Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A day under the Tuscan sun

After a wonderful trip to Venice and Bologna, we returned home to Siena to explore some neighboring Tuscan towns. For the next three days, my mom, dad, and I (Justin had to work) drove all around Tuscany seeing some cute villages, seeing beautiful scenery, drinking great wine, and having some great food. This is the first day of our Tuscan adventure.

Monteriggioni, San Gimignano, Volterra. Three very different cities located north of Siena in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Justin and I had been to Monteriggioni and San Gimignano before, but every time, we were cursed with rainy, cold days. This was our lucky day, because we experienced a beautiful day under the Tuscan sun.

Our first stop was Monteriggioni, a tiny hill-top village that is completely enclosed within it's ancient medieval walls. This walled village was originally built in 1203 as a fortress for protection against the raging battles between Siena and Florence. As soon as you walk through the first gate to the village, you can already see the gate leading out. There are a grand total of 80 people who live within theses gates. There is a cute little church, a cafe, a few shops selling pottery and wine, and grand vistas of the Tuscan countryside all around. Monteriggioni is easily passed on a grand tour or Tuscany, but a great stop to see a tiny medieval village.

After enjoying a cappuccino and a sweet in the cafe, we headed to San Gimignano. San Gimignano is another very picturesque medieval hill town. Many years ago, the residents of this city were dyers (they dyed cloth), so they built towers to hang the drying dyed cloths from. Originally, there were over 70 towers in this small city. Today, there are 13 of the original remaining.

By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, so we found a cafe and had panini with Vernaccia, a white wine produced around San Gimignano. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the town, through olive groves and into wine shops. As I said earlier, Justin and I had been to San Gimignano before, but it really is a much nicer city to see on a nice sunny day. After finding some paintings and wine to spend money on, we headed to Volterra.

On a map, Volterra looks very close to San Gimignano. The roads tell a different story. Although very beautiful, these roads are not for the weak stomach or someone who gets motion sickness easily. These Tuscan roads are some of the curviest and winding roads that I have ever driven on.

When we finally arrived in Volterra we found out that we were just late enough for everything to be closed. Volterra is famous for alabaster, a roman theater, etruscan museum, and, if you are a Twilight fan, the Volturi. We did have enough time to walk around and see the theater from the outside. We also explored a few shops and took some pictures before heading home on the windy roads back to Siena.

Monday, March 22, 2010


After our wonderful time in Venice, I didn't have too high of expectations going into Bologna. I had never been there before, and I thought it was going to be more of a stop-over/place to sleep on our way home from Venice. My guide book on Italy had only one page on Bologna, without many major highlights and I had heard that there is not much to do there with the exception of eating. I was pleasantly surprised at all that Bologna had to offer. The food was definitely the highlight of the stop for me, but there were many things that I loved about Bologna.
I was excited to get some great food and I was not disappointed! Bologna is located in the region of Emilia Romagna, which is considered the food capital of Italy. It is the home of fresh egg pasta specialties like lasagne, tortellini, tagliatelle, and cappelletti, just to name a few. Bolognese sauce comes from here and prosciutto di Parma along with Parmigiano Reggiano are made just up the road in Parma. Bologna also has its own charcuterie specialties including mortadella.

Our Bolognese culinary adventure started late Sunday night. After we arrived from Venice, we decided to look around for somewhere for dinner. We walked up a main street near our hotel for a little bit, but decided to return to the small, cozy looking restaurant that was next to our hotel. We walked in and saw old wood paneling on the walls and families eating pizza; it was a very relaxed atmosphere. Little did we know that we were about to have one of the best meals of our life. We started off with a liter of the house red wine, a plate of mixed charcuterie including, proscuitto, salumi, mortadella, and braesola, and bruschetta with tomatoes. It was very simple, but excellent. Next up was the pasta course. Oh, the pasta course. This is usually the high point in any meal in Italy and this was no exception. I had tortellini (probably made by hand) with Bolognese sauce which was everything that a pasta should be. Maybe even better than my tortellini was my mom's tortelloni (big tortellini) with a cream sauce and prosciutto. We were happy after the pasta, but we had already ordered a second course, so then we ate scallopini, prepared 3 different ways. One with mushrooms, one with asparagus, and one with lemon and wine sauce. After this amazing meal so far, how could we say no to dessert? We finished the meal with two different mascarpone mousses, one with berries, and one with chocolate. This meal might not sound like anything fancy or incredible, but that is the thing that I love about Italian cuisine. They make really great food that doesn't have to be fancy to taste good. And boy, does it taste good.
The next day, we woke up ready to experience the city of Bologna. It was a beautiful day, and we set off on foot to explore. The first thing that we noticed about the city is that almost every sidewalk has a covered portico. In the historic center of Bologna, there are over 38 kilometers of porticos!

Another thing to notice in Bologna is the towers. At one point there were close to 200 medieval towers in the city. Today, there are much less, but they still are a highly studied point of the city. Two of the most famous are situated near the center of the city and are called le due torre (the two towers). The taller of the two is open for climbing. After 497 steps (I counted!), we made it to the top to discover a beautiful view of the city below us.

