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My 50th Birthday Present to Myself, ITALY!

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
By Pokey from Massachusetts, Fall 2004
Venice, Florence, Radda in Chianti, Assisi, and Rome. Oct. 3-22, 2004

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

Venice, Magic and Mosquitos

Finally! After almost one year of planning, the day is here! Oct. 2nd, I head down via Amtrak to NYC where I meet up with Anthony. We quickly agree that, yes, I have way too much luggage. Do I really want to lug two suitcases around? Do I really need my 1 1/2 inch barrel curling iron? (actually I did, but that's besides the point. I consolidate and am pleased that now I have only one suitcase and one carry on bag!

We have arranged a car service for Sunday, October 3rd, to pick us up at 3:00 pm. The driver is about 20 minutes late but we arrive at JFK in one piece and have no trouble getting our bags checked and seat assignments on Alitalia.

We just look at each other and smile! We're ON OUR WAY!!!

The plane is full but we don't feel cramped. No problems with the flight. I take 1/2 an Ambien and that helps. We arrive in Milan on time and have about a 1 1/2 hour wait for our flight to Venice. Kermit and Pokey come out for air.

The flight to Venice was also full but I was lucky enough to sit next to the pilot of our JFK-Milan flight! He was very very kind (nice on the eyes too I might add). I thanked him for getting us to Italy safely. Looking out the window, he pointed out areas as we were approaching Venice. When we landed, he directed us to the area for the bus to Alilaguna.

This was a great way to begin our vacation. The boat ride to Venice was magical! It felt so "right" to be back in Venice and we sure did enjoy getting to Venice via the Alilaguna boat.

We got off at stop San Zaccaria which was the nearest to our Hotel Al Leon (Campo St. Filippo e Giacomo, Castello). We are all smiles, so thrilled to be in Venice again (we were here 2 years ago but only for one day and night).

We lug our tired, yet excited, bodies and luggage to the hotel. We are welcomed and (knowing we are too early to check in) drop our bags off and go exploring! Anthony gets money from the Bancomat (hassle free....the way to go in my opinion). We grab a bite to eat and I'm pinching myself, I'm in Venice, whoo hoo!! We head back to the hotel and go to our "pretty pink room" and unpack a bit, take a well deserved (and needed) shower and take a "power nap".

I get out my copy of Chow Venice and we decide on Vino Vino. At first I'm not too thrilled but Anthony has a good vibe about the place so we stay. I'm happy we did. It's delicious and we meet a group from England that are hysterical. We chat and laugh and drink with them for a few hours. A great first night in Venice! We stroll back to the hotel, via St. Mark's square where they are filming an untitled Casanova project. It's fun to see the actors in 18th century period costumes.

We have a wonderful night's sleep, well, until the mosquitos start biting! It is very warm and there are no screens on the windows which we have open. Thankfully there is a portable fan in the room which we have on full blast. The AC has been turned off for the season. Lovely. With my hot flashes this isn't going to be fun, LOL. I end up with so many bites on my face that I refuse to have any pictures taken while I'm in Venice....well, no close ups. My face looks like it's covered in boils, mosquito bites the size of dimes. I am not happy about this, but I'd rather have mosquito bites in Venice than in Boston. Italian mosquitos love me.

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Venice Canal
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Walking Around with Nowhere To Go

Our first full day is Tuesday, Oct. 5. The only thing we have planned is to find the American Express office to buy our Eurostar tickets for our trip to Florence on Friday. We find it eventually, get the tickets (we decide on 1st class). We enjoy visiting the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in the Cannaregio district. We also buy a few souvenirs and enjoy smelling all of the lovely handmade soaps at LUSH on Strada Nuova.

We have dinner at Ristorante Marco Polo(Castello S. Lio, 5571). A patient of mine had recommended this place and we decide to give it a go!

The staff is very friendly. I have Prosecco di Valdobbiadene extra dry. Anthony has Pinot Grigio, Marco Felluga Collio 2003.

We start with the shrimp and polenta. I've never had anything like this before and it's so delicious! I enjoy the warmth of the polenta mixed with the coolness of the shrimp. It's a great new taste sensation.

We then have the lasagna with meat sauce followed by "maiale", pork, which is breaded then fried. It's very thinly cut, crispy and not greasy. Delicious. Total for the food and drink was Euro 91.00.

The bathroom's very clean although the toilet seat is so low to the ground that I consider dialing 911 to get my butt off of it. Our waitress is very sweet and has funky red glasses. She lets me take her picture.

We head back to the hotel, stopping by to watch more of the movie that is being filmed. St. Mark's is lit up by the production lights. We take advantage and snap pictures. We notice that wooden planks are piled up here and there, ready to set up in case of aqua alta. It's all very exciting!

Back to mosquito-ville (and no, it hasn't occurred to me to buy "OFF"). I'm a glutton for punishment. I'd rather bitch about the bites. I don't like my picture being taken anyway.

