right.  We both had understood, when we visited in the spring, that our boat could not come through the front channel that he was now leading us down.  Up ahead we saw the sliding bridge opening that he expected us to go through.  Now mind you, there are boats parked on both sides of us, leaving about 3 feet or less on each side.  Dan shouts to the guy, “Are you sure I can fit through there??  I am 7.25 meters wide.”  The guy tells us it’s about 7.3 meters wide!  Oh hell no!!  Now comes the fun part….oh yes, there is always a fun part.  Dan has to back out of this winding channel, staying clear of all parked boats, and avoiding the new, impatient arrivals that are trying to go around us.  I’m on the front with a boat hook, ready to fend off any boats we get to close to, and calling out directions to avoid a couple hazards.  We’re gonna need a stiff drink after that bit of fun!  We head out into the main channel (the way we should’ve gone in the first place), dodge a few more high speed ferries, and enter a canal on the back side of the island.  We come into the marina and get Zoe tied up in her slip….home for the next month.  In case you were wondering, the group we had met in Poreč ended up parked right beside us a few hours later.

This entrance is way too tight for a catamaran!
Zoe’s Italian home
Exploring the nature park next to the marina
The family car in Venice is a boat….
Last stop this year!
Random sculpted marble for contemplation

Our track across the Adriatic

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