Sunday, October 10, 2010


We are having a lazy day today. This morning we visited with the owners of our agriturisimo, did some posting on my blog and then went for a walk through the vineyard. This afternoon we drove into Montalcino for a light lunch and our daily dose of gelato. We are going to do some wine tasting of the Brunello wines that this region is famous for and then have an early evening. We are back into Rome tomorrow.
I am missing the excitement of Thanksgiving, and especially the fun times we have when the family is together. Megan and Gary are in Trail and will be having their annual feast of turkey with Gary's mom. I'm not sure what Allan's plans are, but I hope he will be eating turkey and pumpkin pie!!! Love to all the family and see you soon!!!!

Saturday in Siena and San Gimignano

The sun was shining when we arrived in Siena. We parked the car in a paid lot and set off to explore the city. Our first stop was the Piazza Del Campo. This is one of the most famous squares in the world and home to the famous "corsa al palio" or horse race. The square is fan or shell shaped and the buildings surrounding the piazza are beautiful. The bell tower can be seen for miles when entering the city.There are many streets that converge on the piazza and each of them leads to shops and restaurants. Many of the shops were selling linens and beautifully painted ceramics.

From the Campo we headed to the Piazza del Duomo. I thought the cathedral was even more spectacular than the Duomo in Florence. The bands of black and white marble and the statues and mosaics outside were beautiful. The inside of the cathedral had stained glass windows, frescoes, beautiful sculptures, marquetry panelling on the choir stalls and 56 marble panels on the floor. They are restoring some of the panels, but in order to protect them from excessive wear they cover parts of the floor and you would have to visit many times to see all of them. There was also a room built to store the library of Pope Pius ll. The ceiling and walls were painted with scenes from his life and there were display cases containing 15th century psalters.

From Siena we took a drive northeast to a small town of San Gimignano. This is a UN World Heritage site and well known for the 14 stone towers, which some believe to be the precursors of modern skyscrapers. We fell in love with the place as soon as we saw it. San Gimignano was much busier than we had anticipated and it took a while to find parking. We climbed the winding streets to the Piazza della Cisterna. The well is still in the center of the square and you can imagine it would have been the hub of activity a few hundred years ago. There were many spots to take photos of the countryside and some of the cafes were perched on the side of the walls overlooking the valley

Hill Towns of Tuscany

Our first day in Tuscany and we were off to see some hill towns. With a map in one hand and the GPS in the other we started with Montalcino. I had read that it was Market Day on Friday and would be very busy so we arrived early to get a parking spot. We parked near the castle and went for a walk through the market area. The market stalls included hardware supplies, housewares, linens and towels, clothing and footwear as well as bedding plants, cheeses, meats (an entire roasted pig was on display) and baking and candy. There were lots of local people visiting along the way and it looked like everyone was in the mood to shop!!

We also checked out the 14th century Rocca (fortress). Senor Ping climbed to the top of the parapet walk where he got some awesome photos of the countryside. The high walls of the rocca form a pentagon and provided refuge for the people when they were under attack. Nowadays people head there to taste some wine and enjoy the scenery. We walked along the walls of the city and then made our way back to the car.

Our next stop was Montepulciano, a typical town of the Rennaissance period. The town is located at the top a hill, unfortunately, most of the parking it as the bottom of the hill. It was a steep climb to Piazza Grande, the main square at the top of the town. The narrow alleys up and down led to such picturesque spots it was easy to take our time and stop for lots of photo shoots along the way. The view from the top was spectacular. The straight rows of the vineyards, the tall cypress trees and the different shades of greens and browns in the distance are just like I've seen in books and movies.

On our way back to Montalcino we stopped at Pienza. This is another little hillside town with a wonderful little piazza, beautiful tower and cathedral.
Our final stop was the Abbey at Sant'Antimo. The church was built in the 12 century and is now a spiritual retreat run by the Augustinian monks. We walked the grounds and saw a view of the countryside from the valley looking up into the hills.

Tuscany October 2010

We picked up our rental car and left Rome at 10:00 AM on Thursday morning with very limited directions on how to get out of the center of the city. Thankfully, the GPS we brought with us finally found our location and directed us to the main highway and out of the city. It was smooth sailing to Montalcino. Senor Ping handled the 5 speed Ford Fiesta just like a race car driver, maneuvering the narrow winding roads. We located the agriturisimo that we were booked into for the next 4 nights, but they were closed over the lunch hour so we drove the 3 km back up the hill to Montalcino to explore.....bad move!!! We took the wrong turn at the top of the hill and ended up going down a one-way steep, dirt back road. The only consolation was that we were followed by another car. They stopped to ask directions in English, at least we weren't the only lost tourists. A van stopped but he only spoke italian and so we really didn't get much assistance. We ended up going all the way to the bottom of the hill and then heading back up to the town.

We made our way back to the agriturisimo and checked into our room. We are staying in a villa on a fully operational vineyard. Our villa comes with a fully equipped kitchen, living/bedroom, bathroom and private terrace. The vineyard is just a few steps from our door. Our hosts gave us a tour of the property and then we unpacked and relaxed under the tuscan sunshine.

Our first evening we walked down the road a bit to a small trattoria for dinner. The food was excellent and the wine was delicious!!! We walked back to our villa and marveled at how peaceful it was.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Roamin' Holiday

We continued our tour of Rome on foot with long walk through Trastevere, somehow missing the trendy parts and only seeing the more rundown and questionable area along the river...oh, well, now we have an excuse to come and back and see if we can discover the charm of this area that we have only read about and not seen!!!

