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Archive for ‘April, 2023’

2023 Italy Day 14

Trequando, Monday Apr 3

Today we get up leisurely and make breakfast. Then we head out to check out Pienza, a half hour away. We get there and easily find a place to park. We are only a block from the Duomo and we easily find our way there and walk around, going inside for a few photos! Every Duomo in Italy has it’s own charm and this one is no different.

We walk around the piazzas that we find and this is an old world charm! But for some reason, I am exhausted on my feet and we opt to go back to our villa and I sleep for most of the day! Elee is feeling under the weather also and we both take a leisure day.

Later in the afternoon, we are both feeling a bit better and we seek out a small restaurant down a small dirt road that we have spotted in our travels and we decide to check it out! It is called, “FicoPazzo” which translates to ‘Crazy Fig’!

We order a tasting menu that includes bruscetta, handmade spaghetti, Roast Rabbit and a panchetta dessert! It is all wonderful especially when you toss in a couple glasses of Italian wine! So we make it back to our villa and will make it an early night!

2023 Italy Day 13

Trequanda, Sunday, Apr 2

We are in leisure mode now so we wake up when we wake up. Our villa is freezing cold and the heater appears not to be working. So we brave the elements and get our day going. Elee makes breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs! First egg breakfast in Italy! And the coffee we bought in a grocery store last night turns out to be really good cooked in a percolator in the kitchen! Throw a banana in and breakfast is complete!

We eventually get dressed and take a walk around the resort, our cameras busily grabbing photos of the local flowers and plants and they purr happily! Elee whips up some open face sandwiches out of ingredients we bought yesterday and all is good!

We head out and find some wine tasting places. First is “Cantina Contucci” in Montepulciano. Back in the old part of the city that was originally built in the 4th or 3rd century BC (yes, I said BC!), the buildings are medieval and fantastic according to our camera lenses! But don’t believe them, look at the photos for yourself! Okay, so my cameras were right! And you didn’t believe them! Shame on you, LOL

We walk into Cantina Contucci and it is busy. The sommelier sees we have just arrived and steps off to the side and invites us to visit the wine cellar and points the way! We walk into the cellar and my camera snaps at me for not letting it loose! This is fantastic! We first see bottles covered in 1/4 to 1/2 inch of accumulated dust! Wine barrels that are 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide and stacked to fill every crevice of the caves! Literally hundreds of barrels that must each hold 2000 gallons each! And it appears they must have been built in place for there’s no way they would fit through the passageways! And they are all in current use!

By the time our camera lenses are satiated, we arrive back in the tasting room. The people that were here have gone and we are two of only a half dozen people left. So she focuses on us and another sommelier takes on the rest of the patrons. We taste four of their finest wines and I am underwhelmed. Their prices range from 15 Euros to 50 Euros per bottle. Understand that 1 Euro is approximately $1.20. Won’t be buying from any wineries soon, but we’ll keep tasting!

So we move on and find a couple of wine rooms that are closed. We finally find one that we call and it is open and we locate it in an industrial part of town, “Vecchia Cantina”. Gabriel is the sommelier and he treats us to tastings of 4 of his best wines. At least one of them I would love to take home and lay down in my wine room, but this trip we are traveling light with just carry on bags and we won’t be able to take any on the plane. The one that shows promise is still young and the wines we are buying we will drink here. So it defeats the purpose of trying to bring his wine home! Sorry Gabriel, we wish you well!

A storm has taken over the skies for an hour or two and we find a store with a couple more sundries we need while the storm passes. We go back to our Villa where Elee cooks some egg noodles we have bought in the grocery store. She does another fabulous job on dinner and we settle down to eat and enjoy the fire I have lit in the fireplace!

We stopped into a small store that I described yesterday where a local lady translated for us. Both she and the proprietor talked me out of purchasing some expensive wines and I picked up a couple at 15 Euros. I’m drinking one of them right now and it is quite nice!

Well, in closing, since Elee cooked, it is my job to clean the kitchen, so Ciao for now!

