Under the Tuscan Sun
Hello again! In my last post I said that I was going to write about Rome next, but then I realized that I was leaving out Tuscany! There were so many great moments in Tuscany and too much information to neglect sharing with all of you! So instead, I want to tell you all about Tuscany now and end my series of posts with a bang in Rome. I hope you don’t mind too much!
I never realized before going to Italy how massive the Tuscan region actually is. It is divided into ten provinces and is almost 9,000 square miles! We only had four days in Tuscany, so we had to choose a couple of places to see from a very large list. We stayed in the Chianti region, very close to Florence and Pisa, so obviously we had to see those. We also wanted to see the Mediterranean Sea so we decided to go to Livorno, a town on the coast. Any Italy trip would not be complete without seeing the Mediterranean Sea!
Chianti is famous for…you guessed it, Chianti red wine! So naturally, the first day in Tuscany we visited multiple wineries. This was a daunting task for me, considering that I don’t like red wine. Still, I drank the wine and pretended to love it every time! Wineries in Italy are much different than those in Napa Valley, California. In Napa, you have to be more selective about which wineries you visit because you have to pay for your tastings, usually about $10 for a selection of five or so types of wine. In Italy, you can spend hours hopping (or stumbling) from one winery to the next, tasting the wine for free! Driving to and from the wineries, you will have the urge to pull over every five minutes to take pictures. The patchwork patterns of grape vines and olive trees against the rolling hills are absolutely beautiful! There is usually one “wine road” that you follow to get to all of the wineries. Some wineries are nicer looking than others, but from our experience, the smaller ones are usually friendlier and taste just as good.
The first winery we went to had a little handwritten sign on the road that said “vino e olive olio”. We drove down the deserted dirt road and realized that this particular winery looked like a shady operation from someone’s house. We started to turn around, but a little, old hump-backed lady came out and waved us down to come in. Apprehensively, we parked and walked in. She didn’t speak a word of English, apart from “hello”. Only one of us spoke Italian, but that didn’t stop her from speaking to all of us in Italian while we just smiled and nodded. We could all tell right away that she loved her wine and was so excited to have someone there to share it with! She kept pulling out bottle after bottle and pouring glass after glass. Wandering around her small shop, I notice a room to the side with massive terra cotta pots. Inside each pot was the freshest olive oil I’ve ever seen. I had to get some! She grabbed an empty bottle and put it in my hand. While mumbling in Italian, she scooped the oil from the pot and poured it into my bottle. Maybe it’s the cook in me, but I enjoyed this olive oil experience more than any amount of wine. It’s not every day you see fresh olive oil! Before leaving, we laughed about a statue/wine bottle holder on her desk that looked a lot like my future father-in-law. She gave him the statue as a souvenir and then her and her husband invited us in their home for dinner! Of course we didn’t stay since we had other wineries to go to. My fiancé is convinced that they would have given us their winery if we had dinner with them. I couldn’t help feeling that they wanted to enjoy their Chianti with our liver and some fava beans, a la Hannibal Lecter style. Seriously though, I’m convinced that they were the nicest people in all of Italy and I’m so glad we turned down that road. No other winery that day came close to the experience of that first one, but we still had fun tasting the wine and chatting with the locals.
The next day, we went to Florence. We intended on taking a train, but soon found out that the train conductors were on strike (which apparently happens quite often in Italy). Instead, we drove. I guess this is where I should talk about driving in Italy. It’s hard. Well, I guess I should say that it looks hard, having not actually driven. Italian drivers are not necessarily bad drivers. They’re actually very good, just extremely aggressive. At almost every intersection is a roundabout that makes the Somerville Circle seem like a toddler’s playground. In Florence, no one even yields on a roundabout, they just go. It was absolute chaos at every corner, and I had a front seat view of it. In some places, the streets are so narrow that often the GPS will lose its signal. Armed with nothing but a free tourist map you are left to find your own way. After entering on-coming traffic once, being nearly crushed by a tour bus, and squeezing in between two cars with enough room for the skin of our teeth, we finally parked in Florence!
