“Do not dwell so much on creating your perfect life that you forget to live your life.”
After Paris, Valerie and I really wanted to visit Nice in the South of France. With the French holiday, all the trains were full for a couple of days, so we decided to head straight to Italy. First stop: Milan.
Once we set foot on Italian soil, we immediately noticed that people were very willing to help us with directions without any prompting. This is so helpful to a traveler! Not that the French were unfriendly, but the people in Milan were noticeably nicer.
We honestly weren’t that impressed with Milan, and it’s probably worth skipping unless you really like shopping. We looked at the clothes in a bunch of stores, but neither of us found anything we wanted to buy. The only redeeming thing about our time there was that we got two workouts in. So long Milan, hello Florence.
Not long after wandering the streets on the first night, Florence had won us over. The city is a perfect combination of culture, architecture, moderate tourism, and shopping. Throw in a day trip to Tuscany, and you have the recipe for nearly the perfect city.
A walking tour was the way we started off getting to know the city. We saw all the major Renaissance architecture, including the Duomo and the Santa Anna church. Quite impressive!
After the walking tour concluded, we ventured to the highest spot in the city, which also features Michelangelo’s David statue. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed with David because it looks like some of the pigeons ate McDonald’s before flying overhead. The redeeming part of the trek, however, was the spectacular view of the entire city.
There was a street market literally at the door of our hostel, so we had to walk through that every day. Then there was another fresh food market inside a nearby building, so we decided to see what that was all about. Milwaukee Public Market doesn’t have anything on this place.
On our third day in Florence, we took a tour of Tuscany, which easily ended up being the highlight of our trip so far. Valerie had booked the excursion to this central region of Italy before we left for Florence, and it was the cheapest one we saw, so I was pretty skeptical. My low expectations were blown away when we had an entire day filled with plenty of culture, excellent food, and copious amounts of wine.
The day started off with a quick jaunt to Monteriggioni, a medieval Renaissance castle in the hills of Tuscany. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest, and we got rained on a bit. That didn’t stop us from doing a small wine tasting inside the castle walls. The owner of a 55-year-old vineyard educated us on certified Chanti wines while we sampled a few glasses from his collection. Great start to the day!
Afterward we ventured to Siena, a small town famous for its twice yearly horse races. It was a picturesque city, though it rained the entire time that we were there. Wah wahhhh.
As our van of nine rolled through the Tuscan countryside, we took in some beautiful landscapes. I have to mention that our excursion was a blast because three super fun Indian couples from the US joined us. Niccolo, our Italian tour guide, also provided humor and great conversation the whole trip.
Our next stop was Sant Agnese Farms, a vineyard in Chanti. This is the most famous region of Italy for wines. The owner Carlo was not only extremely passionate about the wine and food that he makes, but he was also hilarious. I had just met him for two minutes, and of course I already had a question lined up. Without hesitation, he remarked in a thick Italian accent, “My friend, are you going to destroy me-a?” He also told the group that his wines are “Soft, but strong like Rob.” He certainly made this part of the trip very memorable.
The tour of his vineyard included an explanation of how Carlo also makes his very tasty balsamic vinaigrette. He has two versions – one aged eight years, and another that takes 30 years to make. The latter is one of the most incredible things we have ever tasted, so we had to pick up a bottle to bring back home. Carlo also let us taste samples of his amazing wines, as well as home made honey, garlic, tomato sauce, and olive oil. I honestly wish I could have brought back all of them.
After tasting some of Tuscany’s finest wines and food, our tour concluded with a traditional Italian dinner on a farm in the middle of the countryside. We were greeted by Gianni, a pleasant 67-year-old Italian man who was the owner of the farm. Although he didn’t speak much English, I could understand his Italian pretty well with my Spanish background.
Gianni makes his own wine with grapes grown right in front of his house, and there were not limits on how much we could drink during dinner. Val and I were each on at least glass eight in the picture above.
Dinner started off with a plate that included salumis, bruschetta, a poor man’s salad, and fresh mozzarella cheese. The salad consisted of cucumber, bread, onions, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. This was a traditional meal that Italians in past generations would eat to sustain their energy throughout the day.
The main course was spaghetti and meat sauce, not surprising. However, this wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill Creamette spaghetti out of a green box. Maybe it was the wine convincing me that this was the best spaghetti I’d ever tasted. The Italians like their noodles a little bit harder than most Americans, so that was a pleasant change to this standard dish.
After finishing a second helping, we all sat around and shot the s**t for a while. Gianni talked to us about Italian life and relationships, which turned out to be great perspective. We were supposed to leave the farm at 10:00 pm, but we were having so much fun that we left over an hour after that. What a fantastic end to a spectacular day!
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures from the trip. This is a picture of Val and I sitting at Gianni’s dinner table overlooking the Tuscan countryside at twilight. So beautiful!
Our next destination is the Amalfi Coast in the south of Italy, and then we will end the trip with a visit to Rome. Enjoy your Sunday!