2023 Italy Day 12

Montepulciano & Trequanda, Sat., Apr 1

We awaken in Firenze (Florence) and pack up our stuff to move on. It’s a 10 minute walk to the car and we get there with no issues. We head onto the highway and make a stop at a now common sight, the AutoGrille. And as we have been finding out, they carry really good coffee, pastries, sandwiches and more! So we have what is becoming a staple breakfast for us, coffee and a ham and cheese sandwich on really good bread! I’d love to find a place to have a good omelette but that appears to be way too American for this country!

We head on and leave the Autostrade (highway) intentionally as the highways are a good way to get from point A to point B but not to see the countryside! And today’s journey is just over an hour by Autostrade. So we leave that road and tell our GPS to avoid toll roads. We are now driving in the Italian countryside and the pleasant factor of the trip skyrockets!

We find ourselves driving through Montepulciano, a famous area of Tuscany. We have been recommended to visit a couple of wine tasting locations by Lucrezia in Tuscan Taste in Firenze. So we navigate to the La Dolce Vita and it takes us up narrow winding roads among throngs of tourists walking in the middle of the roads! And the roads are only wide enough for a car and a half! Very picturesque buildings a thousand plus years old! Once inside, we drop the name of the lady in Firenze and the owner caters to us personally! He tells us a story of someone who came to see him named Peter. Peter Mondavi. Yes, that Mondavi! About how Peter came in search of his store!

So he gives us tastings of 7 of the wines he sells and we settle on a glass each to relax with after the tasting. The red wines were so good that Elee settles on a glass of red, Brunello di Montalcino! It is very good! The tasting turns out to be very upper class and makes a real dent in our wallet! The owner tells us that if we order 2 or more cases, he will ship it for free! A case is 12 bottles and his most inexpensive wine is 49 Euros ($57)! We take a hard pass!

So we resume our journey through this old medieval town and take what photos we can while driving. Then we navigate to our final destination for the night, in Trequanda, another 20 minutes away. We are staying at Cignello Wine Resort, that will be our home for the next 5 days. We’ll finally get a respite form our hectic schedule to this point. We have a 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite on a ranch. We kick back for a while and then head into the next town over, Sinalunga, where we find grocery stores to get sundries and a restaurant to get dinner.

At the Wine Resort we have a 2 bedroom apartment all to ourselves for the next 5 days! Quite spacious and comfy! And it comes with a view! We find out the bad news later on when we discover the heating system isn’t working! But the staff brings us a space heater and plenty of wood for the fireplace!

We find a place to park near the top of a hill that comprises the town of Sinalunga and as we are checking out the parking spaces because they are marked like Italian handicapped spots, we come up next to a person getting out of a car. “Scussi?” we ask. “Do you speak English?”

“Yes”, she answers.

“Is it okay to park here? these look like handicap spaces!”

“Oh, we don’t pay attention to that!” She responds and we all chuckle.

This lady is very friendly and personable and we ask her if there are any grocery stores nearby. She tells us there is a small one a block away and much larger ones down the bottom of the hill. She then tells us she knows the proprietor of the small shop and would be glad to go with us and translate for us. (Her English is very good and she tells us she has lived in the States and in the UK) This lady is a wonderful and good person. We get some fantastic sliced meats and cheeses along with breads for sandwiches and wine. So we are good to go.

We drive on and weave our way back down the hill and come across one of the larger grocery stores and stop in. We have noticed that there are no basic sundries in our Villa. (Such as spices, condiments, Paper Towels, etc.) So we spend more money and get a few basics.

We stop at several restaurants to start with and they either did not serve what we were looking for or they couldn’t accommodate us due to it being Saturday night and we didn’t make reservations! Then we come across one called Alle Volte Ristorante and it was empty! We ask them what time people come to eat and they tell us 9 or 10 PM! I guess we are just old, LOL. But we look at the menu and they offer the meal we couldn’t find in Firenze, Bisstecca Alla Fiorentine! It is a T-Bone steak sold by the kilogram, seared and raw in the middle! So we splurge and order it and it is melt in your mouth tender! Add a glass of wine each and the total meal isn’t even out of sight on the final bill!

So another bucket list item checked off, we are satiated and happy. Now to go back to our Villa and I find my cell phone is missing. The one and only GPS tool that could find the Villa today. Oh my, what to do? We use the GPS built into the Italian rental car we have and it luckily gets us close enough that we find the correct dirt road to take us there! We go inside and my cell phone is not there either. So I do my best to stay calm and Elee, my girl scout, hands me a flashlight bless her heart, and I search the path to the car and open the door and find the phone in the darkened interior! Crisis averted!

