Cinque Terre (Italy)

By the time we finished at Lucca, we were heatstroke’d and passed out all the way to Santa Margherita Ligure. I woke up to find this beautiful view:

We were staying at a Best Western in SML, but it was unlike what I imagined a BW to look like! I mean sure, the internet wasn’t great and neither was the AC, and the overall decor and atmosphere was at least a full star below what we stayed at in Florence, but the seaview really made up for it!!

The next day, we set off for Cinque Terre with the intention of starting our hike at Corniglia (pictured above) and hiking through Vernazza to Monterosso. It was a good, optimistic, intention. The weather was not kind, and I believe it was at least 85 when we started our hike in the am and slowly increased to about 95+ when we were hiking. Furthermore, I hadn’t anticipated such a hike with dirt, rocks, uneven terrain, relentless sun, and so did not pack adequately. Oh, and we only had one 20oz bottle of water each…

Luckily, there was a little rest stop halfway from Corniglia to Vernazza that offered free water, and we took a rest there, fully appreciating and accepting the kindness and generosity of the host and his sweet kitty. Water has never tasted so good…

We eventually made it to Vernazza (not without a few complaints and curse words from me) and stopped for a quick lunch. Unfort, all the restaurants there that we could find were pretty touristy, but it was still a tasty meal, what with mussels and caprese and such.

We decided to take the easy way out to get to Monterosso: by ferry. I think we spent probably a total of one hour in Monterosso, forty of them waiting for a delayed train back to the hotel, which explains the lack of pix/interesting things to say about it. Honestly, I don’t know much about Cinque Terre and whether it has anything to offer aside from the hiking trails and the views… Does it have any historical significance or sights? Specialty foods??

In short, the three terre that we saw were indeed charming, and the views from the hike were breathtaking, but I think that sort of activity and those views would be better enjoyed in the spring or autumn, before/after the heatwave. Cinque Terre was a part of the trip that I was expecting to be the highlight, but little did I know, the best part of the trip (so far) was yet to come…

Tuscany and Lucca (Italy)

We probably spent less than eight hours in Tuscany and Lucca combined…

After leaving Firenze, we stopped by a winery in Tuscany, called Varramista. It’s a gorgeous estate that was built in the 1400s as an outpost against the Pisans. The estate was gifted to the Capponi family to thank Gino de Neri for leading the Florentine troops to victory against the Pisans. Then, in the 1950s, the Piaggio family, the manufacturers of the Vespa scooter, made Varramista their permanent residence.

It wasn’t until the 90s that the Agnelli family, with the help of enologist, Federico Staderini, convert the land to vineyards. In its present form, the winery is fairly high-tech; the barrels are individually temperature-controlled and managed from a switchboard. The inside of the buildings where the barrels are kept are covered in mold. When we asked why they don’t clean it, our guide replied that they’re not allowed to because the vineyard is considered a historical landmark, and so cleaning off the mold would be illegal!

Then we drove over to Lucca, where we spent a couple hours walking around town to see the cathedrals, the garden atop the tower (no pix bc it cost money to go up/in), and the ex-amphitheater. The San Martino is the duomo of Lucca, built in the mid-/late- 1000s and renovated over many centuries. It is revered as gorgeous architecture, and it has many fine details in its structure that is almost impossible to capture in photos. For more info, go here.

We also visited the city walls of Lucca, which were built in the Renaissance era. I am unsure of their designer and purpose (some sources say flood prevention, others claim military purposes), but regardless, the top of the wall has become a park of sorts, where people lounge around and bike and walk and enjoy the sun. The wall is very wide, and they used to host car races on it!

We finished our time in Lucca with lunch in the square (Piazza Anfiteatro), which isn’t square-ish in the slightest. The elliptical-shaped piazza was initially built as an amphitheater by the Romans as a place for socialization and fights and other entertainments, but eventually became many things, including a fort during wars, a prison, and now, a piazza with restaurants, shops, and residences. Overall, I didn’t find Lucca to be too interesting, but perhaps that’s because we didn’t spend enough time there.

This post is as short as our stay in both places! We stayed in our next city, St. Margherita Ligure for a few days and visited a few terre of the Cinque Terre, so a longer post is forthcoming!

Firenze (Italy)

A few things I’ve learned about Italy:

  1. Italy is ridiculously hot in August. Like 100F+ when you’re inland.
  2. Italy is a lot more poor and a lot less glamorous than Americans (me) think (thought).
  3. Toscanans hate Pisans.

Our Italy trip began with a short stay in Florence. It was extremely hot, and it took some getting used to. Our jetlag made us even more uncomfortable, and so we took it easy for the first couple days. We stayed right in front of the River Arno by the Ponte Vecchio.

River Arno is about 150 miles long and originates from Casentino and flows thru Pisa to the sea (east to west). “Ponte Vecchio” means “old bridge,” and, according to our shuttle driver, it was initially built as a slaughterhouse. The initial slaughterhouses on land were too stinky, so they added theses houses on the bridge. The animals would be led there and slaughtered, and their guts and remains would be dumped straight into the river. The stinky water would flow to Pisa, which was perfect because┬áno one liked the Pisans anyway.