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Venice Cannaregio
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Visit to Burano

We have our breakfast at the hotel (included in the price of the room), then head over to buy our tickets to Burano. The boat leaves at 1:15pm and arrives at 2:20pm. What a colorful island! You can't help but smile! The houses are bright blue, red, pink, purple, oh my God, a rainbow of colors. We're lucky as it isn't very crowded, so we can take our time and just stroll. I buy a lovely hand embroidered sachet pillow (5 Euro) and a few glass dishes (7 Euro each). These are for souvenirs....yeah, like that's gonna happen! Well, I actually do give my mom one of the glass dishes (made on the island of Murano....it swam over evidently).

Anthony is out of control with picture taking. My "inanimate traveling companion" Pokey gets his picture taken. Kermit gets in a few shots too. We stay a few hours, then head back.

We walk to the Accademia Bridge in the Dorsoduro section. We enjoy this area very very much. Not so touristy as where we are staying. We take the water bus back to St. Mark's square, peek into Harry's Bar (no, I didn't get around to trying a Bellini, grrrr). Oh, I stop in the Farmacia to buy the Oligodrops which I'd read about on the Slow Travel message board. I also buy Minerva's wooden matches. Seems the matches I brought along are so old they won't light. The matches in Italy are works of art in themselves! I end up buying quite a few to give as gifts. They don't give out matches like they do in the States. Since I don't smoke (anymore....yippee for me, patting myself on my back), I didn't know if you had to buy the matches or not.

I can't remember what we did for dinner, evidently I drank too much wine at lunch. It is still very warm and humid. I was hoping for much cooler weather, but I'm in Venice so I really don't care. I am so happy to be here.

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Burano
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Our Last Day in Venice - Strolling Around

We hop on a vaparetto for a trial run to the train station. We found the track that we would be taking for our trip to Florence.

Next, we walk past the Hotel Continental, which was where we had stayed in July 2002. We peek our heads in to say, "Hi" and find the entire lobby totally remodeled (we liked it the old way).

Nearby we purchase some wine and potato chips and just walk! We head for the Ghetto district and really love this area. We notice quite a few "Pace" flags. We stopped at a tiny little bar, "Campalto Aldo e Anna" (sorry, no address, but it wasn't far from the ghetto area we had just walked from). I have a panini with pancetta, cotto and brie. I also have a few "cicchetta", croquette patate and papate cipolle. Anthony also had olive ascolarle (?). Everything was scrumptuous! We each have a birra; mine was Biere du Desert (Canadian) and Anthony had Chimay from Belgium. This bar has beers from all over the world. A really fun place. We sit at a small table outside looking at a canal. This makes us very happy.

While in the Cannarigio district we visit Chiesa di S. Marciliano.

After walking back to the San Marco area and to our hotel, we rest up and head out for the evening. We ate a late dinner at a small Osteria we just happened upon. It was 10pm and we were hungry! Osteria al Garanghelo via Garibaldo-Castello near the Arsenale vaparetto stop. I have prosecco (8 Euro) and Anthony has house cabernet (7 Euro). We have melon with prosciutto (10 Euro)( a very large serving). We both have the lasagna, which was delicious (it had peas in it....different for me). The waitress was so sweet, spoke little English. We gave her two NYC keychains, and she was thrilled. I took a cute picture of her and Anthony. We really enjoyed this place. There were locals galore having a great time and they were all very friendly. We really enjoyed our last night in Venice.

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Bluetarp boat
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Florence and Fried Fish Plate

Since we took a trial run the day before, we had no problem getting to the train station. We have a nice trip in first class, about a 3 hour ride to Florence.

We take a taxi to the Il Carmine apartment(located in the Oltrarno area). Miriam, the landlady, greets us and takes us directly to the Mirra apartment. We love this place. We take pictures before we start unpacking and trashing the place, LOL. We walk to "our" market, Magi Market and stock up on groceries. Thanks to the Slow Trav notes we know to put on plastic gloves before we start touching the vegetables. We also know all about the scale and pressing the appropriate keypad to get our bar coded sticker to place on the bags of veggies! Thank you Pauline for the great notes on grocery shopping! We are happy to see that the prices are so inexpensive, especially just coming from Venice. My bottle of Orvieto Classico "BIGI" is only 3.15 Euro. A steal. We buy olives, salami, bread, kleenex, water, gorgonzola cheese, grapes, red onion, milk, coffee, frozen potatoes, pancetta, giardiniera antipasta and few other odds and ends. Total 23.56 Euro.

I had printed out Marion's award-winning Florence trip report and we decide to eat dinner at Trattoria Il Carmine. For the antipasta we have chicken salad. It was very light, meaning not too heavy with mayonnaise. It has celery and peas, **wonderful**. I have seafood ravioli which is so good I wanted to lick the plate. (I did....not). I took a chance and ordered the fried fish plate. Remind me never to order this again. I did try a bit of each fish. I drank a lot of wine too.

