Italy: Part II

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ok, here we go with part two!

DAY 4: Monday, July 1
(This was the longest travel day, and although I would love to not spend 6.5 hours to get to one little town - I wouldn't trade for anything for the memories we made!)
We were up and at 'em to leave the B&B by 6:15am (even too early for Donatella to make us breakfast) so we could catch our train to La Spezia at 7:10am. After misreading the train schedule (turns out Arrivo doesn't mean Departure... who knew?) and being assisted by some very helpful men who worked at the station, we still ended up on the wrong train. We didn't even know until the Conductor came around and let us know... whoops. Turns out we were headed to Viareggio where we would arrive at 9:15am, and then the train from there to La Spezia didn't leave until 12:22pm. 

With over two hours to kill, Nathan was convinced we were near the ocean and I had the same inkling. After walking for about 15 minutes we saw it - the Mediterranean Sea! Viareggio ended up being a super cute beach town where I'm pretty sure we were the only Americans. 







After stopping for a snack (when you've got time to kill...eat!) we made our way back to the train station in plenty of time to get our tickets and get on the train to La Spezia... or so we thought. The ticket machine was moving like a snail and wasn't cooperating with Dave. The minutes kept ticking and our train was due to leave at 12:22pm (I think I'll always remember that departure time!), and we still didn't have tickets. Finally, Nathan was able to figure it out - but it would only let us do six tickets at a time, of course there are seven of us. The first six tickets printed out at 12:20, but we still had one more to go. All of us girls were doing a nervous/I gotta pee dance and when the final ticket printed we bolted. Yes, the seven of us sprinted through an Italian train station and just made the train! (Meagan also had to validate the tickets at this stupid electronic booth right outside the train, so that added another level of stress - and another nervous dance.) Of course, once we arrived we couldn't stop laughing about how funny it had been (except for Dave - he hadn't found the humor, yet.)

After arriving at La Spezia, we had to take another train to Riomaggiore - the first town of Cinque Terre. We planned to take the scenic walk from town to town, but unfortunately all of the paths were closed except for the one most north. Instead, we did sight seeing in Riomaggiore and ate a delicious seafood lunch at La Lanterna


Meagan had a delish pesto pizza!











We took a quick train to another town, Vernazza, and took in the scenes there. After watching some scuba divers create an anchor in the bay area, we grabbed some gelato and decided to head back. (I'm certain we spent way more time getting to Cinque Terre than we were actually there!)






Although Cinque Terre was pretty, I have to say it wasn't as pretty as the beautiful postcards. But that may be because I was so tired of travelling I couldn't bring myself to like it (ha!), or because we couldn't walk from town to town on the gorgeous trail. Oh, yeah - Dave also got pooped on by a bird.

We took the right train back (thank God!) and arrived back in Florence around 10pm. 


Beers were a necessity for the ride home.

We hadn't had dinner, but I was saving my tummy for a KEBAB! I was obsessed with kebabs when I lived in New Zealand (which is probably why that was the heaviest point of my life), and I had seen a couple stands when we walked through Florence. Adam and I stopped in the kebab shop, and although it was different from what I had in New Zealand - it satisfied my craving for the time being.


(Disclaimer: This is actually a kebab shop we passed in Viareggio. My two favorite things in one!)



And then it was finally, finally bed time. 

DAY 5: Tuesday, July 2
In true 'Panic by Dave' fashion, we were late meeting our bus driver for the day's festivities - a cooking class! This is the one thing Debbie had been planning since they decided they were taking us to Italy, and after the crazy day we had the day before, we were all very excited. 

We were grouped with another couple and a woman who was travelling around Italy by herself (she actually went to the same high school as my mom - crazy how small the world is!). Our chef instructor for the day was Maurizio Moretti, and we loved him! I knew we would be instant best friends when he cracked open a bottle of wine at 10am. If anyone is looking for a cooking class in Tuscany - Good Tastes of Tuscany is the place to go! It was very hands on, but not at all overwhelming. Plus, you get to take home your apron and a cookbook.





Here's my terrible American interpretation of our menu.

  • Panzanella
  • Homemade pasta with tomatoes and garlic (Kelly - I thought of you when we cut tomatoes!)
  • Onions stuffed with onion, cheese and oregano
  • Pannacotta with strawberry sauce





Sisters!

Adam was in charge of keeping the wine flowing - he got in trouble a couple times for not being fast enough.

Adam always gets mad when I preheat the oven and forget to take the cookie sheet out, so I was thrilled to see that Chef Maurizio preheated the oven and the pan. When I asked him why he did it (to rub it in Adam's face) he said, "It heats the pan... and I forget I put it in there." Dangit, so I'm still not right.


No Kid Hungry in Tuscany! (Chef Maurizio loved taking this picture with the sunglasses. For real!)



