Friday, December 9, 2011

tour d'italy

Wow, back to Florence. While I was getting towards the end of Rome in my photo editing and posting, it was back to Florence for the beginning of this post.

That Saturday seems like a long time ago, and in fact, it was a little over two months ago. It was our "shopping day" in Florence, since many stores would be closed on Sunday. We began by finding a fancy linen store called Loretta Caponi, which was recommended by Carmen. It ended up being a bit too fancy and expensive, especially when we were just starting our shopping. I wasn't ready to commit to buying anything when there were more stops to make. So we continued down my list and looked at a couple more shops in the same area, including Letizia Fiorini, where Dan and Carmen got my Pinocchio figure two years ago. There were more of them in the window, but we selected a couple finger puppets for Elsa.

Lunch was next; we stopped for sandwiches at 'Ino. (Very tasty.) After that, we made our way across the Ponte Vecchio to the Oltrarno neighborhood. We visited a different linen store, Busatti, where I got a couple nice napkins to use for food photos. Then, we tried to go to a children's store called Britta in Bicicletta, but it was closed for the Italian equivalent of the siesta.

To kill time, we decided to walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the view of the city from there. (It was on my itinerary for the next day, but we were pretty close anyway.) On the way, I took the picture of the day (below). A little farther up, we found a Japanese girl selling little watercolor paintings from a tiny store. We bought a few—7 euros total—on our way back down the hill. Britta in Bicicletta was open when we got back, and we were able to find some cute clothes there for Elsa's Christmas present.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting gelato from Carapina—our favorite in Florence—and ducking into the courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio for a few pictures on the way back to our apartment. Dinner was at a restaurant called Io - Osteria Personale. It started off great, with lots of promise, but it was ultimately disappointing. The first couple courses were wonderful and inventive, and then the food quality and service both suffered as the dining room filled. For an expensive place, that's not cool.

274/365 florentine

Sunday was park day. But first, we popped across the street to see Michelangelo's David. (You know, just a regular Sunday morning...) The Accademia was pretty enjoyable, since it was a more manageable size than the Uffizi Gallery. We saw the exhibit on musical instruments, another on a specific sculptor, and of course, David and the other Michelangelo works. The downside was that I left my sunglasses in the metal detector tray, since I hadn't brought a bag. I was too busy catching my camera on the other side of the conveyor belt to remember to pick up my sunglasses, and I didn't realize it until we had left the building. We ended up just going to La Rinascente—a department store—and buying a new pair.

But back to park day. Steve and I went back to the Oltrarno so that we could visit the Pitti Palace's Boboli Gardens. It turned out to be a lot of walking around in the hot sun, but I got a few pictures out of it. Near the little porcelain museum, there was a terrace with a nice Tuscan view, which ended up becoming my picture of the day. If nothing else, it was a good contrast to the city street scene from the day before.

Once we finally found our way out of the gardens, we had to find lunch. That turned out to be quite a challenge, since everywhere that sounded good was either closed or looked way too busy. When we finally settled on a place, it was pretty mediocre, but at least it was food and a place to sit.

The rest of the day, with the exception of a gelato stop at Carabe, was spent chilling at our apartment. We had dinner at Cipolla Rossa, not too far away, and it turned out to be mediocre as well—like they were catering to tourists and not keeping the standards very high. Anyway, it was time to move on from Florence.

275/365 tuscan countryside

On Monday, we took the train to Orvieto, via Firenze Rifredi station. I didn't know a whole lot about Orvieto going into the trip planning. It was one of the hill towns between Florence and Rome, covered by Rick Steves in the Italy book, and I had seen some pretty pictures from Flickr contacts who had been there. It may have started out as the wildcard pick of the trip, but it quickly turned into our favorite place. It was small, charming, and not chock full of tourists. I think most of them were daytripping in, and it was probably moving into the off season anyway. There were souvenir shops and even a few Italian clothing chain stores along Corso Cavour, but it still felt authentic rather than cheap. (And yet, prices there were some of the most reasonable on the trip!)

