6.16.2012

Firenze, Italy



As someone who has studied art and have a deep passion for it; Florence was a must visit city in my itineraries. I took a day from my stay in Toscana to have a day trip in Florence. However, after my trip to Bologna, I decided to spend more time in Florence as provided easy accessibility to day trips around Toscana. Also after about a full week in the hills of Tuscany, I was ready for the urban crawl back to civilization.


Florence is a major city for Italy with great influence in art. Tourists seem to flock to this Renaissance city in hoards. Finding the major attractions is much easier here than in Roma. Although initially I didn't find myself liking the city itself, I am surprised looking at my photos, that this is the place that I took most of it. Perhaps it's the artistic atmosphere that inspired me to take so many.


The architectures are definitely one of its kind and green and white colors dominated a lot of the buildings including the world famous Duomo. According to a walking tour I took, (the only one in Italy I took which I regret. If you can take a walking a tour, it is worth the investment) it is a color which marks the signature buildings by Florentines.


My English speaking Italian tour guide seemed fascinated with the romantic intrigues of the past as she pointed out couple of them during our tour, one being of Bianca Cappello and Francesco de Medici and of Filippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti. Although I must say the tour guide made it sound much more romantic than what actually happened. The message of that day seemed to be about love and how insurmountable circumstances could work itself out, a message I took to heart.



During our walking tour, we also got to take the time to have a gelatto from one of the best gelateria in Florence which deserves its accolade. (Try the San Trinita-its specialty flavor of mascarpone cheese and nutella)




Although Firenze is overridden with tourists to the detriment of enjoyment of the city itself, it's definitely worth a visit. I started each my morning with a cappuccino at Caffe Scudieri at Piazza Duomo. 


 Enjoyed lunch at Osteria Mario's which is located near Mercato Centrale. Only open for lunch, you can't beat the daily pasta for 5 Euros and it's pretty filling. I only had appertivo for dinner to tide me over till next morning. It's packed with locals and tourists alike. The father of the owner sat at my table and ended up sharing some wine with two Canadian travelers. The owner came out and was kissing his father calling him "Papa", a very endearing moment which reflected the Italian's open and effervescent nature.




After spending five days total in Firenze, I decided to stop by Cinque Terra, the northern coast of Italy, because I got so many recommendation from other travelers. So I took a train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Stazione to start my journey towards La Spezia which is the hub point for the five little villages. 

6.07.2012

Bologna, Italy


Despite the devastating earthquake north Italian region near Bologna has been experiencing the past few weeks, I decided to make my way down from Tuscan hills to Emilio-Romagna region. It took me an hour and a half train ride on the Regional train, 2nd classe. After arriving at the Bologna Centrale train stazione, I walked out with my suitcase and immediately found myself liking the city, it's vibe, architecture and the academic atmosphere.


The architectures are stunning with rising pillars all throughout the city. It is bustling with a very large student population mixed with its inhabitants and travelers. I found my lodging in the city center with help of two college students who walked me through the cobbled stoned streets where cars are not allowed through most of the time. I found the place very close to the University of Bologna which housed more stunning arched way buildings and students milling around the university quad. In typical Italian fashion, coffee/wine bars, osterias and gelatteria lined the streets.


Bologna soon became my favorite Italian city. The city itself is not large yet the spirit of the place and its inhabitants are larger than life. The city of Bologna is known for it's student population, beautiful women and cuisine. After walking around the city, I would have to agree with the sentiments.


I got to try the true Bolognese cuisine at the well known restaurant in Bologna called Diana's. It's simple yet hearty food is simply perfect. Menu consisted of cold cuts which is a must get (prosciutto, mortadella-Italian version of baloney, salumi, and finocchiona.) and the main dish, tagliatelle al rag├╣ or also called tagliatelle alla bolognese. Although typically considered a second course and a prelude to the main course, the plate of cold cut and pasta is filling for most diners. If you want the main course, many of the Italians ordered a plate from the meat cart that was strolling up and down the restaurant.