From there we walked over to the Isola Tiberina and then towards the Bocca della Verita, the mouth of truth. We took turns inserting our hand into the mouth and we both still have all our fingers!!!!We had a long walk to the Arch of Constantine and the Collosseum, and when we saw the lineups to get into the collosseum we were glad we had visited it last time. We strolled along the Roman ruins, watched the crazy traffic at Piazza Venezia and then walked to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

Rome is a wonderful city but we are ready to head for the hill towns of Tuscany tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Roaming Around Rome

Monday was a travel day for us. We checked out of Edi's place at 10:00 AM but left our luggage with him for the day. We went for a walk around the old town, hoping the crowds would be smaller but along with the usual tour groups there were also school groups. Dubrovnik is a very busy place!! Our flight was short and we took the express train into the main train station in Rome. Our hotel was a short walk from there. We are very pleased with the hotel, great location, rooms are excellent and breakfast is included.

We started our first day in Rome with a walk to the Spanish Steps. When we visited here with our school tour we couldn't get anywhere near the steps for crowds. Today was a different story. We visited the church at the top and then took our time walking down the steps. Even the horse drawn carriages weren't busy!!
Our next stop was Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that if you toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Must have worked because I think we tossed a coin the last time!!!
The skies clouded over and there was a light rain falling when we arrived at the Pantheon. We took some time to sit and enjoy the beauty of the building.
By the time we walked to Piazza Navona my feet were beginning to hurt, just like the poor guy's feet in the Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi or fountain of the four rivers. We strolled around listening to street musicians and admiring the painting on display.
We walked to Castel Sant' Angelo and then over to the Vatican. This is where everyone was hiding!! The lineups to get into the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica were over half way around the square. We were very happy that we had seen both on our last visit, saving us the long wait today!!
By this time we were ready for some gelato!! We checked out a book store on the way back to the hotel and bought a map of Tuscany for our drive on Thursday. Tonight we will enjoy a glass of wine and an evening meal at a ristoranti in Rome and then an early night, we still have lots to see!!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cruising the Elephite Islands

On Sunday we went on a 7-hour cruise through the Elephite Islands. There are ruins of former patrician summer residences scattered around the islands as well as sandy beaches, old churches, botanical gardens and small summer resorts (most are closed for the season).

Our first stop was at the island of Kolocep. We went for a walk to the sandy beach and I waded into the water. Some of our group went swimming and others opted for a beer at one of the sidewalk cafes. What a peaceful little spot!!!

After about an hour we headed to the Island of Sipan. When we arrived we were entertained by a group of young children down on the pier fishing with a long spear. They caught a fish and also a small stingray. As we walked around the island we came across them as they ran home calling "Mama, Mama!!" anxious to show her what they had caught. We were also treated to lunch on the boat while we were stopped . We had a choice of chicken or fish and I chose fish. It was served whole on my plate with some salad greens and bread. It had been pan fried and seasoned, and other than having it look at me while i was eating it was quite good. (Senor Ping chose the chicken).

Our last stop was the island of Lopud. There are no cars on the island, we saw a few bicycles and golf carts. We put on our swim suits and went for a swim, the water was crystal clear, but a bit chilly when you first got in. There was a shower and change stalls on the beach so we were able to change out of our wet suits and relax on the beach.

The ride back took about an hour as we would our way through the Dalmatian Islands. We saw people sunbathing (some nude) or fishing off the rocks. it was a great way to end our time in Croatia!!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

We arrived in Dubrovnik on Friday afternoon and were met at the bus station by our landlord's sister. She helped us get on the correct bus to the old town and the Pile Gates where Edi was going to meet us. As we got off the bus we could hear a big guy calling out "Mr. Doug, Mr. Doug!" and sure enough it was Edi. Allan and Julia had recommended Edi's sea view apartments as they had stayed there last year. We had contacted him and he promised us a room with a view of the sea...and we got just as he promised!! This is what we see when we open the shutters in our room!

Our apartment is just outside of the old town walls. We are on the first floor overlooking a small bay. There is a market across the street, restaurants and bars nearby and we are just a short walk to the old town.

After we settled in we went for a walk and ended up at the famous Buza Bar. We found it by chance, the entrance is a hole in the wall and it opens up to a wonderful spot to watch the sunset. We arrived early enough to get a table and we had a few beverages as we watched people diving off the rocks into the water. The sunset was spectacular!!!

Later in the evening we went to a concert in an old church to listen to classical music played by a string quartet. The acoustics were great and all the musicians were very talented. Senor Ping really enjoyed the classical guitarist.

On Saturday morning we walked the walls of the old town. There are lots of steep steps going up and down and some narrow ledges. I am not fond of heights or edges so I was not sure about the walk but it was worth it. The scenery is breathtaking. We saw quite a few swimmers, even though the locals think the water is too cold to swim in October. Later in the afternoon we went down to the docks and watched charter boats coming and going.

We celebrated our 28th anniversary with dinner at a Bosnian restaurant recommended by Edi. The food was excellent, but then, we really haven't had a bad meal the entire holiday. As I write this, we are sitting at a caffe bar and Senor Ping is listening to the Roughrider football game on the computer. Go Riders!!!