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!

Success!

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.

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