I loved the simple presentation.. simplicity in its flavor with focus on the ingredients rather than complicated sauces and spices. It is true Bolognese cuisine. Sangiovese wine (my favorite Italian wine.. peppery and robust in flavor) accompanied the meal which went perfectly with the meat sauce. Finished off the perfect meal with limoncello, an Italian after dinner drink that tastes like spiked lemon gelatto. It is the best meal I have ever had. The Italians certainly know how to live la dolce vita.


I also got to experience the nightlife in Bologna. Went to a few clubs.. very elegant and trendy Italians did not move very much which surprised me. I thought they would be filled with passion, enthusiasm, and liveliness that Italians are known for.. but they just moved in very calm manner to the beats although everyone sang along to the chorus with the music that is top of the charts in the states. It felt good to finally hear English being spoken in Italy. Everyone knew the chorus by heart.


My weekend in Bologna was an amazing experience just like the rest of my journey through Italy. It was raining the day I left and sort of reflected my mood as this marked the last week of my stay in Italia. Bologna is a city after my heart although I do have to say that Paris still holds the title for favorite city in terms of the build.. but Bologna tops it in the people, food, and comes very close in the architecture rivaling Paris. The only thing that bothers me about Italy is the graffiti on the buildings. It is definitely an eye sore on otherwise stunning and beautiful landscapes.

Tagliatelle photo courtesy of Chef di Ter

6.04.2012

Chianti Region, Toscana



Onward with travels in Italy after spending some time in Rome, and San Momme, Toscana. I ended up on another hill overlooking the vineyards in the infamous Chianti region in Tuscany. I had booked a room in a villa that is geared toward budget travels although once it used to be a place for wealthy tourist, mainly old New York bankers, this is according to the owner of the villa. He says he likes the younger travelers because he learns something new every day. The villa is absolutely a dream place with views that I could see old New York bankers would pay thousands for.. but I get to enjoy it at a budget rate. Yay me!


I got to drink the stolen grapes of Sangiovese where in another winery, a bottle cost about 150 Euro. The owner of the villa I stayed in had taken the seeds of the same grapes of that winery and now produces his own Sangiovese wine which only cost me 1.5 euro a glass, a great bargain for sure.


The villa is on the top of the hill overlooking the whole chianti region. I learned more about winemaking in a conversation with Guido in fifteen minutes than I did my entire life thus fur. His vineyard have been making wines since 1000 B.C. and they have the second license in all of Italy to produce the Sangiovese wine.


One of my goals for this trip was to bike through Toscana.. and on my 2nd day of my stay.. I got to do just that. I took an old rented bike from the villa and biked to a small town San Baronto where I got my daily cup of cappucino. I got two that day because I was doing a 20 km bike ride through Tuscany. I went down a windy hill where I got to fly through the region.. it was one of those life embracing moments that I will look back with such happiness. A group of bikers waved and yelled "Ciao" as I was pummeling through the landscape.


Then down to Lamporecchio and across to town of Vinci, home of Leonardo Da Vanci. This is where I became physically challenged to finish my bike ride. Not having ridden a bike in years (not counting the stationary bike I use back home for light workout) I could not have fathomed how difficult the way up would be. Professional cyclists use these roads to train daily.


They whizzed past me as I walked most of the way up with my bike. I stopped to watch their training. How sync they are with each other in a group and they could be quite rude at times. Only time in Italy I have encountered any rudeness from the people except for a woman on a train on my way to San Momme.
Regardless, six hours later, I finished the 20 km bike ride.. I ended up having a love and hate relationship with the rented bicycle. I have many bruises from being hit with it on the way up. The bruises will fade but the memory of this bike ride will not be forgotten.

6.02.2012

San Momme, Toscana


After leaving Rome, I traveled up north to Toscana region or Tuscany. Trains in Italy are the least expensive in Europe provided you take the slow train in second classe. I almost missed the train to Rome which had me in near fit of tears. I do not know why this journey has been taxing on me. Perhaps due to my emotional exhaustion beginning of trip has something to do with it. I made it just within minutes of train leaving for Firenze.

