A Travellerspoint blog

Assisi and Tuscany

Assisi
May 20th - May 22nd

After quickly navigating our way through the winding streets of Florence we got onto the A1 and were headed out to the countryside in our Mercedes C-class sedan. We felt quite stylish in such a nice car and still think the car company messed up but who are we to complain? The girls and I felt that we were almost back at home being in a car again with me driving and them in the backseat. We turned on the radio and all enjoyed rocking out and looking at the view. Of course I was rocking out a little too much and missed the turnoff to Assisi so we took the scenic route and drove through many small Tuscan and Umbrian towns that were not part of our original plan. Thank goodness for my navigators in the back!

After making our way down the steep, windy lanes in Assisi we arrived at the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement St. Anthony's Guesthouse. It is a convent that was originally built in the 12th century and the American and Canadian sisters who run the guesthouse were very welcoming and the views of St. Clare's Basilica were amazing. The first night we played in the garden of the guesthouse and headed out once again in search of pizza.

On the 21st we had a full day in Assisi and took in all of the sights. We all enjoyed learning a lot about St. Clare and St. Francis and a highlight was seeing some of their relics (robes, hair, sandals, etc.) in the basement of St. Clare's church. Their message was one of peace and harmony and walking through Assisi you got that feeling. There were pilgrims from all over the world enjoying the town and we saw many nuns and priests walking around as well. The girls really wanted to do what Francis did so we hiked up to a woods above the town and they took off their tops and ran around laughing. It was quite the sight! Assisi is a very tranquil town of 3,000 people and it was the first time I felt really comfortable walking around alone with the girls late at night.

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Before getting into the car and heading out on our drive to our villa we all decided that a 3 mile uphill hike to the place where St. Francis and his followers use to go to meditate would be a good idea. The sisters at our guesthouse packed us a wonderful picnic lunch and we set out on our adventure. About 1/2 way through we were looking for the mules that carried the girls on our hike in Morocco and it took quite a bit of encourging from all of us to get to the top. We were all thrilled once we got there (of course I took a wrong turn and we went at least a mile further then we needed to) and the site was magical. We had to eventually jump the fence to get into the chapel area because we were so tired. There was a small outdoor chapel and caves where he used to meditate.

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We freshened up at the guesthouse after the hike and then hit the road to Cortona to meet up with G'mama, Alice and Mary Jane.

Our Tuscan Villa 15km outside of Cortona
May 22nd - May 29th

We all arrived at La Cantina (the villa) at about the same time and were blown away by the views. I couldn't think of a nicer place to spend a week in Tuscany. The villa is on a working winery and it is surrounded by vineyards and rolling hills. At night you can see hilltop towns lit up on the surrounding hillsides. We have had a very enjoyable week together with a lot of time relaxing by the pool, chatting over coffee in the morning and of course drinking our fair share of wine in the evenings. Again we keep repeating that we are living in a postcard or travel brochure.

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In addition to our time at the house we visited several hilltowns including Cortona, Montepulciano (where they filled the New Moon movie), and Deruta (to buy pottery). In each town we wandered the narrow, cobblestoned streets, ate our fill of pasta and gelato and did some obligatory shopping. In Cortona we ate at the fabulous Osteria del Teatro where Alice had eaten last Fall and the chocolate marscipone did not disappoint for dessert. In Deruta the girls liked seeing a car similar to Mr. Bean's and we couldn't believe that they were taller than the car.

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One evening we asked Edda, the woman who owns the villa, to give us a cooking class in the evening. We cooked two types of pasta, tiramisu and bbq'ed some veal. It was a lot of fun and we promised to get together on our return to try to cook the meal again.

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Tomorrow Alice and MJ head to the Cinque Terra and we head to Croatia. I have enjoyed immensely my time with them and we will all miss their company. Peace...

Posted by k2arevalo 08:42 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

G'mama's Adventures

Hi it's Ann. While Kristie and the girls were traveling around Italy, I was too. I joined a group of 34 people (including my friend and roommate, Alice Ponti) for a tour organized by my Pastor and his wife. We visited Rome, Assisi, Florence and Venice. We then drove to Innsbruck, Austria and Oberammergau, Germany.