So we are in our Villa and now have 2-3 days of breakfasts, lunches and a dinner to save us from all restaurant meals! Tomorrow we will explore this area in more detail.

2023 Italy Day 11

Firenze (Florence), Friday, March 31

I get up bright and early today because I have to walk 20 minutes to the car and move it. The parking meters start at 8AM. I have info on a parking garage that we can pay by the day a lot closer to our AirBnB. I get to the car and navigate to the new address only to find the new garage full. But the helpful attendant gives me the address of another place. I get there and they take the car. This is a place where they stack cars on lifts. Interesting!

So I take the last few things out of the car and now have only a 9 minute walk to our apartment. Parking will be 30 Euros per day. I don’t know if that is a bargain but the parking meters we were at cost 24 Euros per day to keep them fed. So I get back to the apartment and find Elee up. She has been up and down all night doing laundry!

Well the good news is our laundry is all clean! So we head out and find coffee and pastries (after having one cup in the apartment) and head towards the river. We walk by the Piazza De’ Pitti (The Pitti Palace) but we don’t ever find out what it is except a very large building. We spot a water drinking fountain like ones we saw in Rome several years back. You turn on the water and block it with your hand and a fountain squirts up to drink from! We cross the river on the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge lined with shops and vendors and some very nice views! We were here 7 years ago with my mother in law in a wheelchair. Even a local poses for my camera!

It’s a much more leisurely trip this time and we treat ourselves to taking our time and enjoying the views. Our cameras are happy and in their element once again! From the Ponte Vecchio, we walk on to the Uffizi Gallery Museum and see works by Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, and others. The famous painting, Birth of Venus is on display! We find a worker in the museum that helps us to an elevator out as the elevators seem to be restricted. Elee’s knees thank the lady profusely!

From the museum, we head towards the Duomo which is as spectacular outside as we remember! This trip we queue up to go inside, something we didn’t have time for last trip here. After about an hour queue, we go inside. It is interesting but a bit underwhelming compared to other Duomos and Basilicas we have been in but still interesting. Our cameras enjoy the trip and we leave happy. There is a bell tower here, that, for a price, I could climb the 414 steps to the top. Normally, I wouldn’t pass up the chance, but today, my feet and knees rebel and my cameras frown at them! But a curious 24 hour clock catches my camera’s attention!

On our way back to the apartment we find a wine and cheese tasting store where you choose as many wines as you like and automatically serve yourself tastings and they bring you a cheese platter of tastings to go with it. The proprietor, Lucrezia, at Tuscan Taste Wine Tasting Room takes a liking to us (might have something to do with telling her I am a winemaker) and chats with us the entire time, telling us about the wines and cheeses! We add a few more grape varietals to our hunt to join the Century Club (tasting 100 different varietals) and I think we are over 60 now! A rich person’s Alpha Romeo is just parked in the street wherever he wants to park it! Street art in the form of chalk paintings abound! Random store displays catch our cameras eyes and a fun carousel is spinning!

We head back towards the apartment and look for restaurants that serve ‘Bissteca Alla Fiorentino’, a 3 or 4 inch thick beef T-Bone, aged 45 days and cooked over charcoal. You pay by the kilogram at between 50-75 Euros per kilogram with a minimum of 1.2 kilograms! But 2 people share the meal! A very famous dish here! Unfortunately you need reservations made days in advance to get it and we didn’t make reservations. We find one place across the river that tells us we don’t need reservations but it is too far to go on our weary legs! So Elee cooks pasta in our apartment called ‘Trofi’ with a pesto sauce that we found in, wait for it, a gas station on the highway! She perfects the ‘Al Denti’ method of cooking it and it comes out marvelous!

So, being saved from going down and up our 6th floor walk up apartment on sore feet, we watch some shows on Netflix and kick back. Clean the kitchen and sit down to write this blog and the evening wanes! Good night everyone!