Afterwards, we went back to magi market and bought ice cream bars. We go to bed rather early because we know that we will have a full day tomorrow.

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Il Carmine kitchen
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Brunelleschi and the Beatles

After a delicious breakfast that Anthony made, we head over to the Cathedral. We were here 2 years ago, but now that I've read Brunelleschi's Dome, I am more in awe than ever at its magnificence. I am disappointed to learn that we are unable to climb to the top, so we decide to climb Giotto's bell tower. (417 steps I think. I lost count after 236). The assent to the top was sometimes a "narrowing" experience. Towards the very top I was getting that "MRI" feeling, so I start singing Beatles songs and that gets me through! The view from the top is spectacular. Pokey even gets to take a peek! It's raining so the streets below are glistening. The white, green, and pink marble of the cathedral is shiney and seems to come alive in the rain. Viewing the dome from this height is a memory I will cherish forever. I feel as if I could reach out and touch it.

After our descent, we head over to the Baptistry, and we are happy to have binoculars with us. The mosaics of the cupola are so wonderfully detailed that it is nice to see them upclose. We have been looking up so often at frescoes and ceilings that we refer to our neck pain as "fresco-neck".

Another highlight of this day is our tour of the Duomo Museum. Of course we are blown away looking at the original Baptistry door panels. Also, I am especially impressed with "the Magdalen" wooden statue by Donatello. Michelangelo's Pieta is breathtaking. I highly recommend including the "Museum Dell 'Opera Del Duomo" on your visit to Florence!! We are tired and head back to the apartment for a glass of vino and snacks. We are delighted to see a newlywed couple running for cover from the rain, heading towards the Ponte Vecchio. The bride is "bellissima", (hubby is quite the hunk I might add), and we ask if we could take their picture and they pose for us. The hem of her gown is filthy from the rain but she could care less. It's her wedding day and she is all smiles (this would be the first of two wedding day photos I get to take, the other in Rome).

For dinner, we meet with Jim Zurer and his lovely wife at I 'brindellone which is a 5 minute walk from our apartment in the Piazza Del Carmine. It's fun for us to meet with fellow Slow Travelers. Jim is amazing! He knows so much about Italy. Of course we pump him for advice, and he is very willing to give us some! Diana, Anthony, and I share Bistecca Florentina. The meal was delicious, another great day!!

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Pokey and the Dome
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Bacco, Boboli, and Brancacci

Relaxing morning, and typical for us, we get a late start. We head over to Boboli Gardens. It is raining but it doesn't stop us! Pitti Palace is closed but we certainly do enjoy touring the gardens. Somehow Anthony and I get separated so I walk around and take a ga-zillion pictures. The view from the top, up near where the porcelain museum is located is breathtaking. I take a picture of a young couple from California, and they take my picture with the beautiful Tuscan background behind me. I love all of the cats that are wandering around the gardens. It makes me miss my two back home more than ever. I FINALLY see Anthony and Kermit, yippee!!

We walk through the mud towards Fort Belvedere but the gates are locked and we can't get in. We head down to see "Bacco" and the grotto. We pose Kermit and Pokey with Bacco. (The picture turned out great, one of my favorites). Of course, we also take pictures of Buontalenti's Grotto. There is so much to see and it's all so gorgeous! I buy a few small watercolors from a local artist outside of Pitti Palace. It's hard to choose but I am very pleased with my purchase.

From here we go to Il Carmine church and the Brancacci Chapel (which is a stones throw away from our apartment). We are pleased that it isn't crowded, a certain number of people are allowed in at a time. We pay an extra Euro to watch a documentary about the history of the chapel and its remarkable frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi (Lippi's house is next door to our apartment, so we refer to him as "our neighbor"). We can take photos only without a flash. The colors are bright....oranges, corals, pinks, blues. Frescoes upclose and personal.

Miriam, our landlady, recommends we eat dinner at La Casalinga (Piazza Santa Spirito). I recall this restaurant was mentioned by Marion also so we knew it would be good. We're seated quickly and even though our waiter seems a little "gruff", we know that deep down inside he;s a pussycat! We share crostini misti and prosciutto with mozzarella. We both have the house red which we enjoy. We also have spaghetti alla bolognese and Braciola di maiale (pork). We think it iss very good; the total is 40,50 Euro.

After dinner, we waddle to Gelateria La Carraia for dessert. This place is awesome. We had gelato here two years ago and I had to return (we had no idea it was so close to the apartment when we first arrived in Florence). Another perfect day in fabulous Florence!

