Day One – Travel Day
Our first flight left RDU at 2:40 for New York. Casey was asleep before we even left, but I could not get comfortable. It was a pretty short flight, just under 2 hours. When we arrived in NY we went in search of something to eat. The airport was terrible. The only place we found was a little sandwich place which cost $16 for two terrible sandwiches and a bottle of water. Ridiculous. We boarded our flight to Brussels (Belgium) around 6pm. The flight wasn’t too bad… I think a little over 7 hours. They served a decent lasagna dinner which was actually better than the food at the airport. After dinner I tried to get a bit of sleep, but couldn’t get comfortable. Airline seats weren’t made for 5 foot people! They showed two movies that I had no interest in, both were kid’s movies. Around 7am (1am ) we arrived in Brussels with plenty of time before our next flight. So I took a nice nap stretched out on 3 chairs at the gate. Finally around 11 (5am) we were on our flight to Florence! This was another pretty short flight, just under 2 hours. Just as I was about to fall asleep I heard an announcement from the flight attendant saying there was a medical emergency and was there a doctor on board. That woke me up! (Casey slept through all of this). It turns out the emergency was across the aisle from us and up one row. I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the guy, but he was alive. I was expecting a bit more drama after the announcement. No CPR or anything like that. There turned out to be a doctor on board, but everyone was speaking French so I had no idea what was going on. Eventually it calmed down, but I never did get any sleep. Even though I had taken 4 Dramamine since we left this flight made me really sick. When we landed my head was killing me. I had to sit down for a bit while we waited for the luggage. Seems like the motion sickness gets worse with age. Anyway, both our bags arrived and we made our way to the taxi pickup area. We got a taxi and I had the address for the hotel written down since I can’t pronounce anything or speak much Italian. The ride to the hotel was by far the scariest ride of my lift. I knew if I was scared Casey was about to have a heart attack. He thinks my driving is aggressive!! The cars were everywhere, there weren’t lanes people just made they when they needed one! There were bicycles and mopeds everywhere swerving in and out of traffic. I thought for sure we would hit something or someone. As if the cars, bikes and mopeds weren’t enough there were so many people! The ride in the taxi wasn’t exactly good for the motion sickness, but we made to the hotel in one piece. We rang the bell for the hotel and we were let in. The elevator was broken so we had to walk up 5 flights of step with our bags. Everyone at the hotel was so friendly and helpful. It really isn’t a hotel like we are used to here. The staff was only there for a few hours during the day. We had keys to all the doors so we could come and go as needed. The room was nice, but we didn’t pay for one with a view so we have a view of a brick wall. I really wanted to keep the windows open, but there was so much noise from the street so we shut the window and turned on the air. We had our own bathroom and a tiny tv which made Casey very happy. Of course all the channels were in Italian except CNN and parts of MTV. We took a very quick nap, but didn’t want to go to sleep too early. It was 4pm, but to us it was 10 am and we had no sleep all night. We walked around Florence a bit and grabbed a bit to eat. We managed to stay up to about 8:30 and sleep 12 hours.
Day Two – Florence
Today we had reservations for the Uffizi at 10 so we got up and made our way to the gallery. It was so confusing! We weren’t sure which line to stand in so we asked someone, but we still ended up in the wrong line. Eventually we found the right place, got our tickets and made it into the gallery. The museum houses Renaissance art which isn’t really my style. I am sure to some it is a wonderful museum, but to us it looked like room after room of the same thing! We wondered around a bit, grabbed some lunch and then left. We then went Palazzo Vecchio and walked around and got our first of many pizzas for lunch. After lunch we went to Santa Croce and saw the tomb of Michelangelo and Galileo. After all the walking and getting lost we decided to go back to the hotel for a nap before dinner. After a nice nap we decided to try finding a recommended restaurant, but never found it so we went back to the area we had lunch and picked a restaurant. Then we walked around a bit and called it a night.