2023 Italy Day 10 Pisa

La Spezia to Florence. Thursday, March 30

We awake in a gloomy morning in Fezzano Marina. We pack up and prepare to head out. Walking over to the caffe (Italian spelling) to have breakfast, we find it closed. Odd, we think! So we load the car and head out towards Pisa. We find a service area on the highway that has a caffe and we get coffee and meat and cheese sandwiches. Tummies full, we move on along. The total drive to Pisa is just over an hour and the biggest problem we face is where to park the car. We find a neighborhood with a parking space and start walking. It becomes obvious after about a mile that we chose the wrong parking space! we also see what looks like newly built gates through the old wall of the city!

So we go back to the car and re-navigate to the entrance of Cathedral Square, the location of the Leaning Tower and Duomo as well as the Baptismal building (the other building of note here). We find a parking lot labeled Tower and Duomo and all is good! Now, for the record, we have been here before, albeit with Elee’s mom in a wheelchair which limited our mobility.

Today we purchase tickets for Elee to visit the Baptismal and Duomo, and for me to visit the Duomo and Climb the Tower of Pisa! So Elee heads off to the Baptismal and I head for the Leaning Tower. We meet up in a half hour and visit the Duomo together.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa… Quite the building and I get to climb it! When I am allowed in, I am immediately shocked! Did you know that the Tower is hollow? Really! It’s a hollow shaft in the middle which makes up most of the building! The outside diameter consists of another marble wall with steps about 3 feet wide that you climb in circles all the way to the top! The occasional window lets you know where you are. There are windows about every two floors, one window per floor!

But here’s where it gets interesting! Because of how the tower leans, you lean with it as you climb! So the walls change from leaning right to leaning left as you go around and around! The wear on the steps changes from side to side also, depending on which side you are on! There are no railings at all on the entire climb so you find yourself bracing your hands on the walls all the way. Now also keep in mind that up and down traffic uses the same stairs so when you pass people you have to let go of that wall, LOL. The following photo is taken with a correctly straight horizon! The fence is not straight because that is the lean of the Tower!

But the end result is worth it! Stepping out on the top and walking around the Tower, seeing the Duomo roof looking down, and the rooftops of the surrounding city is a sight for sore camera eyes! My cameras threw me kisses all the way around! Wait! What is this? I find another doorway with even narrower steps! And they go up! Yes, up! Okay then, don’t call me late for dinner! So I go up these 2 foot wide steps. Oh, right, people come down these too! So it’s a bit of a challenge but what’s an adventure without a challenge? Right? So on up I go, squeezing tight to the side as others come down! I don’t know if the bells in the Tower are ever rang anymore. They weren’t while we were there.

I come out at an even higher level and my cameras are even happier! Then I spot another spiral staircase that goes up even further! Oh bummer, this one is closed off! Oh well, it is a fantastic view from here! So I let my cameras play and they are like little kids in a water park! I tell them enough, it is time to go and if they could wail out loud, they would! But since I am the boss they have to listen and I have a date with my one true love somewhere down below!

So down I go, another challenge in itself as many more tourists want to come up! At least the tickets are limited and timed to restrict the crowds and I make it to the bottom unscathed. As I walk out to finish getting the photos of the best lean shots, I hear a familiar voice call my name and there my date stands, getting her own shots! So meeting up is easy and we head off together to visit the Duomo!

Tickets are necessary to all 3 important building here and I love it! It means the crowds are limited (and the crowds in the place are huge, much larger than I remember in the last visit in October of a year) and it helps with getting good photos! We assess the crowds and a vast majority seem to be Spring Breakers. Even though we are more than a week away from Easter! So, I digress but we go into the Duomo and it it again spectacular in it’s own right! Altars and ceilings galore assault our cameras lenses!

I have espoused my opinions before of the grandiose spending of wealth that it took (takes?) to build such marvels and what that wealth would have done for the betterment of society directly, but I will leave that on the table as I am a hypocrite like many as I see these places and all I want to do is see more. So we take the obligatory photos of our attempt to support the Tower!

Tower of Pisa History:

Did you ever know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is empty from the inside and not a multi-story residential tower?!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

It is a cathedral bell tower in the Italian city of Pisa, built in the Field of Miracles.

Let’s get acquainted with the Leaning Tower of Pisa from a structural point of view:

Its construction began in 1173 AD and they began to establish the bases and then the walls, and after the building reached the third floor, it was noticed that there was a slope.