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Bacco with Kermit and Pokey
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Almond Paste and Skeleton Keys

We pack and drop off our luggage with Miriam as we are not to pick up our rental car until 4pm. We beeline it over to Il Forno, the bakery, and Anthony buys a slab of "fig delight", a decadent mixture of figs and pastry with a custard filling. He carries it around like a baby (this lasts him almost 4 days. Now, if I had bought a pastry as delicious as he claims that was, it would have been gone within the hour.....hence, he is skinny and I am....not).

Anyway, we cross over Ponta Carraia and make our way to SM Novella. We take the Rick Steves tour from his book and find it informative. We stare in awe at the Crucifixion by Giotto, and I love the pretty pinks and blues of The Trinity by Masaccio. The 3-D effect is pretty cool. (I'm sure "cool" isn't the proper word here, but, well it was pretty cool).

From here we walk to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di SM Novella. Ahhhhh......what an absolutely gorgeous place and the smells are heavenly. We pick up our "menu" and begin testing scents and creams and soaps. I buy one jar of the almond paste hand cream and one bar of almond soap. (12 Euro for the bar of soap...I know extravagant but what the hell) and the hand paste is around 20 something Euros.

I have to use the bathroom, and one of the English speaking staff asks me to wait just a minute, well, this minute turns into 5, then 10 and I'm doing the pee-dance at this point, deciding it's better to wait than to wander outside and who knows where I'll find a bathroom. Finally she comes over to me and hands me a VERY old looking skeleton key and directs me out the door, down the small ramp and to the first door on the right. I unlock the door and enter into an enormous bathroom, complete with shower and a basin that looks like even I could bathe in. This is one bathroom I will never forget! I imagine the hundreds of Florentine pharmacicts and herbalists that have used this bathroom. If I had a candle, I would have lit it. I pass off the key to Anthony where he is reminded to "lock up" (while waiting for him I end up buying two more jars of almond paste)**wink wink**. It's a fun experience!

By now we need to head back to the apartment to grab a taxi, which will take us and our luggage to the Avis located at Via Sosposso (? spelling). We make a final stop at Magi Market for some grocery supplies for the apartment we rented in Radda (one of Anthony's purchases will be the source of a great belly laugh later on in our travels). We say goodbye to Miriam and present her with a few New York and Boston souveniers, which she appreciates and likes very much. (This will be a highlight of our trip, presenting little "tokens of appreciation" to people we meet along our way).

Anyway, the cab ride is quick and we are greeted at the Avis office by a friendly gal and she introduces us to our adorable Migane car. We laugh when she hands us a credit card sized piece of plastic and says "here is the key". The card is inserted into a slot inside the car and you press the "start" button, LOL. We love our car and off we go! We have printed directions for getting out of Florence, but none the less, we end up back where we started a few times. We laugh and shrug our shoulders.

We eventually "get outta Dodge" and head towards our next stop Radda in Chianti. We will miss Florence very much. My only two regrets, not being able to get into the Uffizi and not buying a "Brunelleschi-dome" umbrella. Next time.

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Happy Couple in Florence
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Radda in Chianti, Heaven on Earth

Anthony is an awesome driver, he is so patient. I am navigator and I have maps available within arms reach. We have detailed instructions to Chianti Cashmere and although we get a little bit turned around we find it.

The scenary is breathtaking, I know I use that word a lot, but it really does take your breath away. We drive the S.Strada towards Greve (Rte 222) and onto Radda. With every turn and curve of the road we feel like we are watching a fireworks display, "ooing" and "ahhing" with every new sight. The hillsides and vineyards, filled with clusters of grapes, ripe, ready to harvest. It is exactly as I imagined.

We pull into the driveway for La Penisola and it is a narrow little lane to Nora's farm and our home for the next 5 nights. Nora, the owner, is not here, but we are led to our little apartment overlooking the Volpaia valley by one of her employees. The young lady doesn't speak much English but she understands that we are here for the apartment. The key is in the door, she opens the door and says "have a nice holiday....Ciao"! and off she goes.

We were so in love with the apartment in Florence that we didn't expect to be even more in love, but as soon as we walk in, we know that this is our Eden. We climb the stairs to the loft where the bedroom and and skylight are. It is so peaceful here I could cry. We take pictures before we unload our car, and we meet the adorable Bolognese dogs that Nora raises. The runt, Pepe, quickly finds a place in our hearts. The goats are "baahing", the dogs are barking, the cat meowing and I'm crying because I am so utterly happy. Anthony is also overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of our "home" in Tuscany.

We drive into town for a bite to eat and stumble upon Pizzeria Da Michele where we will dine again another night too. Our waitress Francesca is a delight. We share Fagioli All Olio (2,50 Euro). I have pizza (pomodoro, mozzarella, salsiccia, cipolla) 6 Euro. My pizza is at least 10 inches in diameter and the crust is paper thin. It's very good. Anthony has Pica Alla Contadina, long thick pasta with rustic sauce, (sausage, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes) for 7 Euro. We also have wine although I didn't write down the type. Total is 21,70 Euro.