In Oberammergau we were privileged to be able to attend the Passion Play. This play has been performed every ten years since 1633. It was then that the people of the town vowed to perform the play every decade if they were spared from the plague. And they were spared. The actors are all either residents of the town or were born there. Even though the weather was cold and rainy (45 °F), and we were in an open air theater, we were all absolutely mesmerized as we huddled under our blankets. It was well worth the five hours that we sat in the theater. Thank goodness for our break for dinner and a little wine!

The next day we drove through the Alps witnessing spectacular scenery - with lots of snow on the mountains. Alice's sister, Mary Jane, then joined us in Milan. We revisited Florence and then met up with Kristie and the girls in Tuscany.

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Posted by k2arevalo 01:25 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

Rome, Lucca and Florence

Rome
May 11th - 13th:
We took an early bus from Sorrento to Rome and arrived in the city excited to explore all of the wonderful sites we had been reading about. We bought a book about Rome and the Romans during their heyday (1-500AD) and we learned a lot about what life was like for these people. Having gone to Pompei also helped us to visualize their daily activities.

In Rome we mastered the Metro, threw coins in the Trevi Fountain (so that we would return to Rome one day), sat on the Spanish Steps, toured the Pantheon, had a glass of wine looking out onto the Piazza Navona and went on a tour of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian (massive underground graveyards of the early Christians). And we did all this in the first 36 hours after arriving.

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Rome is an exciting mix of ancient ruins and the hustle and bustle of a modern city and is was a wonderful place to visit. G'mama's touring pals from St. Matthews' Church met up with us in Rome and we were all excited to talk to people other than our small group. I think Mrs. Ponti (I know, it's "Alice") didn't get to say a word for at least an hour after arrival because Gracie and Lucy were telling her all about our adventures.

On our third day the girls and I did a private tour of the city with a wonderful guide named Francesco. We were able to see the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capital Hill, the Arch of Constantine, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica. Gracie just read a book about Julius Caesar and enjoyed seeing the place where he ruled and was killed. She also filled up her water bottle at a fountain that he most likely used. It thrills me to know that they are able to "touch" history like this and it reinforces my decision to travel with them.

The Vatican was very special to all of us and we enjoyed seeing the museum, St. Peter's Basilica and of course the Sistine Chapel. The pope was not in town while we were there but we certainly saw lots of priests and nuns. When we were in the Basilica there was a Mass going on and hearing the choir sing added to the spirituality of the moment.

Gracie's Rome Favorites:
1. Touring the Vatican with our guide Francesco
2. Seeing an Egyptian mummy in the Vatican Museum (it still had hair and toe/finger nails)
3. Going into the Catacombs and seeing a part of the arrow that went into St. Sebastian
4. Running the Circus Maximus where chariots used to race
5. Seeing the bodies of popes and saints in St. Peter's Basilica (the real body of one pope and saint)

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Lucca
May 14th - 15th:
We took the train from Rome to Lucca, a small Tuscan city that is surrounded by a Renaissance wall. Napoleon liked the city when he came to take over Italy and it eventually was given to his widow who made the wall into a city park. We had a lot of fun riding bikes around the 2.5 mile wall even though it was raining. We stayed in the middle of the town and ended up spending the days roaming around, eating (even found a place named after Gracie - Trattoria Gigi) and shopping. One evening we stumbled upon a carousel in one of the squares and the girls enjoyed the ride and I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere. Italy has a very laid back feel and I can see why people have been falling in love with the country for centuries.

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Florence
May 16th - 19th:
Florence - home of the Renaissance and some of the most beautiful artwork in the world. We took the train from Lucca and again immediately went out to explore our neighborhood after checking in at our hotel. We took Rick Steve's advice and were able to get tickets to the Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell'Accademia in advance and we saved ourselves lots of time in lines.

For those of you that have been to Florence, you know that you could spend all day in museums but of course I would have had a revolt on my hands and we still stuck to the one museum a day rule. The Uffizi was fantastic and we all liked the "Birth of Venus" (I tell the girls they look like her when they are lying down in the bathtub at home and it was cool to see the actual painting) and a painting of a boy holding a medal that looked just like Shawn White from the US Olympic team. Of course we also went to the Accademia and saw the huge statue of David and had a fun time retelling each other the story of his defeat of Goliath.

And of course since we are in Italy we spent our afternoons searching out the best gelato (even found an organic place near the Duomo) and eating yummy pasta in trattorias. Last night we had a nice dinner chat with a couple from Ohio who own Bosca leather and were here on business. They told us all about their love of Florence and we enjoyed swapping travel stories with them.