Day Three – Pisa
This morning we got up and walked to the train station. We walked along a major road that was packed with cars and Italians going/coming from the train station. I had no idea when the trains left for Pisa or how often, but when we got there one was leaving in about 40 minutes so we tried to figure out where to get tickets. We got two tickets without really knowing what we got, but we went to the right track and waited for the train. While we were at the station Casey got some breakfast at the McDonalds. In Italy you have to validate your ticket first using these little yellow machines. I knew this from my research, but I wasn’t really sure how to use it. We put the ticket in, but I think I pulled it out too fast b/c the information it printed was blurred. So we walked around looking for some help. One of the train attendants told us to validate the ticket so we tried again, but it looked the same so who know! We found a couple seats and started our journey to Pisa. The train ride was a little over an hour. When we got to Pisa we of course got lost walking towards the tower, but eventually we got there. The tower actually seemed much smaller than I thought it would be. There were a fair amount of people there and there were lots of people attempting to take the “holding up the tower” photo. So we did it too! We decided to grab lunch before touring so we found a little place and had pizza. Then we went to the Baptisry, Duomo and Camposanto. We decided to not pay extra to go up in the tower. The Duomo was beautiful on the inside and we got to see a mummified body! Cool. The Baptisry wasn’t as impressive, but still neat and it had a great few of the Duomo and Tower. The Camposanto was interesting. Most of it was destroyed during World War II. In fact Pisa was bombed extensively during the war. Anyway, it was just a bunch of graves. 🙂 After walking around we sat on the lawn and people watched. Casey really liked watching the Japanese tourist with there many cameras! We took the train back to Florence and tried once again to find a recommended restaurant, but failed so another tourist trap restaurant for dinner.
Day Four – Florence
Today we had reservations at The Accademia. After our experience at Uffizi we knew to find the reservation line to get the tickets! We got in pretty quickly and began viewing more Renaissance art and the musical instruments museum which was very interesting. Then we saw the David! There are really no words to describe it. Seeing that was worth the trip to Florence. Everyone should go to see it. Amazing. There is a replica in the Palazzo Vecchio, but it really isn’t the same. One of the neatest things to see were the statues never Michelangelo never completed. It makes you realize how incredibly talented some people are! After seeing Accademia we had planned to tour the Duomo, but when we got there the crowds were out of control and line to get in the cathedral was very long so we decided to try again in the morning and move on to the Palazzo Pitti. We got tickets without a wait and went straight to the gardens. The gardens are 111 acres and I think was home to the Medici. History bores me greatly so I really can’t tell you much about the history of the places we went. Sorry, after about two lines all I hear is blah blah blah. The palace also had several small museums that we visited – Porcelain Museum, Costume Museum and the Silver Museum. There were several cats living on the grounds and Casey couldn’t resist petting one. The cat immediately jumped into his lap and made himself comfortable. I didn’t think we would ever get that cat off his lap. After a nap at the palace and another at the hotel (Casey napped a lot) we went in search of another recommended restaurant. We actually found it this time, but the menu was in Italian. This is the now infamous story of the tripe. If you missed it make sure to read my blog from Italy on our main page.
Day Five – Florence
Since we didn’t get to see the Duomo yesterday we were there at 10 to get tickets today. The dome and cathedral were beautiful. I wanted to go to the top of either the tower or dome and the tower had less steps plus a view of the dome so I opted for the tower. It was 414 steps to the top, but there were a few breaks a long the way so it wasn’t too bad until the top. At that point the steps got very small and windy! There really wasn’t room for people going up and down, but there aren’t two sets of steps so it is bound to happen. On the way up you get stuck with the tiny steps and I pretty much crawled up them to not fall. The people coming down try to stay to the side as much as possible, but there just is no room. It is a bit scary. The view from the top of the tower was worth the walk. After resting a bit we made our way back down. We wanted to see the Baptisry next, but we had to wait a bit for it to open. After lunch we went in search of another museum, but it ended up being closed so we did a bit of shopping. Since I wanted to hike up to the Piazze de Michelangelo for the sunset so we went back to the hotel so Casey could have his nap first. The hike to the piazze wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and it didn’t take long to get there. We sat and watched the sun set and I took a bunch of pictures most of which were bad. It was a nice ending to our week in Florence. We stopped at another recommended restaurant for dinner and had our best meal in Florence. Also our most expensive meal…. $84 for an appetizer, a pasta dish, a meat dish, potatoes and two desserts.