Back to the farmhouse where we relax and get aquainted with our little place. We are happy to find an entire collection of travel books and SLOWTRAV printouts from previous renters!! We also find printouts from Diva's website, restaurant recommendations in this area. We read over these and make a few notes! Off to bed, we climb the stairs to the loft, and we both hit our heads a few times on the low beams, LOL (we quickly learn to duck when we're at that end of the loft). I awake in the middle of night to see stars through the skylight, a very beautiful sight. I thought of waking Anthony but decide to relish in this moment all by my lonesome.

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Cashmere in Chianti
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Shopping for Toothpaste in Greve

We have a delicious breakfast, thanks to Anthony and his culinary skills. We relax, read a bit, take a lot of pictures of the dogs and goats. Pepe sneaks his little furry self through the fence between the apartment and Nora's farmhouse to visit us. The cat comes over too and we love being surrounded by all these wonderful animals.

We leave about 2:30 pm and drive to Greve to do some shopping at the COOP. It doesn't open until 4pm so we walk around the cute little town of Greve. There is a small produce store open behind the COOP where I buy pistachios and Anthony buys olives. We are at the door when the COOP opens, don our plastic gloves and start shopping for produce. I buy toothpaste (Colgate), wine and a few other things. We stock up on coffee, water, and some meats and cheeses. We buy our plastic shopping bags at three cents each. (I forgot the canvas shopping bags as recommended in the SlowTrav notes).

We stay in tonight, I am so relaxed I'm exhausted! I hop into bed to read and (hopefully) get a good night's sleep. All of a sudden I hear Anthony downstairs and he is laughing and saying "oh my God", laugh laugh, "Pokey come down here", I hop out of bed, practically knock myself unconscious on a beam, and stagger down the stairs. Well, it seems the eucalyptus "toothpaste" he bought was actually "SAPONE DA BARBA" soap for shaving! Well, we laughed so hard our sides ached. LOL. (Just a little "aside". Anthony brought along his IPOD and his mini speakers, it was great to have a little stereo system with us).

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Goat and baby
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
It's Raining Frogs on The SS 429

**Just a Note Before I Forget** For driving in this area near Radda, Greve, etc. get yourselves a FREE copy of the Black Rooster map by going to this website monterinaldi.it. Just fill out the form, and viola! free very informative map. All they ask is that you send them a postcard from where you live. How easy is that? Our copy of the map was tearing apart at the seams because we used it so much. I saw the exact map for sale in Radda and it was 1,50 Euro.

I am up early to do a load of wash. The two couples that had been renting the farmhouse had left early so we're able to put our laundry on a rack inside the house (it's raining off and on, so I don't hang the things on the line). While in the farmhouse I snoop around and this place is LOVELY. It Sleeps 6. Very very nice. There is a pool too. Anyway, I digress.

We first arrive in Colle Val D'Elsa. We had been told by quite a few to make sure we go to the "upper" part. We love the town, and I buy a few souvenirs from a funny man with a cat named "Squinty". ("Souvenir-Tabacchi Sapia"). We sit on a bridge and watch the schoolkids going home wearing their white robes and colorful backpacks. We love this place. We visit Chiesa di Santa Maria in Canonica and the 15th century altar piece "Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist, Lawrence, Mark & Nicolas, Peter, Paul and Mary" (just kidding about the last 3).

It is getting cloudy and starts to sprinkle, but we head to San Gimignano (or as we call it San Chimichanga). I love that I had seen the movie Tea with Mussolini....I felt I "knew" this place. We walk around and although it is a bit too "touristy" for us, we do enjoy it here. We have a delightful meal at La Stella, sitting next to a lovely couple from Germany. Anthony tries the wild boar and it is quite tasty! I drink a LOT of white wine, the local wine and it is the best I've had (well, second place to the Prosecco I've become quite fond of. I'm turning into a Prosecco whore).

We start to head home getting all turned around in Poggibonsi ("Pokey-bonsi"). We are finally back on Route 429 and it is pouring! We notice "things" in the road, stop to look and see that they are frogs, maybe toads, "ribbit ribbit"....it is raining frogs! Anthony does his best not to run over any. We didn't notice any frogs legs on the tires the next day. It was a harrowing drive for him in the rain, but we found that the windy roads were well marked with florescent arrows. It took us about 1 hr 20 min. to get back to Radda.

The next day we took a tour of the Castello D'Albola winery (and as we love to do, we lovingly refer to this as Castello del Ebola). Since it is harvest time not many of the wineries are giving tours. We head back to Pizzeria da Michelle and our waitress Francesca smiles and says hello. We have a lovely meal (each having another enormous pizza, mine with ham and artichokes, Anthony's with black olives and ham). Before we leave, we present Francesca with a NYC keychain and a Boston bookmark. We pose for a picture, hug goodbye, and say Ciao. We really like this place and highly recommend it. We'll miss our little Francesca.