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Tomorrow we rent a car and leave Florence for Assissi. I haven't driven since we left home and I am hoping it will all come back to me. Luckily I have a great navigator in Gracie (that girl has shown me that she has a wonderful sense of direction!). We will meet up with G'mama, Alice and Mary Jane at our Tuscan villa outside of Cortona on Saturday. Ciao ciao for now...

Posted by k2arevalo 09:28 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Italy - Sorrento and Pompei

Fri. May 7th - Our flight to Italy was easy and after taking a taxi from Naples to Sorrento we all were hungry and set off in search of some yummy Italian food. We were not disappointed but does french fry pizza count?

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After spending the last month in relatively arid places, the lushness of Italy was a welcome sight. The hillsides surrounding Sorrento almost look like jungle and the town perched high on a bluff and is very picturesque. Again, we are walking in a postcard.

Sat. May 8th - I guess our euros were burning a hole in our pocket because we managed to shop some more. We spent all day walking around the town of Sorrento and managed to make food and drink a focal point of our day. Now I know why people say they gain weight when visiting Italy - it is easy to go crazy with all the wonderful food around!

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Sun. May 9th - Happy Mothers Day! It was our day and G'mama and I decided we wanted to spend the day visiting Pompei. What an experience! After seeing lots of ruins we thought we were prepared for Pompei but they are something special. So much of the city of 20,000 people was preserved and it was very easy to imagine what the city felt/looked like before Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. About 2,000 citizens died during the famous event and it was fascinating to see the plaster molds made from their remains.
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After our Pompei tour we took the train back to Sorrento and then spent a very lovely evening down on the beach eating a fabulous meal on the water. It was a terrific end to a nice day together!

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Mon. May 10th - Today we took the white-knuckle bus ride from Sorrento to Amalfi along the Amalfi Coast. The hairpin turns were amazing and it was great to get to see the countryside near Sorrento and view the beautiful coast and picture perfect towns along the way. We head to Rome tomorrow via an early morning bus. Our wonderful adventure continues...

Posted by k2arevalo 09:08 Archived in Italy Comments (5)

The Greek Isles II

lovely Santorini and Mykonos

Santorini (April 29th - May 2nd):We had a wonderful time on Santorini and the island was nothing like we had imagined yet was just like postcards we had seen. The early morning ferry from Athens was an easy way to travel and we arrived to the warm island in time for lunch. The island is crescent shaped and is very rocky. The main towns are all perched high atop the island and there is very little vegetation. We took a shuttle to Thira (pronounced Fira) and loved our hotel and its views immediately. We had a beautiful view of the caldera below and the sunsets were fantastic. We all agreed that this was one of the most beautiful places to work on your math homework.

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We spent a lot of time walking the cobblestoned streets in Thira shopping and enjoying delicious Greek food (and cheap wine!). One day we rented a car and drove all around the island. There are both black and red sand beaches (actually volcanic rock) and we did more shopping in picturesque Oia with its windmills and lovely scenic views.

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The weather was great with bright blue skies and temperatures in the 70's. From Santorini we took another high speed ferry on a 2.5 hour journey to Mykonos.

Mykonos (May 3rd - May 7th):
We arrived in Mykonos thinking we only had one full day so we took advantage of our time and spent several hours out on Delos viewing the ruins. Delos is a small island near Mykonos that was once the center of Greece and it's main city. The town once had 30,000 residents and the ruins were impressive and the girls favorite part was the museum out on the island (and the slushies they got in the snack bar).

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As our last entry said, we were then informed that our flight to Naples needed to be postponed a couple of days due to the strikes in Athens. At first we were bummed but soon warmed to the idea and spent the next two days hanging by the pool at our hotel and playing on the beach. It is always so cool to arrive at a place that you have seen on postcards and then realize that you are actually there. Mykonos is one of those places.

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On our final night we were dancing to ABBA poolside after dinner and all agreed that it was one of our fonder memories of the island. Greece was a great place to visit but we were glad to get on the plane in Mykonos and head to Italy (via Athens). The strikes and discontent in the country could be felt everywhere we went and I am hoping they are able to resolve their issues and get to a place where everyone feels good. Based on conversations we had, I think they have a long way to go.

Posted by k2arevalo 09:03 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

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