Can you imagine that a tower weighing 14,500 tons is built on foundations 3 m deep and installed on sand and silt?!!

After discovering the slope, the engineers built the rest of the floors (external walls) so that the height of the floor in the inclined direction is greater than its height in the other direction.

Which increased the inclination of the tower due to the sinking of the foundations in a greater proportion in the soil, due to the increase in the weight of the floors.

Among the reasons why the tower did not collapse:

The construction continued for 199 years, and the construction halt in it for a long time is one of the reasons that allowed the soil to compact, which reduced the rate of inclination, and thus the tower did not collapse completely.

The clay soil helped and the main reason for the tower’s tendency not to collapse and its resilience in front of 4 earthquakes.

The engineers calculated the center of gravity of the tower, and it was concluded from the calculations that the tower collapsed completely upon reaching a slope of 5.44 degrees. The tower was closed in 1990 at a tilt of 5.5 degrees, yet the tower did not collapse.

Attempts made to stop the tilt of the tower and not collapse:

Digging deep holes in the ground at a depth of 40 m, and installing the tower with iron cables through the holes. Liquid nitrogen was pumped, which led to the freezing of water in the soil and its expansion and contraction again, which led to the subsidence of the soil and the subsidence of the foundations, and consequently the slope of the tower at the rate of its inclination throughout these years.

They dug 361 holes and injected the soil with 90 tons of cement, which led to the tower’s tilt strongly.

And finally, Soil Extraction was used in 1990:

The soil was removed from the non-slanted side so that the tower tilts in that direction, then iron cables were used to fix the tower bases in the ground and the slope was reduced to 4 bikes, and this was what it was at the beginning.

The engineers could have made it vertical, but they didn’t want to lose its fame and tourist value because of its tilt.

And after that was completed, the tower was opened.

And it was confirmed that the tower could endure without any collapse for 300 years.

So we walk away, not unchanged, and move on to our destination tonight in Firenze (Florence). Another hour plus of driving and we pull into Firenze again marveling at the ancient architecture! The cars GPS gets us to Firenze, but is not able to find our actual destination. But my iPhone with an Italian sim card works like a dream! We only use it for fine navigation as we did not pay for Unlimited Data Usage.

We locate our building but now the problems begin. We rented an apartment on AirBnB and the communication on AirBnB is less than stellar. Probably won’t use that company a lot in the future especially because of this issue. We spend over 2 hours trying to contact the owner and AirBnB much to no avail. Finally, AirBnB helps us fix the issues and we get access into the apartment, a 6th story walk up! Now those of you who know us know that Elee needs knee replacement surgery and has it scheduled in May and July. But in the meantime, we trudge up 6 flights of stairs!

We decide to minimize our needing to go up and down stairs and we find a restaurant for dinner and I have a pasta dish with Lamb Ragu Sauce. Great taste but I’m unimpressed with the cook of the noodles. Having experienced good Italian ‘Al Dente’ pasta, this is a bit overcooked. Flavorful yes! Elee has prawns and calimari steak and is also unimpressed. Okay, but just that. But okay we have a place to stay and dinner was not that bad.

We ask our waiter to help us get a taxi to our car because it is almost a 15 minute walk one way and we are tired. (Got 13000 steps in today! LOL) So he calls a taxi and he takes us to our car and loads up our luggage for us and takes us back to our apartment. I tip him well and he is happy! But now we have the 6 floor walk up, LOL

Lucky for us that we are traveling light with only carry on luggage! I carry our luggage up while Elee manages to carry up our portable cooler with the salami and wine! LOL The apartment has a washing machine, which we knew of in advance and we planned this as a laundry stop. Too bad it took several hours to get into the unit for we had planned to immediately get laundry started. But it’s going now and the “One Hour” washing machine label takes almost three! So 11PM and one load is done. But there is no dryer! So wet laundry is spread out on radiators and a couch to dry. There are clotheslines out a window but we are reserving those for shirts and pants. What we have done so far is all our underwear!

But all is working out and we are not stressing. This is an adventure, after all! And it’s time to turn in! Photos are loaded! Text is typed! I’ll get it all put together soon! And laundry is moving along! Good night all!