Northern Italy: Europe Keeps Throwing Us Parties & Finding All Four Ninja Turtles (Tuscany, Florence, & Venice)

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It took us all of two hours to fall in love with Tuscany. Well, a little hilltop town called Montefioralle to be exact. After picking up our car Sunday morning and speeding north out of Napoli (any tickets show up in the mail yet, mom?) we were on our way to a slower 3 days Under The Tuscan Sun based in the heart of Chianti. A “desperate thirst” led us to a quick stop through the renowned wine town of Montepulciano. Contucci Cellars is well regarded in wine circles and an article about their 800 year old wine cellar drew us in.  It was a wonderful introduction to the area.  The wine cellars feel like they’re 2,000 years old…no problem believing they’re 800, the owner is a wonderful host, and the famed “Vino Noble” was everything we’d hoped for. But, we had a date with Chianti, so we didn’t linger in town after enjoying our wine.

An hour later we arrived at our AirBnB, escorted by our host because in her lovely British accent, “there’s rightly no way a’tall to find our house on your own.” Perfect by us. Up the hill, around the corner, onto the dirt road, through two vineyards, down into the Valley, and low and behold, the perfect little Tuscan farmhouse pictured above lay in front of us. Surrounded by an olive grove to one side, vineyards to the other, and the resident vineyard dog at our feet, it was as perfect as it looks.

After the usual walk-through our host dropped the bomb, the neighboring hill town heard we were coming and decided to throw a party in our honor! Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. But, they were by chance in the midst of the last night of their annual Medieval Wine Festival. Jesters in costumers, Falconeers, and most importantly every wine maker on the hill (which, was a lot) was in attendance. 6 euros bought you a glass and unlimited tastings,  we are told we had a grand time 🙂

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We capped the night off with a delicious dinner featuring local flavors. Cinghiale (wild board) stew for Grant & a delicious walnut cream sauce over ravioli for Kate. Wild board is extremely popular in the Chianti region and pork is generally the meat of choice in our experience. Basically, it’s culinary heaven.

The next day brought wine tasting around Tuscany, a very different experience than doing so in California. Instead of huge businesses run by wine conglomerates and dozens of pourers manning the bar, you venture down dirt roads hoping to find a local farmer/wine maker who’s 1) not on siesta 2) willing to share his delicious vino with you.  It was both wonderful and a touch frustrating.  In the end, we emerged Vino Victorious and after a day of tasting returned home to drink wine, grill the famed Tuscan beefsteaks we’d procured (which we found out from our hosts are almost exclusively from Spain) and just enjoy an evening.

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It was the perfect night. Steaks grilled over our hosts olive wood, drinking our hosts estate wine, & watching the most lightening bugs you’ve ever seen light up the forest beyond. When you think of days in Tuscany, this is what you’re dreaming of.

The next day brought a bittersweet goodbye to our little Tuscan “home”. We were ready to see more of the region, but for the first time just weren’t ready to leave where we were staying. Oh well, ever onward. We packed our bags, but left them in the car and trudged back up for one more look around Montefiorrale. Our host had suggested a winery at the top of the hill and we figured we’d combine a visit with a quieter snoop around town, sans jesters and whatnot.  We drank the best wine we’ve had to date on the trip on the little jaunt and enjoyed these views. Needless to say that cemented Montefiorrale as the star of our Italy trip.

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The next 24-hours was a hill town whirlwind tour. Leaving Montefiorrale, we headed to hill town superstar Sienna an hour south. While the town didn’t really grab us like it does some, the views from it’s Duomo museum were certainly world class.

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Sienna is most famous for it’s semi-annual Palio  were the piazza you see below is filled with ten thousand spectators, dirt, and thundering horses urged on by jockey’s representing the cities twelve districts. We’re told it’s a Yankees v Red Sox level rivalry, only with 12 teams, 60,000 people, and they all live inside the same walled city. Fair to say, one get’s the sense it’s quite intense.