Our hotel was also really close to the city center, where the Duomo is. Florence’s Duomo is really an impressive building. My pictures don’t really do it justice. There are a lot of details in the stonework that is really humbling. The city center is also where all the fake (replicas) statues are, but I don’t have any pictures of them because I was too lazy…

We also went to the huge market in Florence to try the roast pork sammiches, as recommended by our friends. I noticed that this place was particularly popular with the Japanese crowd, as they had an article displayed where they were featured in a Japanese magazine. There were also many signs in Japanese describing their foods, and many Asian tourists were clamoring for a photo-op with their storefront… Anyway, the sammiches were good, although a bit salty for me.

Our first dinner in Florence was fantastic. We went to this restaurant called Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (Restaurant of the White Boar) (also at the recommendation of our friends) and ordered a meat appetizer, a cheese plate, and delicious entrees, including my “chicken in cheese sauce with truffles.” The decor was very unique, and it made the place feel very homey, like a mom-and-pop. Definitely a memorable eating experience. We also went to get gelato at least once a day so far, but it’s usually consumed pretty quickly before I get a pic ­čśë

On another day in Florence, we went to see The David. Michelangelo was only 26 when he was able to convince the Operai (essentially a public works committee) to let him finish what Agostino started, and it took Michy two years to finish what is now one of the most revered statues. The David is revered because it’s so different from all the other Davids. For example, in Michy’s David, David isn’t standing on the head of Goliath, a monster he’d slain. Instead, this statue captures him in the moment after he has decided to fight Goliath but before the fight has begun; in other words, “It is a representation of the moment between conscious choice and conscious action” (wiki article of The David). I don’t have any personal pics of the guy because we weren’t allowed to take pix. Plus you can just find him online.

Overall, Firenze was neat to experience but I’m not sure if it’s the most beautiful city in Italy, and unfortunately, I think the weather has had a really negative impact on my experience thus far. Like most tourist cities, Florence is a bit stinky and crowded (though probably less so than early summer when even more people are there). Wikipedia: Italy says that Italy is the 25th most developed country and ranks in the top ten of the Quality of Life index, but I think those stats are misleading. According to our Italian shuttle driver, 72% of their paycheck is taken from them in taxes- 51% top marginal tax (based on income) and 21% VAT (value added tax, or tax when a service, product, or material is added… I think). That’s a lot of money to have stolen from you!! So Italians have a difficult time covering living expenses and saving money. The Italian economy isn’t doing so hot, making it a less than ideal place where I’d want to live.

Our time in Florence was short, but there’s still a lot left to do elsewhere in Italy! Next post will be about our half day in Tuscany and Lucca!

Oh, and the answer to why the Leaning Tower of Pisa was built! We heard an interesting story from our shuttle driver the other day: LTP was built to boost the Pisan economy by increasing foot traffic in the area. The idea was that by building a structure that was a little off kilter (literally), it would increase public interest (because a leaning tower is way more interesting than a straight tower) and draw people to Pisa, as there was mass pilgrimage through the area at that time. An interesting and plausible theory!

Intro to Italy & Question of the Day

We made it to Pisa, Italy!

Our shuttle to Florence picked us up and took a special detour for us to see the Leaning Tower.

That’s our morning so far, it’s terribly hot here, and we’re all irritably jet-lagged, so maybe more later tonight!

QOTD: Why was the Tower of Pisa constructed?

(Answer tomorrow ­čÖé )

At The Cabbage (Wisconsin)

I always thought of myself as a city girl.

Born and raised in St. Louis, schooled in St. Louis, worked in Dallas, living in Orange County. And Winston-Salem, a step off a beaten path.

The past few days,┬áthe Lion and I have been┬áhanging out with his extended family at a beautiful cabin by the lake in Door County, Wisconsin. I don’t know how much you know about Door County (I hadn’t even heard of it before), but apparently it is THE place to go if you’re a Chicagoan.

The towns here are so small that I only have 1G on my phone (I didn’t even know 1G existed)! We spent our time here talking and eating with everyone, enjoying the views, playing video games, and of course, playing Settlers of Catan.

One morning, we got to visit the sheep from a nearby sheep farm (“wool farm”?) run by a couple who also hosts a b&b. The couple, Gretchen and Dick, are wonderful people, and their sheep are sweethearts who aren’t afraid to come up to you and ask for kisses (or give you kisses if you happen to be squatting down for a picture!)! The Lion and I have visited a small variety of backyard and larger farms, and they never cease to amaze and inspire us. I am really looking forward to having chickens and goats in our future backyard, and of course some herbs and flowers and vegetables and fruits too (fertilized naturally by our animals and compost bin). I think the quality and freshness of homegrown, organic foods just can’t be beat (plus the animals are extremely entertaining).

But let’s be real, there are some real downsides to Wisconsin country life too: the least powerful shower head I’ve ever experienced, lack of organic produce, fruits, and free-range protein, a heavy emphasis on breads and sugars, and no internet or cell reception…

While many compromises were made, being in a secluded place was enjoyable still because we could hear the water and the trees, breathe in clean air, see all the stars, and enjoy the company and warmth of a wonderful family (and their little canine and bat friends) around a bonfire.

Sometimes it’s good to get away from the city for a bit, girl.