Hello, friends! Super sorry for the long hiatus with posting. Hopefully some of you are still out there… Jon and I have had a bunch of trips over the last couple of months and we haven’t been able to properly write. But, that ends now. Hopefully the exciting content coming in the next few posts makes it up to you… 🙂
Our first trip was to Italy. And man, it sucks! JUST KIDDING, it’s amazing. What an incredible place! If you recall, I had a hard time separating my impeccable Spanish and French on our trip to France, so I feared what would also happen when I got to Italy… It ended up being just fine! The Italians loved me! We were there for the wedding of our dear friends, Alysse and Josh, and decided to suffer through going a few days early, to explore some on our own. So that my ‘post isn’t too long’ (ahem, I see you, Jon), I’ll just give you the highlights. (I’ll try, anyway.) We stayed in Rome for three nights and got all of the main sights in: the Pantheon; the Trevi Fountain; the National Museum of Rome (where there was a huge collection of ancient art and I got some spoilers for what’s to come in HBO’s “Rome;” should’ve finished it before we came!); the Colosseum; the Forum, where we saw the Arch of Titus, the Basilica of Constantine (huge structure that served as a house of law), the Temple of Vesta (virgins!), the Temple of Julius Caesar, the Forum Square, the Temple of Saturn, etc.; the Capitoline Museum (more ancient art); the Jewish Ghetto; the Trastevere neighborhood; Vatican City (hi Pope Francis!) – St. Peter’s Basilica (it’s a football field from the ground below the altar to the top of the dome!) and the Vatican Museum; and Via Appia Antica (a road from Ancient Rome). All the while, we ate gelato every day, had insanely good pasta and walked over 9 miles a day! Yahoo!
We took a very fast train to Florence where we could only stay for one night, so we had to get moving! We did a ‘Florence Renaissance Walk’ and saw the Duomo, its bell tower and its Baptistery (where they do the baptisms, apparently). We saw the Piazza della Signoria (with a replica of The David) and the Logia (where there are other famous statues such as the one where Perseus cut off Medusa’s head and the one called ‘Rape of the Sabiens’). We also walked down to the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge from ancient Rome (the only one left after Nazis bombed the others in WWII) that goes across the Arno River. It houses gold and silver shops – there used to be butchers and other types of merchants back then – and is packed with people. We went to the famous Uffizi Gallery and saw amazing works by Rafael, Leonardo and Michelangelo. The next morning, we woke up early and went to the Academia Gallery to see ‘The David’ – woah. Big. We wanted to go into the Duomo but the line was as insane as the day before so we got gelato, instead. Darn… We then drove to La Selva Giardino del Belvedere, the villa in Chianti where we were going to be staying (and where the wedding would be held). It’s a big house with lots of bedrooms. And they even used the original staircase in the remodel, trying to preserve as much as possible! There was a lovely welcome dinner for everyone and we stayed up late, talking and drinking. It was delightful.
The next day, we woke up a little later than usual, to try to catch up on sleep, and went downstairs to find the bride and groom already awake, prepping coffee! They’d bought some breakfast stuff for everyone, which was super nice, and then Jon and I then headed out for our ‘Heart of Tuscany’ drive. (Some folks were going on a winery tour that we were sad to miss, but Jon had always wanted to do this drive. FOMO, for sure.) We arrived in Montepulciano, an ancient, hilltop city. Just beautiful. We stopped to get tea and a spremuta (fresh-squeezed OJ, which was a staple) for me and coffee for Jon, as the weather was crummy and we were cold. We then headed out to find our first taste of wine (for the day) and visited the Cantina Contucci, a 1,010-year old winery. (Yep, 1,010.) We drank Vino Nobile, a mix of four grapes that were grown really close-by. We then went to Montalcino, a town famous for its Brunello. We went to a wine cellar in the famous fortress, Enoteca la Fortezza, which was super cool. We tried three glasses of Brunello, each, and yum. They then gave us a bonus glass, a 2010 – which was considered the best vintage in 30 years. Woah. We then drove to a winery in the southern part of the region, Ciacci Piccolomini D’Aragona, which was just beautiful. We bought a bottle of Brunello, obviously. Our last stop was Pienza, for dinner, and had a great meal to finish off the day.
The next day was the WEDDING DAY! I helped Alysse get ready with a few of her other friends and we had a really nice morning! We steamed/ironed/blow-dried her dress, watched her do her hair and make-up, had lunch (brought by the guys), had rosé, etc. The ceremony was in an amphitheater made out of big boulders and it was just beautiful. After, we walked back to the main villa for cocktail hour – aperol spritzes and amusés, yes! – and got nice and tipsy. We then started a multi-course, delicious meal, where we were regaled with a few roasts, I mean toasts, and an amazing slide show that Josh made (where friends sent messages, including Jared Leto – WHAT?!, 311, Collective Soul, etc.). Then, the cake was cut and the dancing started. What a party! We all rocked it and enjoyed wine, limoncello and some more wine.
The next day, the group drove to Siena and we walked around with our adorable tour guide who lived in the city and clearly loved it. We learned about the fierce loyalty to one’s neighborhood (demonstrated by their world-famous, annual horse race) and about the local food. It was quite a beautiful place, nestled on top of a hill, with narrow streets and busy alleys. The tour ended and we went to get gelato and dinner (at a ‘secret’ meat restaurant with its windows covered and amazing cuts to choose from) and ate in the famous plaza where the horse race is held, Il Campo.
The last day, we all went to the train station in Montevarchi to go to Florence for the day. Jon and I had seen a lot of the sites already but it was fun to go with the wedding folks. After the tour, we went to have lunch at a self-service cafeteria. The food was so-so but the atmosphere was interesting, especially with it being mostly Italians eating, along with a table full of nuns. After, we went to sit at a cafe and had dessert and drinks before going back to the train. Everyone started packing to go home the next day – 😦 – and then we had a ‘good-bye’ pizza party. It was super yummy and we ate way too much. = The theme of the trip.
After we said bye to our new friends, we headed out for our last day in Italy. We drove to Civita di Bagnoregio, an ancient, hilltop town that has been completely vacant after people kept moving away/dying over the years. It used to just have a path up the mountain that was for donkeys and then it became a bridge, which ended up being bombed in WWII. They recreated the bridge in the 60’s and the town is now a really popular tourist destination. (There are a few B&B’s and restaurants there, but that’s it.) The views were incredible. We then drove to Orvieto, another ancient town, and returned the rental car. We took the funicular up (as going by foot with our suitcases would’ve been nuts), then had to take a bus – it just went in a loop from the station to the Duomo and back – and then walked the five minutes to our hotel. We went to their Duomo, a huge church in the center of the city. (It is the seat of a bishop, apparently!) After a gelato break – duh – we went to the Pozzo della Cava, a museum that was created to show the tunnels that used to be main paths of movement throughout the city. Our last stop was St. Patrick’s Well, a place that was created in the 16th century by the Pope at the time who had fled Rome when it was sacked. He demanded that it be built because he was worried about running out of water. It has a double-helix staircase so the donkeys and people could walk up and down without creating a traffic jam. (496 steps for the round trip!)
The next morning, we got to the train station for our transit to the airport. We were super worried the whole way because there was a nationwide strike scheduled for that day for the air traffic control staff. We saw that our flight hadn’t been cancelled yet so we checked in and went through security (which, incidentally, was super quick since around 70% of the flights ended up being cancelled). We got ramen for lunch (naturally), one last gelato (of course) and took off. Amazing.
Thanks, Alysse and Josh, for choosing to get married in Italy!! What a trip! Arrivederci!!
– By Naama
p.s. Next up, Israel!