Thursday, May 10, 2007

April 2007 - Chianti, Italy - Wine Tasting with April

One day while April was in town, we rented a car and drove out to the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany to visit beautiful vineyards, stroll through charming hill towns, and of course "taste" some wine!! Here we are at the vineyards at Montefioralle. The town was originally called Monteficalle. It is situated on a hilltop facing the Greve valley, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and cypresses. Parts of the ancient walls are still visible, while the small streets are marked by old homes, a donjon, and several towers. In 1250 it became the headquarters of the League of the Greve Valley. The town was once endowed with two sets of walls. It had an octagonal shape with four gates. With the fall of the Sienese Republic, Montefioralle lost its prior importance and most of its inhabitants moved to Greve.

We fell in love with this little town where one farmer makes about 10,000 bottles of Chianti per year and he saves about 1,500 of those for his family's consumption. So we were treated to a taste of a limited-release Chianti Reserva and a tour of his beautiful vineyard.

Inside the town's walls there are only 110 permanent residents. Notice there is no one but us walking around the town.

In a its-a-small-world scenario, Casandra ran into a man that had gone to Braddock high school with her. She recognized his Miami accent as soon as we walked into the wine shop. It only took them about 3 hours to figure out every possible friend that they had in common.

After we left Montefioralle, we headed to Radda with our new friends for some more wine tasting.

We got back on the windy roads of Tuscany and drove through these spectacular green hills to find Radda. Radda is situated in the heart of Chianti, on a hill dividing the Arbia and Pesa valleys. The structure of Radda is a typically medieval. The town became the seat of the Chianti League in 1415, whose vassals wore the Black Rooster insignia, today the trademark of the Chianti Classico Consortium. The Castle of Radda was often scene of battles between Siena and Florence.
We headed down into some of Radda's tunnels to find the wine shops.

Starving after all that wine-tasting, we stopped at a local shop for some delicious pasta - it hit the spot!! The owner of this little shop could tell we needed the pasta fast. He was a delightful person so excited to be around new people that he could share his adventures with. So we heard all about his recent vacation to Australia. It was a real local experience.

April 2007 - Florence, Italy - April Visits

Our one visitor from the States, after living in Italy for more than eight months, was April. The shopping skills that my sister developed and honed over the last 10 years, since her last visit to Florence, were put to good use on the Ponte Vecchio, Via Tornabuoni, and throughout this shoppers dream of city. She had a new pair of shoes (and a date with a local) within her first 24 hours! April's trip was about more than shopping and italian men. We showed her some sights and ate some amazing meals.

We spent an afternoon at Chiesa Santa Croce combing through the tombs of Dante Aligheri, Prince Machiavelli, and Galileo. We were most interested in Dante's tomb which is actually a memorial since his body is buried in Ravenna.

Here is April getting us oriented with the guidebook. Where is Dante's memorial? Aaaahhh, here it is!!

We enjoyed the lovely courtyard of the cloisters of Santa Croce most of all.
We spent another beautiful sunny afternoon at the Boboli Gardens which lay behind Palazzo Pitti.

We had a wonderful creative, Italian dinner at Alle Murate. This restaurant is also a museum with frescoes from the 14th century preserved on its ceilings.

After dinner we were given audioguides and allowed to tour the frescoes and the Roman well in the basement.

Here we are in the basement of the restaurant which used to be part of a Roman home and still contains traces of the well.

This was a truly unique dining/museum experience.

April 2007 - Lucca, Italy - The Perfect Medieval City

After spending Easter morning in Pisa, we headed to the neighboring city of Lucca for lunch and a stroll through one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in Italy. The most striking and immediately noticeably characteristic of the city is the monstrous wall that to this day completely encircles it. Here's Casandra and the rest of our group heading towards one of the gates of the wall through which you can enter the city. Behind the trees in the distance, you can see the bell tower of the city's Duomo. Lucca's medieval bell tower attached to the Duomo shown below is quite striking with it's white top visible from any part of the city. It's no wonder this tower is the symbol for this amazingly preserved city.
Here is Casandra with our classmates exiting the Duomo. They are dizzy with information. Boy can Rafaello talk!!! And we're off to another church . . .

This church also showing Lucca's characteristic late medieval Romanesque architecture is completely covered in white marble and so bright it's hard to look at.

The streets of Lucca are incredibly colorful and winding. This is one of the best small towns to stroll through that we have visited.
A great spot for an afternoon caffe is the Piazza Amfiteatro built over a Roman amphitheatre and preserving its original elliptical shape.
We were completely enchanted by Lucca and plan to return just to stroll around the top of the city's medieval wall which has been converted into a park where locals seem to do just about everything including strolling, jogging, eating, singing, hanging out and smooching (our favorite).

April 2007 - Pisa, Italy - More than just the Leaning Tower . . . but not much

On Easter Sunday, we went on a day trip to Pisa and Lucca in western Tuscany with a group of friends from Italian class. It was a long but fun train ride.
Finally we arrived and headed straight for the Tower . . .through the colorful streets of Pisa. Casandra gets her first glimpse of the Leaning Tower from across the street.Finally, here we are in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), with the Duomo and it's bell tower (the famous Leaning Tower) behind us.
And here are the girls - Casandra, Giulia and Stella- in front of the Tower.
We went crazy taking pictures. Check out our superhuman strength!!Here are Casandra and Giulia with the facade of the Duomo behind them. The Duomo, completely full of people and decorated for Easter Mass, was quite a sight to see. The gold gilding makes this church glow. The sounds of the priests' monotone sermon and the high-pitched boys' choir transported us in time. Easter Mass is celebrated here as it has been for centuries, we felt lucky to be able to witness it.Here is Casandra in front of the Baptistery with our class and the very knowledgeable art history teacher - Rafaelo. The Arno River, which runs through Florence, heads west towards Pisa on its way to the Mediterranean. Here we are on a bridge that crosses the Arno, with the colorful buildings of Pisa along the riverbank and the Apennine Mountains in the distance. Over the River and off to Lucca . . .