Rome Day 2

The alarm went off and we were up to take on the day with a trip to the Vatican. Up stairs for a leisure breakfast sitting out on the deck of the hotel enjoying the fresh morning breeze. The hustle and bustle of the city from the day before was a contrast to what we were seeing and hearing. A street sweeper made its way through the piazza, trash trucks were picking up refuse from the restaurants and trash containers, and food vendors were making their rounds. Linda commented that people are people, just doing the same thing we do, just in a different place of going to work and making a living.


We grabbed a cab to Vatican square as we were not sure how far it was from our hotel and glad we did. It was only about a $10 Euro ride and he dropped us right at the square. A crew was setting up chairs for the Wednesday papal mass which requires you to have tickets about a month in advance. There are big screens on either side so you can see the Pontiff. We asked for directions to the Scavi tour and everyone said it was on the left side of the columns. It isn’t as obvious as it would seem. We found the security check point and waited about 10 minutes before they started to let us in. We went to the ticket office, and joined a small group of 12 others for the “underground” tour.

There are no pictures allowed and you go down about 4 levels beneath the Vatican to see the original foundations.The passage ways are very narrow and dark. Not for those that get claustrophobic. I was borderline.The Vatican cathedral is built on the grounds of an old cemetery. St. Peter was crucified and buried on a hill not far from the Vatican. Later his remains were transferred to the cemetery and a shrine was built over his internment. The cemetery was active for many years and open to the sky. The more important people were buried along side the road with their name on their grave site. The lesser people were buried further out.

There were also pagan and Christians buried together in the cemetery, as well as cremains and traditional burials. As the centuries went by more Popes built over the cemetery keeping a central focus point  on the top of St. Peters

We had a quick lunch in an out of the way bar and walked back to the hotel to take a long nap along the Tiber River. We must have walked 5 miles.

On the way back to the hotel we past through Campo Di Fiori. Much to our delight an open air market was going on. The locals had come to do their grocery shopping. Bright veggies, fruits, pastas and even fresh squeezed juices. We saw the Pomegranates being turned into bright  cups of juice. Yummy!

Dinner comes late for people as most places don’t get going until about 8 PM and stay open late. Thomas who was running the desk gave us a suggestion to try Sabatino’s just around the corner. He said to get anti-pasta for 2 and 1 main course. We did just that. The anti-pasta could have fed 4 people and then we enjoyed the main course. We were so stuffed we felt like we had a rolling gait as we left.

We headed out for the Trevi Fountain which was being renovated. There was still a large crowd  even though there wasn’t any water in the fountain.  The Spanish Steps were not that far. We kept asking for directions and we finally got to our destination, the Spanish steps. At night in Rome the center city comes to life. Young people dancing and tossing brightly lit glow sticks. Musicians  are serenading the crowds and hoping for a few coins. Vendors still have all the trinkets out looking like somewhat of a swap meet. The wind has come up and Christopher and I get a relief from the rather hot day. Tomorrow we head back to see the Sistine Chapel and the main part of the Vatican.


Discovering Rome and Leonardo

As much as we loved the view from the tower, we were ready to leave the stairs behind and head out to Rome. We waited at the bus stop wondering if the buses ran on Sundays. The little cafe on the corner was doing a brisk business before church for capachino’s and croissants. The bus came on time and we loaded on and headed down the hill. We didn’t sit in the front because  of our previous experiences when it came to some of those blind corners!

We find the Italo high speed train to Rome and board up. We have assigned seating and they are very comfortable. The Italo train is very fast traveling between 150 mph and 180 mph depending up on the section of track. Each seat has a power socket for powering up your devices if you have the adapter which makes it easy to work if you commute.


We heard about the possible pick pockets on the metro line, so we opted to have a driver pick us up which ended up being cheaper than taking a cab.

We arrive at the hotel, check in to our room, and head out for a walk to get our bearings.

Albergo Cesari est. 1787

Albergo Cesari est. 1787

The Panthenon which is just a couple of blocks away and we are amazed at the number of people that are in the piazza and going into the building. Strangely enough it is very quiet considering the number of people. It is really an amazing building. It is a church with the largest dome of its type in the world.

We journeyed over to the Piazza Novona which has 3 fountains. There are musicians playing in the square which makes for a nice ambiance. We listen for a while and head on to explore.

On a quiet side street we run into the Leonardo Di Vinci museum which is quite off the beaten path. We purchase our tickets and are pleasantly surprised at what we find. He was a true genius and a man of many talents. As we say, he was the “Thomas Edison of his time.” The inventions we find in the museum are exact replicas made by artisans in Florence from his note books.

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We decide to take advantage of the upper deck of our hotel and have a light supper. Two couples ask if they could join us, which leads to an interesting conversation. We find out that we have cars in common which brings a lively discussions. The women are discussing traveling and Trip Advisor.

Bed comes early for us as we have to be up early and go on the ScavI Tour. It is a tour of the necropolis of the underground Vatican.