Day Six – Drive to Montepulciano
We checked out of the hotel this morning and took a taxi to the car rental office. The women at the desk were pretty friendly, but not overly helpful. We had already gotten directions from Anna at the hotel along with the route highlighted on the route. There was an older couple from Canada beside us who asked for directions out of town. All they got was a map and no help. We had to walk down the street to the parking garage to pick up our car. The guys there weren’t friendly at all. The parking garage was one level and very small, but full of cars. There were at least 20 more cars in there than I would even imagine you could fit. The attendants had to climb on the cars and go in through the window to get into the cars. They pulled our car out and handed over the keys and then they left us. We tried to set up navigation system and get settled in the car, but the guys were honking on us so we had to leave. It took me a minute to figure out where exactly we were on the map so we just followed a bus until I figured it out. It was much easier than we thought it would be, but the car kept beeping at us and the message was in Italian. I new one of the words was open and I was guessing the second was baggage so my guess was the trunk was open. We pulled into a gas station and I opened and shut the trunk. Sure enough that was what it was. So we continued our drive to the countryside. I wanted to drive through Chianti and we managed to find a couple of the towns I wanted to see, but somehow we got off track and went down the wrong road. We weren’t really lost, but not on the road I wanted to be on! We made it to Siena where we managed to get very lost. We were following the signs to Siena up to this point and now we needed the signs for Rome which took me a bit to figure out. Then the signs all the sudden disappeared so we thought we missed something. After turning around a few times we got back on the right roads. At this point we decided to head straight for Montepulciano since it was getting late. Surprisingly when we got to Montepulciano we got lost again! We found a parking area and decided to walk up to the apartment and then figure out how to drive up there. We found the apartment without any problem and decided to walk how we thought we may drive. That wasn’t a good idea and we walked forever! The town is only about a mile long, but we managed to get very lost and confused. Eventually after lots of walking we found the car and drove up to the apartment. We had to drive up the main street to get there which was full of tourists and other obstacles. When we got back to the apartment we found there was no TV, but there was a computer. Casey was very upset about the lack of TV, but I didn’t mind. It was nice to have a computer so we could be touch with home.
Day Seven – Montepulciano
Today was our day of rest before a busy week of touring and driving so we slept until after 10. We walked around Montepulciano taking pictures and shopping. We grabbed some lunch and gelato and walked down to the San Biagio church. Then we took a nap and grabbed some dinner. The town is much quieter at night which was really nice.
Day Eight – Montalcino, Sant’ Antimo, San Quirico, Bagno Vignoni
Today was the first time on our trip we were up and out the door by 8:30. I wanted to get to Montalcino early since we had a big day planned. We go there and actually found the parking lot. It was a pay lot and it took us awhile to figure out how to work the ticket machine which was all in Italian. The pictures really didn’t help much and we didn’t have many coins so we had to go back later and put in more money. We walked up to the town and explored a bit. Montalcino is a beautiful town and I really enjoyed walking around and taking pictures. We grabbed a couple slices of pizza and hit the road. I wanted to get to San’ Antimo before they closed and in time for the 12:45 chanting by the monks. The drive to Sant’Antimo wasn’t too bad except for all the cyclists on the roads. We parked pretty far from the abbey and walked down the long road. We walked around a bit and then enjoyed the monks chanting. On the way to Bagno Vignoni was stopped in San Quirico, but there wasn’t much to see since everything was closed for the afternoon. We did stop to get some gelato on the way out of town. Bagno Vignoni was really cool and one of my favorite places. Again, not much of a history person so I don’t remember the details, but the town square is actually a large thermal bath. The bath isn’t currently used and it was a bit dirty, but very cool. We walked around town and found the natural springs that run through the town and down to a very nice pool for hotel guests only… So I just put my feet in the natural springs that were free like most of the other tourists. The waters are supposed to be healing. Casey didn’t want to put his feet in the water since he had socks on, but I enjoyed the healing water. After soaking my feet for a bit we headed back to Montepulciano. We didn’t really have time for a nap since I wanted to get to dinner early. We went to a local place that was very busy the night before and we had no reservations. It was very rustic, but great food and wine. We shared a table with a couple from Vancouver. It was nice having someone else to talk to and we shared stories from our trips.
