Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Snapshots-Tuscan Hill towns

Over the past week we have been traveling all over Tuscany. We have managed to see about ten hill towns in a week, not too bad. This might be a longer post since we saw so much, but definitely more photos than writing, the photos speak for themselves.

Volterra

The Roman ruins

San Gimignano

As we headed into town. A fun fact about this town is it is the only place that has a DOCG white wine in Tuscany. There is a ranking system in Italy (DOCG, DOC, and IGT) and DOCG is the best. It is called Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

The city center

Castellina in Chianti 
and Dievole where our wine tour was. If you are ever in Tuscany you should consider staying or going to this place.

Second stop on the wine tour in the old cellar. I learned so much about Chianti wine on this tour. Like a Chianti Classico is only made in Chianti, Italy and it has a special label with a rooster on it.

Doesn't that look like the face of a wine connoisseur.

The Luke's enjoying the wine on the wine tour

Our amazing tour guide Dario Castagno. If you are ever in Tuscany he is your man. Also he has written a few books if you want to check them out on amazon or his website. I bought his first book called Too Much Tuscan Sun.

Cortona aka the city that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed

A really cute park as you entered into Cortona

The amazing view from up on top of the hillside in Cortona

I just loved all the doors in Italy and this one was a good one.

The view looking back at Cortona

Riserva di Fizzano

Justin had to go here because during the winter they train Olive Garden chefs. He was hoping for endless breadsticks and an Andes mint at the end. They didn't have those, but it was our favorite meal in Tuscany. A little out of the way, but worth the trip. Check it out!

The vineyards

Not too hot and sweaty so we took a cute picture amongst the vineyards.

Through the hillsides

Everywhere we drove there were fields of sunflowers. I have never seen so many sunflowers. It almost looks fake. 

Montalcino

I don't have any good pictures of this place, but this is where the best wine in Italy is made. It is called Brunello di Montalcino. We did manage to buy six bottles and send them to the States for Christmas presents. The wine has to age 5 years until it can be sold so right now they are selling 2005. A 2004 bottle was a 5-star year and 2005 was a 4 star year (the scale was out of 5 so it is good) Supposedly this wine is top 10 in the world.

Montepulciano

More amazing views of the hillside

The streets lined with wine shops

Another great view, I hope all the pictures do Tuscan justice. It was really breathtaking all the views.

What a lot of streets looked like in Italy. I imagined it to look like this and it did.

The second best wine can be found here. It is called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This is me sampling a glass and again very good. I haven't had one wine I didn't like in Italy.

Tuscany has been a trip of a lifetime and I think anyone should come here to just experience the culture.
Next is our ten day cruise around the Mediterranean, not sure if I will have wireless on the ship.

Ciao for now!

-Marisa

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Snapshots-Pisa and Viareggio

There she is.....the only reason anyone has heard of the town of Pisa.  It was originally built as the belfry for the church behind it.  Started in 1173, it went through at least three architects before being completed in 1350.  The last two architects tried to correct the problem on inclination, caused by a subsidence in the soil, by adding tiers slightly tilted back the opposite way.  The rest of Pisa......not the coolest place in the world.  In a way it's like Roswell, NM - it's only known for one thing and once you've seen it you might as well leave.  

Of course we tried to get the predictable shots of us trying to hold up the tower using cheeky angles, but some times it works out best to go with the standard couple shot.

A view of the "Campo dei Miracoli" or field of miracles which includes the tower, church, and baptistery in Pisa.

After Pisa, we headed north to the beach town of Viareggio on the Ligurian Sea to see how the Italians do the beach.  Most of it is privatized, so you have no choice but to buy chairs and an umbrella for the day (about 25 Euros, plus 4 Euros per towel).  It was a pleasant experience with plenty of people watching, but the water could've been cleaner.

One first at the beach was watching a girl around the age of three pee in a hole in the sand then about an hour later proceed to poop in a sand bucket. It's cool though, after covering it with sand it made it to the trash can.  We also saw plenty of speedos and just plain small bathing suits on all ages, shapes and sizes. Don't worry no pictures of that.

-- Justin 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Snapshots-Siena

View of Siena

At a glance you think this picture is of Marisa, but looking a bit closer you realize that the picture is actually of someone else....