What is the Uffizi? We knew it was one of the most famous museums in the world, but had no idea of the depth and vast amount of art it held. We booked it for later in the day after the Academia to have lunch and walk around.

During our lunch time we walked through Florences’s Mercato with vast array of stalls selling everything imagininable. The pervasive smell of leather was wafting through the air as you went by the vendors showing purses, jackets, boots and accessories in a myriad of colors. Most of the items were imitation but it all gave for an interesting feel and look.

We had on recommendation to search out Gusta Pizza (not Gusto) as there are two on the same street. We had the address as 46R, thinking it was 46Right. We walk down the street seeing Gusto Pizza and we know we should be seeking out Gusta. We walk and walk asking for directions for 46R as we came to the end of the street. A shop owner was kind enough to explain that the address is 46 RED showing that the addresses are both in black/white and separately as red. Now we can see how people can get lost if you don’t know how to read an address.

Best pizza in Florence

Best pizza in Florence

Address in "red" for 46R

Address in “red” for 46R

As we find Gusta Pizza we walk into the fragrant smell of pizza cooking in a wood fired oven. The only thing on the menu is just a few basic kinds. There is a line out the door and we manage to squeeze into a table with two empty seats. This is family seating so you don’t know who you are sitting with. It is very simple and delicious!

We leave behind Pizza Gusta and head out for the Uffizi Galllery. As we pass by a open piazza we see a crowd surrounding a bride getting her pre wedding portrait done. Christopher grabs a picture of the bride as well. and compliments the photographer for a beautiful bride. I cannot imagine trying to shoot in a crowd like this as it would be definitely challenging.

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The ticket office once we find it gives us our tickets and explains to go into door number 1 of 3. Reminds me of Monte Hall and pick a door! The line that goes into door #2 is for those with no reservations and wraps around the building. We are thankful that we booked ahead and saved hours of standing in line.

Is it real or is it a statue?

Is it real or is it a statue?

Just outside the entrance to the Uffizi Museum you will find something that defies your eyes as you have to look real close to see if it is real or not.

We clear security and decide that since everyone was headed to the first floor, we choose to go up to the 3rd floor. Little did we know that there were stairs upon stairs and more stairs toget to the upper level. To say the least it was a challenge to go up the 100 steps! It got some people to make them pause to catch their breath. A nice cardio exercise after lunch. The work out was well worth it.

Again we are not much into Rennaisance art of statuary, and the largest collecion of Roman busts of any museum. You really don’t have to know much about the art except to marvel at their beauty.

As we are walking through one of the galleries we look up at the frescos that line the ceilings stopping to smile that people never look up and miss half the masterpieces. There are rows of portraits along with the ceiling art that you do not see unless you look up.

The stairs did us in, so we caught a electric pedicab back driven by Marco, to the bus station as we knew we couldn’t make the walk back.

We caught the bus back up the mountain to our retreat. Jumping off the bus we headed to the local market where we pick up some veggies and fruit. The trudge up the hill was daunting to say the least (Ugh!) We climb more stairs to the apartment and crash.

Where is the Fig Leaf?

Arising early in the “castle tower”, we get ourselves out the door, and down the hill to catch the bus in to town. I have to share this with you, if you are old enough to remember at Disneyland the ride called “Mr. Toads Wild Ride.” It was a C ticket and it wasn’t long, but it was definitely memorable. It was a ride through a mythical town at night where all kinds of things would act like they were going to fall on you, going around crazy corners and other stuff, to make it seem like it was out of control. That is what this bus ride was like.The buses are clean, in good order and the drivers are all different on how they handle the road up and down to San Donato.

The road is narrow in spots and tight corners where the bus slows down, honks it horn on a blind curve and narrowly misses cars coming the other way. Linda said she must have had “ten heart attacks” on the way down to town.

Our plans for the day include going to the Academia Museum in downtown Florence. The main reason to visit this museum is to see Michaelangelo’s David. After our crazy  bus ride down the hill that nearly gives us heart attacks, we arrive in the center at 9:00 for our reserved time. We look at the long line of people standing as they wait in line for a few hours and wonder why they didn’t buy their tickets on line.


Waiting in line to see David

Waiting in line to see David

A small portion of the line around he block to see David

A small portion of the line around he block to see David

Once inside, we have to we have to go through a security check point where your bags are scanned and given a wand check for for forbidden items. We see tour groups behind us, so we head directly to see David. It is much larger and more life like than any photographs we have seen. The marble is so smooth showing every detail. The coloring in the marble gives the statue gives a lifelike representation of veins. The workmanship was so impressive you just stand there staring.

Going to the left of David is another gallery of statuary showing figurines and busts. You marvel at the quality of the artists. We don’t know much about this style of art, even an novice can appreciate this style of art.

As we leave the gallery there are 4 of Michaelangelo’s unfinished works. You wonder what they would have looked like had he finished them.

