Italy…. It exceeded my expectations. Everyone says they love Italy, everyone says they love the food. Well, I am joining in the songs of praise for Italy. I am won over.
Rome, and I’m sure it was because of our hotel location, never felt like a lived-in city. I didn’t see people out walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers, or carrying groceries. Our location was great for walking to most of the main attractions, but I did feel as though we were inside a tourist bubble. Looking around, I only saw other tourists. If I were to spend time in Rome again, I’d like to stay in an area were the locals live and work. Another nice memory of Rome was the abundance of orange trees and the smell of orange blossoms, mmmmm.
The crowds at the Vatican were a nightmare. Although I have to remember, it could have been worse if we hadn’t had a private guide and skip-the-line entrance tickets.
The high point of this trip for me was the 4-days we spent in Siena, rain and all. There was something about the dark skies and thunder as a backdrop for the medieval architecture, narrow cobble stone streets, and Duomo, that gave the city ambiance.
The best meal of the entire trip for me was the night of our cooking class at Scuola di Cucina in Siena. Pork loin roasted in spices, olive oil, broth, and wine… then quartered potatoes tossed and roasted in the same pan of pork drippings. Oh….my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
One day we took a drive to Montepulciano and walked through some fascinating wine cellars. They were like tunnels and stairs winding through the underground, with room after room of wine barrels. Another day was a trip to the Chianti region to visit Castello Vicchiomaggio Castle and Winery. It was a beautiful drive through the lush green hills with dark rain clouds and slices of blue sky above.
After several quiet scenic days of Tuscany we moved on. Coming into Florence after Siena felt like entering a third world country. I was shocked back into city life–crowded, dirty, and loud. To be fair, it was an Italian holiday weekend (Labor Day). For sure the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Flore was impressive along with the statues and ruins. Florence city center is overwhelmingly a shopping area. It’s too bad that the crowds in a shopping frenzy seemed to me to drown out the ancient attractiveness of the city. Compared to our stay in Rome, this was a living city, there were people walking dogs and carrying groceries. Florence felt like a town of young people and artists. It reminded me a lot of Barcelona and the Las Ramblas area.