26 Jun EXPAT NOMADS Explore Tuscany, Florence, and Venice (and 25th anniversary cruise)
We spent two months in the U.S. taking care of medical and dental plus visiting friends and family.. After a few challenges (impossible airport transfers, rebooking, and lost luggage) we finally arrived in Florence and picked up our rental car. We drove to our AirBnb about 7 miles South of Siena. We stayed in a small village called Ville di Corsano at “<a Roverella”. Ville di Corsano has a restaurant, a coffee shop, a grocery store, a bakery, a pharmacy and 350 residents. The AirBnb is on a 67-acre farm with vineyards and olive groves and includes a wine museum, wine store, and a total of three rental properties (4th under construction).. Our hostess, Sara takes fantastic care of us and frequently provides us insights on places to go and tips on maximizing the trips. The property was purchased in 1967 and our space is converted from a old sausage salt room and a Grainery room. There is no air conditioning, but the walls are so thick that the spaces remain cool all day.
We took a phot0 of the vineyard when we arrived and then were surprised at how much the vines had grown in a short time.
Since Siena is very close to our house, we have visited many times. The center of the city is the Piazza del Campo, a circular plaza surrounded by large buildings and restaurants. Twice a year the Palio is held on this piazza. Palio is a four-day festival day concluding with a horse race between entries from ten city wards. Each ward has their own colors and symbology, and they race has been held since 1633. The first horse to complete three laps with or without his jockey still on board is the winner. They compete for a painted canvas artwork and most important, bragging rights for life.
The other significant site in Siena is the Duomo, a catholic domed cathedral. which includes a museum, cathedral tower, baptistry, crypt, and library each with their own amazing religious art.
Another fun experience was to attend the market day at the Siena Fortress. The majority of booths were clothing, but we were able to locate the fresh fruit, fish, and meat stands. A couple items to look for: the swordfish and the porchetta (butterflied pork loin stuffed with herbs and slow roasted).
Situated in the center of Tuscany, we were well placed to drive and visit the different wine regions of Italy. Chianti, Montalcino, and Montalpuciano; so we visited each one twice. both sampling and purchasing wines and cheeses. All our travels involved narrow roads with sharp turns, blind hills and switchbacks so we restricted our driving to daytime and tried to finish before the afternoon storms. In Chianti, we visited the cities of Castellina and Gaioile with wine tasting at Castle di Ama. In Montalcino stops were made at Montalcinio Winery and the Abbey of Monte Oliveta Maggiore. The highlight of all the trips was the mountain city of Montalpuciano where we toured De Ricci Cellars. and finished with an excellent wine tasting.
De Ricci is one of five deep cellars in the city where the residents would hide when the city was taken over by enemies. The cellars were barred for security and in about three days the invaders would leave due to lack of fresh water. What did the natives drink in the meantime…. wine. The owners had 12,000 Liter barrels of wine, including one called water wine for the poor made from filling the barrels towards the end of their use and the water obtained the flavor of the wine. When the cellars were dug out in the 1600s, an Etruscan ruin from 400 B.C. was discovered.
Travelling around Tuscany we visited many beautiful old churches, We attended one service in Ville di Corsano when Sara told us it was special event for the children. Youth from 7 to 17 participated in all parts of the service except the sermon. This church was built in the 10th century and is still in use today.
Food in Tuscany
Just a few notes about the food in Tuscany. Most menus in restaurant look the same but the quality of the service and thoughtful preparation will vary. Early during our stay, on the Piazza in Siena, we shared two dishes which were delivered split on our plate. – parpadelle with wild boar and pici (local had pulled pasta) with black cabbage, bacon, and grilled bread crumbs. Pizza during the day was hard to find…to go by the slice normally as restaurants heated up their pizza ovens only at night. Walking around, we noticed a door full of Michelin Awards (17 straight years) at La Taverna di San Giuseppe. On a return trip just to eat, Truffle topped Cannelloni, Cheese Souffle, Roast Beef slow cooked in Red Wine, and Osso Bucco were on our menu.
The Beauty of Tuscany
As you travel around Tuscany you never know what you will see around the next curve or over the next hill. It is like a child under the Christmas Tree opening gifts. Each gift is a surprise in itself and produces joy and amazement. Capturing the fields, flowers, estates, and vineyards with a camera seems impossible as even the naked eye is overwhelmed. Enjoy the photos below.!
We chose a small boutique hotel on the plaza of the Santa Maria Novella church which featured large was statues of superheroes scattered on the floors. A perfect location for walking around the city and discovering it’s many wonders. Of the many churches on the tour, a couple stood out: The Baptistry of St. John and the Cathedral of Florence .A different type of holy site was the alley way chapel. During the plague, meeting in a group in a church was done at the risk of your life. The citizens of Florence and the priest adapted by providing the opportunity for worship and the sacraments in small alleyways as a one=on-one service. In the photo you can see a cross on the wall and a small stain glass window at the worship site. At the end of the tour, we walked by the open market where Georgene took the time to touch the snout of the wild board statue for good luck.
Florence is known for museums and works of art. The most famous is the Uffizi Gallery which was built by Cosimo 1 de Medici in the mid-1500s as an administrative building. Originally the first two floors were offices, and the top floor had a long U-shaped hallway, which was open to the public on Sundays, displaying the largest and most pristine collection of Roman Statues (over 200) in the world.
Viewing and discussing all of the artwork in the museum would take months/years and make this site a book instead of a travel blog. Still, I want to highlight a few because the works or famous or have interesting back stories. Around 1300 A.D., an artist named Cimabue discovered a 9-year-old Shepard’s son, Giotto, with natural skill and took him as an apprentice. In this case the student far exceeded the master and one of his works of art is the Ognissanti Madonna displaying three dimensions and realistic poses.
Another interesting painter is Filippo Lippi who at an early age was placed in a monastery to be raised as a priest. Keep in mind that as a poor family this was done to provide a bed and food for a child, not religious fervor. Lippi favorite model for his Madonna paintings was a nun named Lucrezia. He seduced her, abducted her, and married her in an infamous romance. The Coronation of the Virgin has two family members: Lucrezia as Mary and their son, Fillipino as the lower right angel.
Other famous works are Michaelangelo’s The Holy Family, da Vinci’s The Annunciation, Adoration of the Magi, and Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch.
Last and not least is Boticelli with Primavera (also known as The Four Seasons, and The Birth of Venus. The model for the latter was his mistress so I am not sure what his wife thought.
Our cruise was out of Venice so we spent a few days sightseeing before we joined the ship. Crossing the Rialto Bridge many times we ate at nice restaurants, visited open markets, and took a Gondola ride. What made the Gondola special was paying a little more to have an opera singer with a accordion player on on of the gondolas in our group.
We also spent a day visiting some nearby island. The highlight was a visit to the Murano Glass Facdtory where we watched an artisan make a blue hourse from beginning to end. We also stopped at Burano Island where every house seems to be painted a different color.