Arriving on the train, we had to take the funicular up the hill to the old, walled city. From there, we caught a shuttle to Piazza di Ranieri and found our B&B apartment nearby. It was a cute little one-bedroom place, right near one edge of town. That meant that there were views of sweeping countryside not far from our door. After checking in with Sabrina, we went out to look around.

It took some wandering, but we found Via del Duomo and eventually the Duomo itself. It certainly wasn't as large a cathedral as Florence's Duomo, but it was rather big and ornate for such a small town. We saved our visit to the Duomo for another day; the gelato shop nearby was higher up on our list for that afternoon. And with that accomplished, we were re-energized enough to walk around town some more. We looked at several shops, walked some tiny side streets, and strolled the main street through town, which was a bit more commercial. What really captured my interest, though, was a street called Via Michelangeli, the apparent home of the city's woodworking family. There was wood art everywhere, as well as a shop or two—of wood art, of course. I settled on the below picture of a puppet in the shop window as my picture of the day.

That evening, we went low key for dinner, giving the restaurant on the corner of Piazza di Ranieri a try. Sabrina had recommended it, and it was nice and close to our place. At Al Pozzo Etrusco, we sat outside and each got a pasta dish. Then, we shared the osso buco. It may have ended up being the least notable meal of our time in Orvieto, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. By the time we had finished eating, we had shared a small bottle of syrah and gotten a couple free shots of an interesting local liqueur. Then, Steve ordered a shot of local grappa, and they gave us a couple shots of cream limoncello. It was a good thing we didn't have to walk very far to get home...

276/365 orvieto

The next day, we decided to do laundry. There was a washer in our apartment, and Sabrina showed us how to use it. She also provided some clothespins so we could hang our clothes outside. There was a drier elsewhere, but the sun was cheaper and more efficient. There happened to be a tour group nearby while we were hanging our stuff up, but oh well. It ended up being our easiest laundry experience of the trip, since we didn't have to wait for a free machine or hang damp clothes all over our room. We just came back later, rotated the clothes that were still wet, and took them all in when we found them dry.

Other than that, it was a big food day. Sure, we climbed to the top of the Torre del Moro to look at the city from above, and we explored the Duomo (no pictures inside); however, the word of the day was "truffles." We ate our lunch in the lovely backyard garden at I Sette Consoli, where there was a special white truffle menu. I got the risotto with white truffles shaved on top (see below). It smelled amazing and tasted even better. Possibly the best spent 25 euros of the trip. The rest of the meal—Steve's ravioli and our shared tiramisu—was also wonderful, as was the service.

That afternoon, we set out to take a walk all the way around the city on the wall's trail. We got maybe a 1/4 or 1/3 of the way around, and then we took the wrong fork. That led us back up to the square near the funicular station instead of continuing around the city. Deciding we had had enough walking for the day, we just made our way back up the main street. It was time to check on our laundry anyway. We went back out later for dinner at La Palomba, where I had pasta with black truffles grated on top. It was a very truffley day.

277/365 truffle heaven

For Wednesday, we had plans to go to Civita di Bagnoregio by bus. It was supposed to be a cute little town, connected by a long footbridge to Bagnoregio. That didn't end up happening, though. Once again, we had had enough of traveling for the moment and wanted to stay put in Orvieto. After all, we liked it so much, and we hadn't come close to exhausting the sightseeing and picture opportunities there yet.

In the morning, we went down St. Patrick's Well, which was interesting but too dark for pictures very far down. Then, we walked back up the main street again, taking side streets to see where they would lead. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Trattoria dell'Orso and shared a couple of the pastas they were making that day. There was the usual tagliatelle with black truffles and cheese, and there was a filled pasta with vegetables. Both were relatively simple and completely wonderful. If we had had another day in town, I would have loved to go back for dinner there. The host was charming too, and he told us we should take the bus to Civita di Bagnoregio... Next time, I guess.

The afternoon was spent wandering around some more. We walked along the wall past our apartment, in a direction we hadn't gone yet, and found some really pretty streets, including the one pictured below. I could have kept walking for longer, but the wine from lunch caught up with me. We had to go back to the apartment for a pit stop. Rather than retrace our steps, we returned to center of town for a little shopping. I was thinking that I hadn't really taken many pictures of Via del Duomo and its shops, so I remedied that too.

