Monday, April 12, 2010

Lune di Miele in Italia - Parte Due

In part 1, we did as the Romans and then headed to Florence.  After perusing the must-sees (David, the Uffizzi, the Duomo), we wanted to take in the country side.  We armed ourselves with a rental car, GPS, Google map printouts, and an adventuresome spirit, then took to the road.  Mr. Palindrome had been looking forward to renting a car in Greece in order to learn how to drive a stick shift, so he was especially excited that we ended up renting a car after all. I drove first and we were pretty psyched with the upgrade we got to a Fiat 500.  Thankfully, it was just like riding a bike and I worked my way through heavy traffic in the city without incident.

Later, in a parking lot, Mr. Palindrome took to the wheel to try his luck.  After a few false starts . . . he declared himself a "naturale" and pulled out of the parking lot. 
Our first stop was Montepulciano.  After the crowded streets and long lines in Rome and Florence, we were so glad to find respite in quiet streets of the small countryside town.
We walked into the Contucci tasting room, enticed by the free tasting sign outside.  Not only was the Vino Nobile worth the drive, but we met characters to match.  The sommelier graciously answered all of our questions and humored us when we were shocked the winery had been in his family for almost 4 times the amount of time that America has been a country.  We also met the friendly wine master who told us he had been on the "Ricardo Steves" show and wanted to give me a photo op!
If we had more room in our suitcases, we would have bought more than the three bottles we carted off.  We arrived at the next town, Monticchiello, ready to eat.  In March, the options were more limited, but luckily the one restaurant open for lunch had some of the best views in the town. 

We lunched then walked and clicked our way through the rest of the town.  I had been considering buying a digital SLR, but didn't make it a priority when we thought we were going to laying on a beach in the Greek Isles.  Due to the short notice of our reroute, I was really disappointed that I didn't have time to research and buy one.  Instead, we dusted off our film SLR and packed our point and shoot for snapshots.
Our other stops included Pienza, Poppi (my favorite town, complete with a castle!), and a quick drive through Arrezo.  We didn't realize that Arrezo was more of a city and that it was rush hour until it was too late.  My newbie, "naturale" found himself navigating difficult one way hills while also trying to follow the GPS back to the highway and read the Italian street signs.  By the end of the night, which included many more hills, my nerves were shot.  We didn't have much time to recover before we hopped a train for Pisa the next day.
My delicate nerves explain why I was hugging the wall as we climbed our way to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa.   My husband on the other hand, had nerves to spare.

I overcame my risk aversion to heights several times during the trip and was always dually rewarded by tremendous views.

We climbed back down and found ourselves in the middle of a wedding day photo shoot!  I wouldn't be a good wedding blogger if I didn't crash the shoot a little to share with you all.

I loved her bustle and capelet!
Move over bride and groom!  The honeymooners are here!
As the sun started to set, we rushed back to Florence for one last dinner before packing and planning our day in Milan.  The next morning we were tired, but we gathered enough energy for one more day of sightseeing.  We stayed at Le Meridien, right across from the train station (a relief when toting luggage through the city) and while it wasn't the St. Regis or the Excelsior, I still loved the art deco charm.
Our view of the train station from the balcony.
The best part of the room, in my opinion was the stained glass in the bathroom!
With only one day left on our trip, we decided to see the famous, Gothic duomo.  As the 3rd largest cathedral in the world, Mr. Palindrome was able to claim that he had visited all three (St. Peter's on our trip and the cathedral in Seville during his time in the Navy).
Since we didn't have a very thorough tour book for Milan, we conceded to buying the audio guides for 2 euros a piece.  I got every cent out of my audio book by listening to all 57 entries.  The craftsmanship was remarkable, as seen in this beautiful stained glass window.
While I wouldn't have been interested in climbing yet another tower, the climb to the top of the duomo was a unique experience where you actually could walk around the terraced roofs and see the gargoyles up close.
By the end of the tour, we knew we were "churched out," so we ran over to La Rinascente to do some last minute souvenir shopping. We wound our way up escalators past Armani suits, Dolce & Gabbana hand bags, and Ferragamo pumps, to the 8th floor which housed a gourmet grocery and several eateries.  We bought some fun and affordable edibles for family gifts (not everything was affordable . . . 500 euro truffle oil anyone?).  We meandered through quaint and historic residential streets on the long walk back to the hotel, soaking up the last bits of Italian romance.

10 days, 4 cities, one country side tour, 30+ glasses of wine, 18+ gelatos, 2 umbrellas, and 1 more manual driver in the world - and that's the story about how our Greek honeymoon serendipitously became our Italian honeymoon.

Lessons learned, travel book reviews, and budget tips are forthcoming in a third installment!

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