After the cooking class ended around 3pm, it was time for a wine nap! After a nice little nap, we had dinner at Alla Bella Vecchio again (it's so convenient and good!), grabbed gelato (shocker) and then Adam and I went out. One of my best friends, Christine, studied abroad in Florence in 2009 and sent over some recommendations for food and drinks so we headed in that direction. We accidentally ended up stumbling upon one of the bars she recommended, Red Garter. After one drink we decided to move on because it was all Americans. We headed a couple doors over to a small English Pub, Kikuya, where we actually met a couple of Americans who gave us some tips about Rome. The guy had done his student teaching at an American school in Rome (he taught an Ethiopian princess' daughter!) and was excited to start teaching abroad again once he had two years of real teaching under his belt. I think I need to be a teacher at an American school overseas - he said the Christmas and end-of-the-year gifts are crazy - one of his colleagues got a Cartier watch!

After a few drinks there and chatting with our new friends, we decided it was time for another kebab! This time, we went somewhere else and it was much closer to a New Zealand kebab than the other one - score!

DAY 6: Wednesday, July 3
I barely slept at all on Tuesday night due to some awesome indigestion (total overshare...also, if this is what getting old is like, I don't wanna do it), so I kind of felt like a zombie for a lot of the day Wednesday. We were up early again for our wine tour. Originally, the plan was to visit Venice, but after the mess on Monday we decided no more trains until Rome.

Panic by Dave was in full force that morning, as we thought we were meeting a bus driver at a specified point, but in reality we were supposed to meet at the wine school, Tuscan Wine Time, for an hour wine tasting lesson prior to the actual tour. We showed up 30 minutes late and of course the only seats available were in the front row. Good thing the teacher had a good sense of humor about it and immediately poured us wine. 

After the class, we piled into our van with our driver, Guiseppe. We decided he was a potential suitor for Kelsey, and he said he would marry her when his wife got old in 5 years. Perfect! A quick stop a Piazzale Michelangelo again (and a quick picture in a Ferrari for Nathan), and we were off to the Chianti region.


Brief stop in a cute town for some awkward photo ops!


We arrived at Villa Montecchio about 30 minutes later, and we spent the next hour or so learning a lot about wine and olive oil. Turns out Chianti is very regulated in Italy and there is a very detailed process (through the government) that must be completed or the wine cannot be exported. 


Our tour guide, Ariana.





I always heard that olive oil in America is not regulated, but didn't know how to tell if what I was getting the good stuff. Turns out Bertolli and Filippo are the worst. Here are the three keys to good olive oil.
1. Must be kept in a dark, glass bottle.
2. Must be produced and pressed in the same country. From the time the olive is picked until it is made into olive oil can't be more than 8-12 hours, so it's impossible to pick the olives and have them transported elsewhere in that window.
3. If the grading is on the bottle (it isn't always), it must be under 0.8 to be considered Extra Virgin, 0.8-1.2 to be considered Virgin, and anything over 1.2 is just olive oil. Of course, Extra Virgin is the one you want.


Adam has to touch everything.


We had a delicious lunch of cheese, bread (with olive oil!) and some charcuterie, with plenty of wine to go with it. We tried their Chianti, Chianti Classico, Chianti Riserva and two Super Tuscans. The super tuscans are not made with at least 80% Sangiovese grapes, which is why they cannot be considered a Chianti. 


I think this is the only picture I have of the whole family! (And of course it's in my dumbest outfit.)

Big group shot

Heaven forbid he let us take a normal picture - instead he has to tickle me.

Kelsey's potential suitor, Guiseppe

I don't know what to do with my hands! Love her.

Another wine nap was in order when we got back, so Kelsey, Adam and I headed back while the others headed for a special pottery shop where Debbie got her souvenirs. 

Christine had also recommended Dante's as the 'best restaurant in Florence' and it happened to be pretty close to where we were staying, so we decided to give it a go. Hate to say that it was probably our worst meal in Italy (other than the gross lunch we had outside the Vatican). Now that doesn't say much - because bad food in Italy still rivals some of the best here in America, but we were kind of disappointed.  I did finally have my first veggies on the trip! There were small pieces of broccoli in my penne with chicken and cream sauce.




Guess what we did after dinner? We got gelato! However, I did not partake for the first time all trip. The gelato place (a new one, of course) was located in this super cute area next to a restaurant called 4 Leoni. Would have loved to have had dinner there one night, but we didn't stumble upon it until our last night. 

All week, we noticed a rooftop bar right on the river and decided we were all going to have drinks up there on the last night. We kept our word and headed to the Westin Excelsior for fancy cocktails and amazing views. It was a perfect way to end our time in Florence. 


Blurry, but at least you can kind of see the view.


After a late night kebab for Dave (we had to take him to the second place we went!), we all headed back to get ready to leave for Rome in the morning. 

Ok - I promise to wrap this trip up in my next post!

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