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Megane car
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Volpaia and Goats Milk Products

It is very windy. The dogs are safe inside. We are worried about our little Pepe. We borrow Nora's phone to make a reservation with 3 Millenia tours in Rome for Oct. 21st. She has a little store where she sells wonderful goat's milk soaps, cashmere wash, and beautiful cashmere shawls, baby blankets, stoles, etc. We buy soaps for gifts and a few for ourselves. The soap is wonderful.

Nora gives us directions to the tiny town of Volpaia. This is the town we see across the vast expanse of beauty we see every morning. There are very few tourists and we love the quiet. Local children get their dog some water from the town fountain. We see men busily carting bottles of wine and peek inside an area where the wine making is in progress. There are no tourist shops. What a wonderful town. We are only sad because we know that we have to pack our bags, load the Megane and leave this little piece of heaven.

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Volpaia street
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Assisi and The Broken Key

We are sad to say goodbye to Nora, the goats and especially our favorite little runt Pepe. Nora gives us directions to Assisi (much better than the ones I had written down). The drive to Assisi is very pleasant. Anthony is happy that he can finally put the car in 5th gear.....puttin' the pedal to the metal! We are stoked to finally get to an Autogrill! We do some shopping, I buy Baci chocolate and bananas for me along with 2 bags of Tuscan bean soup mix for gifts. We have a little snack and take a picture of the Autogrill. I wish they had this kind of rest stop in the States!!

We stop and take a picture of Assisi, nestled upon the hill. We make our way to the security police at the entrance into Assisi. She gives us a car pass and directions to the Hotel Pallotta (47,00 Euro/double). Anthony does an amazing job of driving up the CROWDED narrow streets. We make it to the Piazza del Comune without running over a nun. We are not sure where we are supposed to be, so I get out of the car and ask and am directed to the Trattoria Pallotta just a few hundred feed away (it is a delightful, family run hotel and trattoria, although the hotel entrance is up the steep hill, naturally).

We finally park the car, and I climb the steep steps to the front of the Hotel but it is locked. I buzz....I buzz again. Nada. I am tired and have to go to the bathroom, so this is not something I am happy about. It is also very hot, we were so happy with the cooler weather up in the hills of Radda. I get to the bottom of the stairs and an adorable little mustached man asks in very broken English, am I the guest for the hotel. I say, "si si" and he walks us up and opens the door. He is Walter, the father. It seems Stefano, the son who runs the hotel, is out of town. He takes us to our room and we are given the blue metallic key to our room and the strong sturdy key to the main door. We move our car to a nearby public lot and walk back down to our hotel on the Via S. Rufino, just up the street from the Temple of Minerva, a great location.

The hotel is small and there is a wrought iron spiral staricase that takes us up to the "Bellevedere" for a beautiful view of Assisi. (Our room #12 has a great view of the dome of Chiesa Nuova). We go back to the room and I proceed to break the room key inside the lock. Perfect. Just what I need. We try to get the door open but we cannot.

I go down to the street where Walter is "manning" a local artists gallery. I give him my cutest dimpled smile....hold up the broken key and say "oops". I am prepared for Walter to go into an Italian rage and start yelling about the stupid Americans, etc. He does nothing of the sort. He laughs....ha ha ha....and says "no problem". We go up to the hotel, he grabs a swiss army knife and a screw driver. After some patience and my handy flashlight that looks like a credit card, he is able to line up the broken bits and the door opens. He completely takes the locking mechanism out of the door and bangs on it until the broken bit falls out. He gives us another key, the original we think. He also presents us with the broken key and says "here, souvenir". It was too funny. We stop by his store and thank him again and make reservations for dinner at the Trattoria.

We walk around, visit the Temple of Minerva and get familiar with our new "neighborhood". We relax in our room munching on tangerines that are available for guests on a big plate (also Baci chocolates on a big plate...danger danger Will Robinson!!). Dinner is delighful, we meet the rest of the family. I start with 1/2 litre Frizzante (4 E), We both order the Lasagne al forno (8 E) and Salsicce alla griglia (grilled pork sausage) 9 Euro. We love that they bring a big pitcher of water to the table. We get a 10% discount because we are guests at the hotel. For those of you that are vegetarians, they have a menu "eno degustazione vegetariano".

We grab a gelato from the Cafe Minerva which will become "our little place". We are happy to be back in Assisi!!

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Assisi PAX
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Foligno and a Funeral

Monday, Oct. 18th. I'm up early in order to get to the information office before it is too crowded. It's located in the Piazza del Comune, so very close! The lady is very helpful with directions to Foligno and how we would catch the train back to Assisi.

I stop by the Cafe Minerva to get hot chocolate for Anthony and "coffee Americana" for me. The owners are a charming couple, (he is usually there in the evenings serving up gelato). I asked her for two coffees and two hot chocolates "to go". She didn't have a holder for the four cups but she carefully stacked them and I told her I was very good at balancing, but if she heard an "AHHHHHSH*T" she would know I dropped them. She laughed.