Finally, dinner that night was at Trattoria del Moro. It had been on my list of restaurants to try in town, but it wasn't quite as exciting as the other places we had gone. It certainly wasn't bad, though. While Orvieto wasn't very cutting edge culinarily, it easily beat Florence for us. There's something to be said for simple, well balanced food, especially when there are truffles.

278/365 orvieto afternoon

After our few days in Orvieto, we reluctantly headed back to the train station on Thursday. Our train wasn't until noon, so we had time to stroll leisurely down Corso Cavour one last time with our bags in tow.

When we arrived in Rome in the early afternoon, we dragged our bags from the train station to the office of Rome City Apartments to pay and get the keys for our apartment. We were a little apprehensive going into it, since it was a pay-up-front-in-cash thing, but it all worked out fine. They didn't even charge us the deposit that our information had mentioned. With keys in hand, we set out across the city to find our apartment, over a mile away in the neighborhood of the Pantheon. It wasn't the nicest building ever, but the apartment itself was fine, and the neighborhood felt safe. It wasn't far from the Parliament building, and there were little guard houses scattered about. Thankfully, the whole Occupy movement was only just getting started at the time, so we didn't really have to contend with any of that in the area.

The logical place to start sightseeing was the Pantheon, since we were already nearby. But first, some gelato from Il Gelato di San Crispino on the way. (I got their basil and honey flavors.) Then we went to the Pantheon (below) and looked around inside. After that, we walked down to Largo di Torre Argentina to see the ruins and cat sanctuary. Not quite as exciting as it sounded, since you can't actually go down into the ruins where the cats are. Still fun to see, though.

Later, we went to Renato e Luisa for dinner. We didn't have reservations, so we arrived right when they opened and managed to snag a table, even though it had a reservation card on it. (That strategy worked out pretty well for us on this trip, although we did make a few reservations at the nicer places.) There was a couple waiting by the time were done with our dinner, so we made sure not to linger. The food there was quite good, and we were able to check a couple classic Roman pastas off our list of things to try.

279/365 rome (if you want to)

And Friday. A change of plans was in order when I saw that the weather said rain for the whole afternoon. I decided to trade Friday's itinerary (Colosseum, Forum, etc.) with Sunday's, and we were set. We managed to fit in a walk to Castel Sant'Angelo and the Vatican before it started raining. The threat of a storm was enough to make us not take the time to go in anywhere, but as an added bonus, it made the light really interesting for photos outside (see below). I had been on the fence about going to the Vatican anyway, since we're not Catholic, and Dan and Carmen said it was one of their least favorite parts of their Rome visit. (Too crowded.) I had already decided that seeing the Sistine Chapel wasn't enough incentive to wade through the rest of the Vatican Museum to get there. I would have at least gone into St. Peter's Basilica, but it was late morning and the line stretched across St. Peter's Square. Not worth the wait, especially if the weather got bad.

As it started to drizzle, we headed back to the apartment. On the way, we stopped to pick up a couple paninis and a bottle of white wine at a random store that we passed. It made for a nice lunch break at the apartment during the rain showers.

It looked like it was going to be dry for a while in the late afternoon, so we headed back out for our daily gelato. This time, we went to Gelato del Teatro, which we had passed earlier. Then, we checked out Piazza Navona with its many fountains (and tourists) and Campo de' Fiori with its mostly packed away food market.

I had no plans for dinner, so we picked a restaurant from the Eat Rome app on my iPhone. We chose Osteria dell'Ingegno, in Piazza di Pietro, across from Hadrian's Temple. I had my second pasta Cacio e Pepe (cheese and black pepper) in two days, which made me happy. And a post-dinner stroll to the Trevi Fountain rounded out the day.

280/365 rainy friday

Well. Thus ends what's probably the longest post of the 365 project. Only a few days of the trip left to cover, and then I'll have to catch up on all the days that came after. But don't worry, I won't remember what I did most of those days, because I was too busy editing vacation photos to actually do much that was very interesting or worth talking about!

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