Il Campo - the plaza where the famous Il Palio horse race takes place on July 2nd and August 16th.  People pack into the center and horses representing teams from the 17 contradas (neighborhoods) race around a dirt track around the outside of these posts.  Each contrada has its own colors and mascots that range from caterpillars, to snails, to trees.  Wish we would've made it in time to see it.

Italian gelato - this is a glimpse of the grandeur of this amazing treat.


Inside the Duomo in Siena - very impressive interior with marble carvings in the floor depicting scenes from the Old Testament and carvings of the heads of all of the popes around the ceiling.

Another view of Siena.

One of the numerous pottery shops in Tuscany - they have some nice regional patterns that they paint on any piece of pottery you could want for your home.

Siena Duomo from the front.

Siena rooftops.
-Justin

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Snapshots-Tuscany

Yesterday we arrived in beautiful Tuscany and to our surprise we have wifi! The countryside is absolutely amazing. It is a little hot and the villa doesn't have AC, but the surrounding setting is making up for it.


Our Villa

More of our villa

Our first home-cooked meal at our villa. All the essentials!

Our view as we ate dinner..AMAZING!

We will be staying here for a week with day trips to all the hilltop cities. We will be visiting the beach, villages, and of course some vineyards.

Falling in love with Italy!

-Marisa

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Snapshots- Florence

With the Luke's, my hot hubby and my trusty Rick Steves' guidebook in hand we headed out on our three and half week summer trip yesterday. Since we will be traveling all of July and not sure where we will have internet we decided to do a fun thing with the blog. Instead of telling you all the stories now we will just post a few snapshots from that day, week, city, etc. We hope you will enjoy traveling with us over the next few weeks throughout Italy and a little of Greece and Turkey. Also we hope we can give you a few cool pictures to look at along the way.

Duomo aka cathedral 

Baptistery, Giotto's Tower and Duomo

Ponte Vecchio bridge on the Arno river.

A tradition you see throughout Europe is locks on bridges. The locks are put there by lovers and after locking their love, they throw the key into the river to show a commitment to each other.

A few more days in Florence then off to Tuscany for a week. Happy summer traveling wherever you are!

-Marisa

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Luke's Do Germany!

Summer Break 2010 has started and after one week off, we got the party started with our friends Cole and Becca Luke visiting from Ft. Worth, Texas.  Cole is an old high school friend of mine and we haven't seen him since he and Becca got married down in Mexico in January of 2009.  We were super-stoked to see them because not only were they going to hang with us in Germany for a few days........they were also going to join us on our trip to Italy!

It was the first time for Cole in Europe and Becca's first time in Germany so there was a lot of culture, sights, and food to squeeze into four days.  They trusted us to be their tour guides for a few days and we gave it our best shot.....

Perfect timing........on their first day Germany played Argentina in the Quarterfinals of the World Cup.  We went to this public viewing (it was an hour before, which explains the lack of a proper crowd) and later to a bar to watch the 4-0 waxing.  

Everyone's a fan here.....especially during the World Cup!

We took a train up the Rhein River to St. Goar to catch this sick view - just before peeping an old castle and taking a boat cruise back down the Rhein.

Cole and I found the cannonball stash at the castle.

We got off the boat at Bacharach and took the time to sample some wine from this region.  Germany makes a darn good riesling and this was a fun way to try a little of everything.

Cole had the form down for sampling wine.

On the third day we set out for a hike in the Taunus mountains near Koenigstein.

We finally made it down to Heidelberg - one of the most touristy little German towns known to Americans.  It even has a Hard Rock Cafe!  I guess it's famous because it survived the war rather unscathed, there's a huge castle to visit, the oldest university in Germany, and it's just a nice town to walk around.  This is an old bridge across the Neckar River (same river that Tuebingen is on further south) as seen from the castle.

Marisa posing outside of the Heidelberg Castle.

Heidelberg Castle from the town.

Marisa and Becca in the town of Heidelberg.

So, we tried to give them a crash-course style Germany trip and that's what we came up with.  They loved the food, the architecture, the train rides, and the little German towns.  We were properly worn out before setting off on our big trip to Italy!

- Justin
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