You can not help but to not stop and turn around to take one last glance at the statue of David as you leave.

Last look

Last look



Wine & Food Tour of Tuscany – Part 3


Getting ready to learn

Getting ready to learn

After our wine tour we headed to a 400 year old Tuscan villa in the hills. The owner of the estate is friends with Maljia who runs the tour we were on. We go a room in the basement, put on our aprons and begin the learning process of making pasta.

Our guide Steve explains the 4 basic ingredients to the dish we are making today- spinach ravioli.

making pasta dough

making pasta dough

Making dough

Making dough

First we take the Semolina flour and pour a cup on to the table top surface. We t ake our fingers and make a hole in the middle just begin to hold our raw egg. We then break the egg and mix it  into the flour until it turns to a dough like consistency. A pinch of salt is added to the mixture. The dough is kneaded and worked, with flour as necessary until all stickiness is gone. It is then folded 10 times, rolled into a ball with Saran Wrap.

Got a ball of fresh pasta

Got a ball of fresh pasta

In a large bowl the filling ingredients are Ricotta cheese, chopped spinach, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and fresh nutmeg. We then roll the dough in to a disc shape to be put through the pasta rolling machine. By hand we introduce the pasta wheeling it through the machine until it is a thin flat strip. Then a metal cutter about 4 inches across is used to create the round Ravioli circles.

The table is kept dusted with Semolina flour to keep the dough from sticking. We then add a teaspoon of the mixture into the center of the circle. The circle is then folded over, and crimped on the edges to seal the mixture.

Then we head up stairs to meet the owner and cook our fresh pasta. Marie has waiting for us, the start of our homemade Tuscan meal. She has prepared a brochetta, fritatta and bread salad. While we are eating this, the pasta is cooked in the huge pot on the stove. On top of the boiling pan of boiling water, a pan is placed with butter and fresh sage to melt. As the pasta is done it is placed in the sage butter and served. While we were making our raviolis we had accumulated extra dough that we made into fettuccine noodles. Marie had made a home made Pomodora sauce that went with these noodles.


To top off the meal after all these courses, Marie served us home made Tiramisu for dessert. We all agreed that it was the best we had ever had. There will be no need for dinner tonight!


Wine & Cook Tour of Tuscany Part 2

Walking down into the cellar our guide Steve explained about the different classifications of wine on the Grignano estate. Most of the wines have the DOCG label.With that label it specifies how it is to be produced.

The first thing you must have is 90% of Italian grapes that are grown on your vineyard. The other 10% can be made from non Italian grapes. The earliest a Chianti can be released is after 6 months of aging. The Grignano ages their Chianti at least 18 months. The vineyard cannot produce more than 3 tons per acre and must have at least a 12% alcohol content.

The early Chianti was made with Sangiovese grapes ,one other red grape wine and two white wines were used . Now only red wines are used.

The early makers used Chestnut barrels while today they use white oak. The white oak barrels are toasted on the inside and there is a mark on the outside by the barrel maker to show it was done. On to the tasting!


Wine & Cook Tour of Tuscany – Part 1

We met our guide Steve downstairs to take us to Florence to begin the tour. There were 10 of us in the van as we ventured off to the countryside.

As we started out side of the city of Florence, Steve began to explain the various regions of the Tuscan wine country. We come to the Chianti Rufina region where our tour is being held. There are 9 different wine regions in Tuscany that make wine but only one area that make Chianti. There are only 35 vineyards that are licensed to make Chianti and produce 150,000 registered bottles yearly.

The vineyard we are going to is owned by the Gondi family. They built the villa 500 years ago. The villa is called Fattoria Di Grignano. They even built a chapel next to the residence so they could worship with out having to go into town.

Forty years ago they sold the estate to the Ingenoni family. They started out making shirts and have expanded to 100 other properties. Beside the vineyard they have 18,000 acres of olive trees. They produce and manufacture their own olive oil on site. Very little olive oil is actually produced on the site where it is grown.

The olives are brought in from the orchards and cleaned by removing the sticks and leaves then washed with water and ascorbic acid. Then the olives travel down to the crusher that grinds the the seeds and all into a mash. As the mash is stirred a worker watches for bubbles so that it doesn’t ferment. The olive mash warms up as it is stirred, so the temperature must be controlled and keep the mash cold. The best olive oil never reaches a temperature above 25 deg. Celsius while this one doesn’t get above 17 deg. Celsius. This produces an olive oil that is low in acidity and considered exceptional. While most olive oils at between 1-2% acid content, Gignano is only .01 – .04%. The oil is sent to a centrifuge to separate the oil from the mash. Then it travels to another centrifuge to remove the water content of the oil. This process reduces the water content to just a very small amount. The remaining water is extracted through a filtration process.

We were able to sample the olive with some fresh Tuscan bread and the oil has a nutty smooth taste across your palate. So we are now olive oil gourmets!