Trip was great. I don't think I've ever had more fun. Visited (in order): Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre (stayed in Monterrosso), Florence and Siena (day trip from Florence).
Highlights, in no particular order:
- Gelato. Everywhere. I was on a mission to try and find the best gelato place that I could. Since the gelato shops were everywhere this was a serious undertaking; you'll be happy to hear that I was up to the task.
- The view from the roof in Florence. Just look at it.
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa at night. We were the last people allowed up and it was fantastic. No crowds, pleasant weather, and a panoramic view of the town. Took no photos so you'll have to get your own.
- The food and views in Lucca. It's a tourist town but it is a beautiful place to visit. And the food was great.
- Blue skies, every day. They do a brisk business in crisp blue skies in Tuscany and the Italian Mediterranean during the summer. I think I was there for 5 days before I even saw a cloud. I wore a lot of sunscreen. And a rather dashing straw fedora.
- Views in Cinque Terre. The Girl took some pictures in the various towns but I haven't seen them yet. And may never. I posted a link in a previous entry so you've already seen some great pics. Spent a quiet beach day swimming around the Italian Mediterranean. Like the gelato research it was tough, but I struggled through it. Hiking the towns was awesome too. It's not an easy hike but it is beautiful and rewarding.
- Florence. It's full of tourists, and deservedly so. It is beautiful and the sights in and around the city are superb. DO go see the David at the Academia. DON'T bother with the Uffizi unless you loooove Renaissance art (I don't). DO avoid the gelato places on the main streets and get involved in the places on the side streets. Special tip: if you cross to the south side of the Ponte Vecchio and head east along Via de Bardi, you can find gelato that shames anything else you might try. I forget what the place is called, but here's a link to a map. I recommend the mascarpone and Nutella gelato. Beyond good. Not sure that 'good' is even the right word; I need a new word to describe it because I ran out of superlatives. How about "worth a trip to Florence"? Yeah I think that covers it.
- Cooking class in Florence. Learning + fun + delicious food = win. The Girl's family gave her the gift of a cooking class at a restaurant / farm in Figline Valdarano (outside Florence) for her birthday. So we took the train out there one evening and made ourselves dinner. I took a LOT of beautiful pictures of this (with her camera) and I'm working on the post-processing. The important thing is that it was amazing. We cooked everything for our dinner from scratch (except the pasta). So we made focaccia, biscotti, stuffed calamari, stuffed zucchini flowers, broiled fish on garbanzo beans, and some other stuff I'm forgetting. Everything was locally grown on the farm (except the seafood, which was caught the night before): olives and olive oil, eggs, vegetables, etc. The chef cooked with us for about 3 hours and then we sat down and ate. We ended up preparing much of the food on the menu for the evening, so while we were at dinner the calamari would come out and we would look over and say, "yeah we made that." Super awesome fun time and one of the most cool/unique things I have ever done.
- Walking through Siena on a Saturday afternoon. I could do a whole post about Sienese culture but it would take too long. Suffice to say that the place is worth a visit. Stroll through the town. Soak up the atmosphere. And when you're there take a class at the...
- Tuscan Wine School in Siena. More super awesome fun ways to learn about Tuscany in general and Siena in particular. Originally wanted to take the 1 hour 'crash course' but it was booked. That worked out well because the 2 hour course is superb. Highly recommended. You get to sample some delicious olive oils, breads, cheese, and wines. So good. You will return to the streets of Siena in a festive mood, so you might want to hike any stairs BEFORE you take the class. Just sayin'.
I'm sure I'm leaving some stuff out, but you get the idea. Crammed a lot of activities and sightseeing into a relatively short span of time.
If you want specifics or recommendations on stuff I didn't cover here just let me know.
Thanks for reading.