We got a break-of-dawn jump on the following day as we were an hour from Florence and still wanted to squeeze in a quick visit to San Gimignano all before the car had to be back at the airport by 10a.  There has been a recurring theme already in past posts, we love exploring places sans other people. Well, at 6a you’ve got San G all to yourself. Walking alone among it’s famed 14-medieval towers, narrow streets and town square was the best possible way to send off our time in Tuscany.

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Driving in Tuscany, not so bad. Driving in Florence (read, Italian cities) a whole other world. Once out of the car, it was quickly easy to see why everyone falls in love with Florence. The amount of art, beauty, food, and outdoor spaces in such a relatively compact space was traveler condensed joy. One problem, mother nature wasn’t in a cooperative mood. Florence marked the start of what has been more or less nonstop rainy days since. Not that it dampened our spirits, but it did slow us down some. Our aggressive two day schedule in Florence got reduced to a more leisurely pace of dashing to a site and then staying put. Luckily, the rain subsided enough for us to enjoy a Renaissance walking tour of the city to get our bearings and learn the city’s amazing history.  We quickly found a piazza to rival Navona, our darling thus far,  in the sculpture heavy Piazza della Signoria. Our clipped schedule kept us from visiting “the real David,” but even this copy was truly something to marvel at…as was the funny band in their “period” costumes.

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Up early to beat the late-morning forecasted rain, Piazzale Michelangelo high above Florence provided amazing views of the city.

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After a friend’s recommendation (thanks Julissa & Hector!) we dodged the rain and headed to a rooftop cafe with just terrible views (sarcasm font).

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Then the rain came, the “raining cats and dogs” type of rain. All that water did have an upside though. It flushed all the Ninja Turtles out of their sewer layer! We found Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, & Leonardo all hanging out in the Uffizi Gallery that afternoon. We’d previously seen lots of Mikey & Raphael in Rome, but Donatello & Leonardo had been evasive. Grant was happy to find them and Kate was happy Grant stopped making corny “Sensei, where is Leo!” references. Add in some Caravaggio, Titan, Botticelli and a dozen other masters and their masterpieces and Uffizi earned it’s can’t miss tag in our books.

By the time we emerged the rain had given way to a perfectly still evening. We enjoyed dinner and strolled across the Ponte Vecchio, it was a wonderfully relaxing end to a slower paced Florence visit.

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Up with the sun and off on the run would have been nice the next morning. Instead, it was batten all hatches and make a rain soaked, pack covers cinched run for the train station at 7:30 the next morning. We had just 30-hours in Venice and again, the rain was along for the ride.

Venice is like no place I’ve been, I suspect it’s like nowhere else on earth. A once world-power city state, now a museum of itself; streets are rivers, town squares are bays, taxis are boats, up is down and Kentucky has straighter roads. But it’s still beautiful.

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We spent our time dodging rain storms, throngs of tourist’s near-lethal umbrella eye stabs, and getting “misdirected’ in the never-straight streets of Venice. All said, we did two crucial things that made the experience. We cruised the Grand Canal and toured St.Mark’s Square, Basilica, and the adjoining museum. All were truly top-notch tourist experiences.

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We topped it off by finding a great bar, as close to a neighborhood joint as you can in Disneyland Italy, and enjoyed a wonderful meal, good wine, and the best olive oil we found in Italy. It was the perfect top-off to a wonderful visit.

We really liked Italy, parts we loved. It was a great launching point for the trip. But, we were primed and ready for Germany. And little did we know, Germany was primed and ready for us (did you catch that plural “parties” in the title?).

So, with a $35 RyanAir flight we said arrivederci to Italy and guten tag to Germany. That story is up next.

See you ’round the beer barrel!

Mr. & Mrs. Trading Paradises

Sent From: Trier, Germany

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5 thoughts on “Northern Italy: Europe Keeps Throwing Us Parties & Finding All Four Ninja Turtles (Tuscany, Florence, & Venice)

  1. I am so glad the recommendations were helpful! I love reading your updates, to the point I have to make sure nothing is going on around me so I can fully appreciate every word and pretend I’m traveling with you in spirit. Note: I seriously do read this with my chin resting on my palm. Miss you Kate!

    Liked by 1 person

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