Still reeling from our brush with death, my adrenaline was pumping and I was excited to see Florence. After all, it is the birthplace of the Renaissance, so I couldn’t wait to see famous works of art by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. There are a number of museums in Florence, but the two most famous are the Uffizi Museum and the Accademia. The Accademia houses Michelangelo’s statue of David and still operates as a school of art. Since there is an exact replica of the David outside of the Uffizi Museum, we opted not to go into the Accademia. Instead, we wondered around in its courtyard and watched the students paint and make sculptures. We had planned on going to the Uffizi Museum, but once we got there, we realized that it was closed. A word to the wise: don’t go to Italy on a Monday; everything is closed! This totally bummed me out since I was looking forward to seeing some paintings that I studied in my art history class. The area around the museum is still very nice though.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is something else you have to see. I couldn’t even take a picture of the whole church! It’s enormous and its gothic design makes it so different than any others I saw in Italy. Admission is free but be sure to dress modestly. The inside is spectacular, especially the fresco painted dome!
Standing outside of the duomo, you’ll start to smell the sweet, pungent smell of fine Italian leather. Florence is the place to buy leather purses, wallets, shoes, and gloves. There are booths lined up and down the streets and shops on either side, all catering to your fetish of choice. Mine just happened to be purses! My fiancé was quick to point out that while I don’t eat beef, I have no problem wearing it. Shameless, I know.
Another lovely picture-perfect moment is the Ponte Vecchio, a stone bridge over the Arno River. Walking across the bridge is sure to put a dent in your wallet, as it is filled with expensive jewelry shops that were too rich for my blood!
The last thing we did before leaving Florence was check out the Piazzale Michelangelo. This meant hopping back into the death trap car, since it was too far of a walk. I was tempted to forgo it since that meant that I would have to navigate us to certain doom. When we finally got there though, I was glad we went. The Piazzale is an overlook of Florence from high up on a hill and the views were spectacular. Definitely worth risking your life for!
All-in-all, Florence was nice but certainly not my favorite. It was loud, crowded, and I think that the museum being closed put a damper on my experience. Writing this now though, I am reminded of how beautiful it was. I would definitely go back, just not on a Monday!
The next day we braved the car again for Pisa and Livorno. The drive to Pisa was very odd to me. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere and then all of a sudden the city just appeared. It looked like someone had cut out a part of Florence and stuck it in the country. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is obviously what most people come to Pisa to see. I was told before-hand to prepare myself for disappointment when I saw the tower. I guess some people think that the tower will be bigger or will be leaning more. When we turned the corner and I got my first look at the tower, I was not disappointed. It was definitely leaning! It was so pristine looking that it almost looked fake. In front of the tower was a large field with hundreds of people “holding up Pisa”. After laughing at everybody else doing it for a while, I finally gave in and took one myself. I’m a sucker for peer pressure! You can go up in the tower, but since we were on a busy schedule and the next tour wasn’t for an hour, we decided not to. Instead, we went to Livorno.
Livorno was a cute town on the coast. Judging from the large amount of young people on scooters hanging around the shore, it seemed like a hip place. We really only came to Livorno to see the water, so we parked on the coast and walked on the stone boardwalk. We didn’t see any beaches but there were breaks in the wall where you could go out into the water. A couple of people we saw were sunbathing on the rocks. The sparkling blue water combined with the green algae on the rocks was just what I imagined the Mediterranean Sea would look like. It was nice to have a moment of peace and quiet after such an exhausting day. I was very glad we went!
Tuscany was amazing! If I get the chance to go to Italy again, I would love to stay in Tuscany longer and really live the Tuscan life style. We had so much sight-seeing to do that we didn’t have a whole lot of down time to relax. I guess that gives me all the more reason to go again! Until then, I will be reminded of it every time I drink a glass of red wine or nearly get killed on the Somerville circle! I promise next time I will post about Rome, quite possibly my favorite part of the trip!