Day Nine – Cortona
We hit the road today for Cortona around 9:30. The drive wasn’t a bad as I thought it would be which was nice. We found a parking lot below the city and there were actually escalators! We rode them just for fun and it was nice not having to walk up the many many steps to the city. We walked around the town, took pictures and went into a few shops, but everything was so expensive. We found a little pizza place for lunch and then headed back to Montepulciano. We walked around Montepulciano’s main street again and went into a few shops. For dinner we went to a little place I had read about online. The restaurant was opened by a couple from Milan. He works in the front with the customers and she does all the cooking. When we got there we were the only people there, but shortly after another couple came in. The husband was so friendly and talked to us a lot. He let us try 5 wines until we found the one we wanted with dinner. He explained the menu to us and answered many of our questions. It was a really nice dinner. I think it was Casey’s favorite dinner on our trip. He really likes talking to the locals and asking them questions.
Day Ten – Pienza, Montalcino
When we woke up today we were greeted with lots of clouds. At one point we couldn’t see out our windows! After waiting for it to clear a bit we decided to go to Pienza. Unfortunately we arrive around lunch time so most of the shops were closing for the afternoon. We did grab some lunch and walked around a bit. The sun actually came out! Pienza has some of the most beautiful views we had seen. Since most places were closed we decided to head toward Montalcino so I could do a bit of shopping there. I actually found a couple things to purchase in Montalcino that didn’t cost a fortune! As we walked around Montalcino the clouds started rolling in again and as we were walking to the car the rain started. It rained the whole way back to Montepulciano and continued to rain all night. It was a mist for most of the night so we went out and tried a new restaurant. It was really good, but a bit more on the pricey side compared to the others in town.
Day Eleven – Montepulciano
We woke up today to sunshine and of course it was supposed to rain. I checked the weather and knew rain was on its way so we decided to hang out in Montepulciano for the day. We walked around town again and picked up some gifts for ourselves and the family. Then we grabbed some lunch and as we were walking back to the apartment it started getting really windy and dark. The rained arrived soon after and we decided to stay in for the night and eat the fruit and cheese we had bought for dinner.
Day Twelve – Siena
Today was supposed to be cloudy, but no rain so guess what? It was raining when we woke up! I really wanted to see Siena and it was our last day in Tuscany so we grabbed our rain coats and started the long drive. As we left Montepulciano the clouds were breaking up a bit which made the landscape gorgeous. The contrast of the dark clouds, sun and greens of the land were amazing. I tried to take some pictures, but it we were driving and it was hard to stop to take pictures without getting run over. I took a few as we were driving and I think one actually turned out nicely. So the clouds around us were clearing, but the clouds ahead of us were frightening. As we got closer to Siena it got darker and darker. Thanks to slowtrav.com we had great directions into Siena and to a parking deck. We actually found the deck without any problems and parked the car. As we were walking out of the deck I said, “Remember where we parked”. I should have looked myself. Casey said, “Green level” so I went with it and didn’t check…. We started walking towards the palazzo and it was drizzling. We took a look around, took some pictures and then started to walk towards the Duomo. Then it started to pour. We took shelter under a bridge and waited for the downpour to stop. When it let up enough we went to the Baptisry and paid to visit it. It was nice to have a warm, dry place to sit for a few minutes. I guess I didn’t mention that it was also about 60 degrees outside. Miserable. After the Baptisry we walked to the Cathedral, but it wasn’t open yet so we found another covered area to hang out in until the cathedral was open. While we were waiting a group of college kids came by with the tour guide. They looked so young, which means I must look old. Anyway, we went into the Cathedral and Duomo which were incredible. Like the outside the inside had a zebra pattern and the floors were beautiful. After touring the cathedral we decided to leave Siena. It was just so nasty outside and neither of us felt like walking around in the cold rain. So we started our walk back to the parking deck getting lost a few times along the way. When we got to the deck I noticed a sign that said you had to pay before you leave the deck. So we found the pay machine and put our ticket in. We paid and the machine said we had 15 minutes to leave the deck. No problem right? Maybe not if your husband knows where the car is!! We went to the green deck and I knew immediately it wasn’t right. It didn’t look right, but we walked up and down the row looking for the car. No car. So we tried the yellow deck, but it didn’t look right either. So we walked around trying to make sure we were in the right deck, looked on green again and then finally I decided to check orange. Sure enough there was the car. So we got in to leave and when we put the ticket in the machine it said we owed more money, but you can’t pay there you have to go back to the pay machine. We had someone behind us who we had to have back up so we could back up and park again. I went with Casey to pay so he wouldn’t get lost again. Finally we were on our way out of Siena. I have a certain route I wanted to drive so we could see the Cyprus trees in Crete. We of coursed missed the exit and then had to turn around. Eventually we found the right roads. Most of the pictures didn’t turn out too well since it was cloudy and raining. We did find the Sant’ Anna in Camprena which is where parts of The English Patient were filmed. I was really excited we found it. We then went back to Montepulciano were we picked up a few more gifts and packed for our departure. I was needless to say very sad to leave.