One thing a traveler must remember when riding the trains in Italy, is that you must validate your ticket before boarding. Fines are hefty although most conductors are lenient to foreign travelers.. however, they can fine you for 40 euros if you do not validate the ticket. The machines are located at various points in the station and it's really easy to validate, just insert your ticket into the slot. My train ride to Firenze was 3 hours and it was beautiful to watch the scenery change.

I am still breath taken with the lands of Italy.. the rolling hills.. vibrant red poppy flowers that decorate the already beautiful landscape. I arrived in Firenze SMN station and quickly boarded the next train for Pistoia. This is when my luggage broke. I have traveled with this suitcase for almost a decade and it was devastating to realize that my trusty indescript black rolling luggage is on her last leg. We put a lot of miles in traveling together.. No matter. I have no money or the heart to replace her during this trip.. so I continue on with the metal handle poking out through rest of my trip.


I arrived at Pistoia, Toscana and took a taxi to San Momme where I was staying. I did not realize that it was in a remote village up in the Appenine mountains. First sign of fate, the owner of this eco resort has the same birthday as I do. If you are seeking a true Tuscan experience away from the tourists, San Momme is the place to stay.

In the very remote Tuscan hill region with narrow roads that barely fit one car on the road,  it was interesting to see how the Italians lived in an area that is sparsely populated. They all knew each other of course yet inviting and warm to outsiders. The town had a church bell that rang every half hour and hour. It was a place where time stood still.


In the mountains, I found peace and all the tensions I carried melted away. There were times where I felt as the main character did in the movie, "Lost in Translation" as I did not speak the language and no one really spoke English. The solitude was deafening at times but it allowed me to contemplate many things which is the point of this trip.

6.01.2012

Rome: Day Two



Much better today. I walked around the city after getting a good night rest. The city of Rome has it's antiquated charm. Walking around... I saw modern buildings merged with something from another world.. another time.. ruins that converged with the city seamlessly. Romans are lovely. Hard to describe their demeanor like the city itself. It's barely scratching the surface of the city and the inhabitants who live there..

They are not like Parisians.. whom I found very insular and cold  and uninviting to outsiders for the most part. Neither are the Roman welcoming of tourists. I think they have a rather stoic view of them and accept them as part of their lives as they live in a city that was once a mecca of ancient civilization.

But in true Italian fashion, they are gracious and lovely all the same. The ruins are indescribable. So much history and power lies within them. I did not get to see any of the famous sites. I couldn't seem to get my bearings around this city although I have a very good sense of direction for the most part.


I did not take any buses or trams although they run throughout the city. I chose to walk around and Rome is extensive in area to cover. I do think and many travelers have told me this as well.. that walking is the best way to get around the city. There's just so much to explore. Rome is quiet which was quite surprising and unlike Paris, everything closed early.. even the eateries. Only thing that remained open till late night are bars/clubs and pizzarias.
I did have my absolute best cappucino in Rome. Florians Cafe, blocks from the Termini station. In Italy, you can stand at the counter or bar and drink your espresso or cappucino while standing.

5.07.2012

Invictus

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be,
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have winced but not cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloodied but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the horror of the shade.
And yet the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

8.01.2011

Bamboletta


I finally got a Bamboletta waldorf doll for Layla. I am bartering with a fellow TBW mama for Ada May. I am sending her my Pfau wrap for the Bambo. So excited. Can I just say that these dolls are nearly impossible to score. You have to stalk them forever and I don't have any stalking skills.

Ada will be a perfect companion to the waldorf doll I got Layla for her 3rd birthday. When trying to come up with a name for her birthday doll, I asked Layla what she wanted to name her.

Layla: "No Mine!" {favorite words for a 3 year old} "My Birthday Present!"

Obviously we are going to have to wait to name our first one but it was one of those "Awwwww.... isn't she adorable moments" which we have a lot of in our home.

7.16.2011

It Seems That I can't Escape My Moniker

After a long hiatus, Jolly Green Girl is back... god help us all.
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