I made it safely back up the steep hill with the coffees. The coffee is wonderful but the hot chocolate, DECADENT! (thanks to Diva I know now that it was Eraclea chocolate mix).

We decide to return the car early; we're anxious to explore Assisi. The drive to Foligno is easy. After some confusion with the gas station attendent, we found the Avis rental place but no one's there! The sign indicated that someone SHOULD be there until 13:00 hours. I ask a lady in the store next door if she knew where the rental agent was and she says she's probably out back. She calls her, within minutes a very nice young lady comes out, we turn in the keys and said our goodbyes. We really loved our little car!!

The Avis agent helps us buy our train tickets for our return to Assisi. We were extremely happy with our car rental experience. The train ride back to Assisi is quick....10-15 minutes. We then hop on a bus back up the hill and we are dropped right near our hotel.

We visit St. Rufino's Cathedral. It's here that St. Francis preached for the first time. While we're in the church, we notice many locals coming inside carrying flowers....lots of flowers. We look outside and there is a hearse. Oh my, a funeral is about to take place. We stand to the side while the casket goes by up the aisle, and then the priest. We stay for a while and listen to the service.

We quietly leave and then walk to the Basilica Di Santa Chiara. There are many tour groups so we sit for awhile on the wall and enjoy a conversation with a local tour guide. He recommends a place to eat dinner. We spend time in the Chapel of the Crucifix (so named because it hosts the Crucifix which spoke to St. Francis at the beginning of his conversion). Beautiful. We head back to the Hotel and rest.

We dine at Pizzeria Otello which is located just down the street from our hotel (V.S. Antonio 1/A ). We start with pumpkin soup "zuppa della casa, con zucca e sedano) 4,40 Euro. I have stangozzi al tartufo (6,80 Euro) and Parmigiana di melanzane con mozzarella (5,00 Euro. This was recommended by the tour guide we met earlier in the day). I also have a small beer "piccola" Engel-Brau for 2,10 Euro. We enjoy our meal very much. The staff is very friendly and they do have a menu in English, although we rather enjoy trying to translate with our Marling Menu-Master!!

We head back to our friend at Cafe Minerva for our gelato dessert. He recognizes us and asks if I made it back to the hotel that morning without burning myself.

Back at the hotel we have a nice chat with one of the waiters from Trattoria Pallotta where we ate the night before. He stays at the hotel on the nights he works. He lives in Perugia and goes to college. There is a "common" room at the hotel with a TV and "honor bar". I say buona notte, and I'm off to bed.

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Piazza Comune Minerva Assisi
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Vanishing Act in the Umbrian Fog

We have our usual coffee from our friends at Cafe Minerva. It is a very foggy and misty day. I'm not sweating, so I am very happy.

We walk towards the Basilica di San Francesco, taking our time and I am imagining cloaked, mysterious Umbrians floating along the streets...very medieval of course! It is an eerie kind of day, an easy day to disappear you might say!

We meet up with a very kind, elderly gentleman (he says he is 76 and I whip out a picture of my mom and try to fix him up on a date with her....too bad she is in California). Anyway he is Luigi Scar-something, a Frenchman now living in Assisi. He enjoys the company while he takes his morning walk. We have our umbrellas and it is a dance along the narrow ways, trying not to poke each others eyes out. We take the "upper" road to the Basilica, they are repairing the streets and we walk along wooden planks, trying not to fall in the mud. We hug our new friend goodbye as he is tired and turns around to walk back to his home.

We enter the upper church first. I remember it so clearly from two years ago. (At that time there was scaffolding up, repair work being done from the earthquake in 1997). We are happy that we are on our own and don't feel rushed as we look at each of the frescoes along the walls depicting the life of St. Francis ( no "fresco-neck" symtoms thank God).

Anthony is so intrigued by Cimabue's wooden choir, looking at each seat meticulously. He thinks he read somewhere that some of the chairs had hidden panels behind where the bearer of the seat could whip around and POOF! gone into a secret walkway. Now, I don't know if this is true of not, but as I am leaving to go down the steep staircase, I turn expecting Anthony to be right behind me but he is not there. I just saw him, like two minutes before! Oh well, I thought, I'll just head down to the lower church and the tomb, feeling certain that I'll run into him shortly. Well, three hours later, and I have looked everywhere. Down the stairs to the tomb , up the stairs...to the left of the transept, to the right, outside climbing up the steps and then down. My thighs feel like jello. I am thinking, he must have found the secret choir seat and he's been transported into another dimension!

I run into the tour guide we had met the day before and ask if he's seen Anthony, (he has not), and if he does please tell him that "Pokey" is going back to the hotel. I'm sure that all along we were missing each other by a matter of minutes...I'm going down into the tomb, he's climbing up the opposite stairs out of the tomb.