After our climb, we were hungry for lunch, so we headed over to Tambourini, a market that specializes in Bolognese specialties. There we purchased an assortment of salumi, cheese, and bread for a picnic lunch in Piazza Maggiore, facing the half finished facade of the cathedral. It was another great and memorable meal in Bologna.

After our lunch, we headed inside to check out the cathedral before heading home to Siena. Bologna was a great stop as part of our trip home from Venice. I would love to spend more time there, walking along the porticoes, checking out markets, sitting in the piazza, and finding great meals in cozy restaurants. To see more pictures from Bologna, check out my web album here

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Ok, here I go writing about the first of our many wonderful stops. I have been putting off writing about this for the last few days because we have done so much in the last few weeks that I just don't know where to even start! Here's my best shot at what I can remember from the beautiful city that is Venice.

On Saturday, February 27, my mom, dad, Justin, and I left Siena in our cute little Fiat Panda rental car and headed for Venice. This was going to be my third trip to Venice, but I was just as excited as I was the first time. My parents had just arrived in Italy the day before and everything was new and exciting for them. Also, this was Justin's first time to the city built on water. By the time we arrived in Venice, it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining; it was a beautiful day. Our apartment hotel was just a few minutes away from St. Mark's Square on a cute and quiet canal.

After settling into our room, we decided to explore the city before the sun was gone. We first headed to St. Mark's Square, "the most beautiful drawing room in Europe," according to Napoleon. Stepping into this grand piazza for the first time (or even the first time in a few years) is breathtaking and leaves you awestruck. All of a sudden, after walking through narrow alleys and over small bridges, you come out to this great opening filled with people, cafes, pigeons, and one of the most beautiful Byzantine cathedrals in the world. This great square looks out on the lagoon of Venice, which is a reminder of where you really are. As it gets later and the sun begins to drop in the sky, the mist from the lagoon starts to take over the city giving it a magical glow. Pictures and words can't really do justice to the feeling that Venice gives you.

After walking around Piazza San Marco, exploring the lagoon area, and sneaking into the basilica right before it closed for the night, we decided to head over to il Rialto. Il Rialto is the most famous bridge in Venice, crossing the grand canal and also home to a huge market area. Here, we did some shopping (mostly window shopping), picture taking, and then stopping in a cafe for a bellini. The bellini is the drink to have in Venice. It is simply prosecco and peach puree. It was originated in Harry's Bar, a famous bar at the mouth of the grand canal that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Now, it is served for tourists all over Venice.

After wandering around for awhile longer, we started to get hungry and found a restaurant near our hotel that served Venetian seafood specialties. We started our dinner with a mixed plate of small seafood bites. It included polenta with baccala, anchovies, crab cakes, stuffed mussels, and other regional seafood specialties. Then, I had a black tagliatelle with squid, zucchini, and tomatoes. It was a very nice Venetian style dinner.

The next day, we woke up to a very different Venice. The sun was gone and the streets were wet. No, it had not rained over the night, but the lagoon was taking over the city. This is a daily fight for Venice as the tide comes in. We passed shops that the entire floor was covered in a couple of inches of water. You couldn't tell where the sidewalks ended and where the canals began.

We made our way through the water to the Doge's Palace right off of St. Mark's Square. As we toured the palace, the water slowly made its way back into the lagoon. After this, we walked around, found some delicious pizza for lunch, and then took a gondola ride through the canals. As touristy as this seemed, it was a great way to see the city from a very different perspective and a very memorable experience.

We left Venice early that evening just as it was starting to rain. Venice is a city unlike any other that I have ever been to. It is absolutely crowded with tourists, but very unique and still truly it's own. There are many people who work and live there and still have to fight back the water everyday. To see more pictures from our trip to Venice, you can visit my Picasa web album here: . Next stop on our road trip: Bologna for some amazing food!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A new feature of my blog

Well, I didn't get the post written about Venice yet, but I hope to do that today. But, I have been working hard on uploading all of my pictures for you to see. If you look to the right side of the screen here, you will see a slideshow playing of pictures. If you click on one of the pictures, it will take you to my Picasa site, where I am uploading all of the pictures. Depending on what picture you click on, it will take you directly to that album. To see the rest of the albums, click "my photos" on the top left of the Picasa site. There, you can look through the albums with my pictures. They will be organized by each place we visited. I will still be posting some pictures with my regular blog updates, but this way, you can see more than the 5 or 6 that I upload per post. I hope you like the pictures, I am still working on getting them all up here, I am working with quite a few! Ciao!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Yes, I am still here

Ciao Amici!
Well, here I am finally, back from our last three weeks of traveling. We had a wonderful time with my parents here and I have lots of exciting adventures to blog about, and they will be coming soon with a lot of pictures. Right now I am trying to catch up on everything from the last 3 weeks and trying to figure out a good place to start with everything. I have probably over 2000 new pictures on my computer between my camera, dad's, Katie's, and Justin's. I think I might just post a lot of them to an internet site like Picasa and then link to it here, so you can check out more than just the 5 or 6 that I usually put on one post.
This is just a quick post to say that I am still here and that more is coming soon. I will try to write about Venice tonight and figure out something to do with all of these photos! So check back soon!
Thanks for being so patient with my lack of writing lately. And welcome to my new readers via the Citizen Patriot! Ciao!