Day Thirteen – Rome
This morning we checked out of the apartment and went to Chiusi to drop off the car and take the train to Rome. We found the Hertz office without any problems and walked across the street to the train station. Our train to Rome was a bit late, but not too bad. When we got to Rome it was so busy! We had been in the country for a week away from all the crowds so I wasn’t happy to deal with the people and cars again. We walked to the Beehive hotel where we left our bags until our apartment was ready. The only thing I really cared about seeing in Rome was the Colosseum so we decided to go there and grab some lunch. I got us lost again so it took awhile to get there. When we got there a couple people told us they were filming something so we went to see what it was. It is a show called City Chase which is a really small version of The Amazing Race. We sat and watched. We got to see team Canada run in and win the race. Then they realized they had messed up and didn’t get their flag so they had to go back and get the flag. They made it back with the flag before the other teams checked in. It was fun to watch. We went over and talked to the wife of one of the Canadian team members and she told us a bit about the show. Then we walked around the Colosseum and grabbed some very expensive lunch. We walked back to the hotel and took our bags to the apartment. We were told about a great restaurant by the Spanish Steps so we decided to walk up that way for dinner. The Spanish Steps were full of people. In fact everywhere you went in Rome there were tons of people. Even at night when in Florence we could walk around with no people there were tons in Rome. Casey’s dinner was great, but mine wasn’t that good. We walked back to the apartment. So far not impressed with Rome.
Day Fourteen – Rome
Today we got up and purchased tickets for the on off bus tour. It wasn’t cheap, but it was better than trying to figure out the public bus system and we got to sit up on top of the bus and see the sites. We got off on one of the first stops and saw the Mouth of Truth. Then walked back to the Colosseum so we could go inside. There are all kinds of people trying to sell you tours and we decided to buy one since it wasn’t anymore than purchasing the ticket. It is pretty much a scam though because they have native English speakers selling you the tickets, but the tour guides are Italians who speak English…. Kind of. The first girl handed us off to another girl who spoke pretty well. I was glad we did they tour because she gave us a lot of great information. The tour was for the Colosseum, Palentine and Forum. I thought they were back to back, but at the end of our Colosseum tour at 11 they told us the Palentine/Forum tour started at 1 or 3. So we had to wait around for 3 hours for the next part of the tour. I wasn’t too thrilled about it since we had very limited time in Rome. We grabbed some very expensive lunch and then sat around waiting for our next tour. We started with a tour guide that spoke pretty good English, but she once again passed us to another guide who did not speak very well. I was pretty much annoyed with the whole tour and found the Roman ruins to be very boring, but Casey seemed to enjoy it. After the tour we got back on the bus and went to see St. Peter’s Cathedral and Vatican City. The lines were unreal so we didn’t actually go in. We got back on the bus and rode for bit and then went to pick up a couple other gifts. Then back to the room to back and get ready to leave at 3am. Overall I would have liked a few more days in Rome to explore, but I like Florence much better. Both of us enjoyed Monteuplciano the most.
Day Fifteen – Travel Day
How is it already time to leave!! We got up at 3 and had a taxi picking us up at 4. We were both a bit worried the guy was going to take us to an alley and kill us! He kept going down on these side streets and it was a bit scary! He also drove about 100mph on the way to the airport, but we made it. So far so good, we made it to the gate and our flight was on time. When it was time to board we had to go out to a bus and then drive all around the airport until we got to the plane way out in the middle of nowhere. They had to load three buses of people which took forever and we left an hour after we supposed to leave. So we had about 25 minutes to get to our next flight. When we landed in Brussels we started our jog to our next gate. We had to switch terminals so that meant going through customs and security again. Luckily American was holding the flight for us so we made it onto the plane. The flight was long, but I did get some sleep. Unfortunately it was during Spiderman 3 which I really wanted to watch. When we got to JFK we had to go through customs again, had to get our bags and recheck them and go through security again. We made it to our next flight without too many problems and then were home.