I finally say "screw this" (how inappropriate of me, I know) and grab a quick sandwich and two cookies. I walk back to our hotel and I am in a store buying a set of wooden salad tongs with "Assisi" on them when I hear "POKEY"!!! We were laughing so hard and trying to figure out what happened! We will never forget our day at the Basilica! (no secret choir seat I'm afraid)

We return to Pizzeria Otello for another delicious dinner. I have a beer (extra large this time)! I order Farro e fagioli al sugo di pomodoro 5,30 Euro and Salsiccia; pomodoro, mozzerella, salsiccia e peperoncino for 5,80 Euro. Of course we return to our friend for one more gelato! Tomorrow we take the train to Rome for the last few days of our wonderful vacation.

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S.Maria degli Angeli in fog
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Is This The Train to Rome?

We hate to leave Assisi. We say our goodbyes to our friends at Cafe Minerva. I give them a Boston magnet and they are very pleased. Stefano from Hotel Pallotta calls us a cab, and we are whisked away down the road to the Assisi train station. Our train is to leave at 14:10. We run into two young college-aged gals that are also on their way to Rome. We chat with a drunk man while we are sitting at the station. He becomes annoying and finally the police come and whisk him away.

A train pulls into the station and we hop on, the two gals we had met went into a different car. Well, off the train goes and I IMMEDIATELY get a funny feeling in my chest. The "oh fu*k I think we're on the wrong train" kinda feeling. I sense we are heading north, not south. (I have inherited my dad's sense of direction). I tell Anthony that we are on the wrong train. It is only 14:00, not 14:10....we ask a group of high school aged kids if this is the right train and they say "no." They are sweet and tell us to get off at the next stop, cross over the tracks and take the next train heading south. We try to find the two gals we had met earlier to let them know that they are on the wrong train too, but we can't find them.

The correct train arrives about 5 minutes later and off we go to Rome. The train is all second class. It is crowded but we find seats and no one seems to mind that our luggage is in the aisles. Everyone is very pleasant! We arrive in Rome to the hustle of a big city. I am tired and sweaty, not happy at all.

We walk to our hotel, passing the homeless and slabs of beef on the street, it's disgusting. We finally find our hotel; it is seedy looking but I tell Anthony I'll give it a try. It is called Hotel Akragas (via del Viminale 8). We fondly refer to it as Hotel Crack-Ass. I feel like I'm in a youth hostel. But, the room is big, has enormously high ceilings and is clean (a friend of Anthony's had stayed here and recommended it). I figure, well, we're just here 2 nights, so I'll deal with it. The only unfriendly, grumpy person we meet on our trip works at the desk.

We walk to the Colosseum as we are to meet up with a tour there the next day. We find a nice restaurant, Ristorante Fuluimari ( Via P. Amedeo 7/H), nothing FAB, but very good and friendly staff. I drink enough wine that I really don't care. We head back to Crack-ass and fall asleep right away. One more day and then we are going home.

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Forum
 

PokeyMindy

100+ Posts
Colosseum, Sistine Chapel and Goodbye to Italy

We have our breakfast that is included in the room-rate (70 Euro/night). It is basic, although the coffee is very good!

We are to meet with Megan, from 3 Millenia tours, at the west side of the Arch of Constantine. It is very hot and humid. We find Megan and are pleased that our tour will be with only 4 other people. We didn't realize it at the time, but 2 of the people on our tour are SlowTravlers!! (heidibr and her daughter). Megan is wonderful, very knowledgeable and a real delight. We highly recommend 3 Millenia Tours! (we found them on SlowTrav).

After the tour with Megan, we hop in a cab and head over to the Vatican Museums. We walk right in and buy the phones so we can listen to the taped information. The museums will be closing in about 1 1/2 hours so we are not able to lollygaggle as much as we'd like. The Sistine chapel is amazing. Anthony has the binoculars, and we sit on the benches along the walls and are mesmerized by the beauty. I cry. It will be one of my favorite memories of all times.

We take our time and walk back to our hotel. This takes us about 4 hours. I am so tired and cranky. I want to go home. We have dinner at Pummarola Drink, Via d. Maddalena, 16/19 (Pantheon) Roma. Our waiter is hysterically funny. He and Anthony have fun discussing politics. I have fun drinking prosecco.

We get back to the hotel and pack. I cannot believe that we are leaving tomorrow. This has been the best vacation ever. I will forever remember the beauty of Italy, the kindness of the people and the wonderful cuisine. I cannot wait to go back.

Our flight home is fine, no problems, we even have a seat between us so we can spread out. We have no issues with Alitalia. I left part of my heart in Radda, with that sweet little dog Pepe, and have since found out that he is now living with an eldery lady in Florence. I wonder if she'd mind me visiting Pepe on my next trip.

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Pepe and Pokey
 

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