Thursday, April 29, 2010


Our next stop was Rome, the eternal city. There was so much to see and do in Rome, and it seems like you could spend weeks there and still not see everything there is. Definitely one of the highlights of Rome was Katie joining us in our adventure.
Early Saturday morning, I headed to the airport to meet Katie and bring her back into the city. I was afraid that I would be late and that she would be already waiting for me at the airport, but when I got there, I saw that her flight was delayed over 3 hours! After what seemed like forever, she finally came through the gate and after lots of hugs, we headed back into the city to meet up with the rest of the family for a full day of sightseeing.
Our first stop was the Vatican, where we went through the Vatican museums. The Vatican museums have everything from Egyptian antiquities to Etruscan collections to works from Raphael to modern art, finishing with Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel always seems surprisingly small to me. It is just a chapel, that happens to be painted by one of the most famous artists of all time. Pictures were not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, and there were guards walking around stopping people with cameras, but I was extra sneaky, and got a couple of pictures.
After the museums, we went into St. Peter's Basilica just as mass was starting. You can't help but be impressed by this magnificent church. It is huge- the largest church in Christianity. It is also very ornately decorated. Pictures don't really do it justice, but here is my best attempt.
After our tour through the Vatican, we headed out on foot to explore the city. We crossed the Tiber at Castel Sant'Angelo and then walked through Piazza Navona, and then saw the Trevi Fountain. We all threw coins into the Trevi Fountain over our shoulders, which means that we will all be returning to Rome someday. The Trevi Fountain is huge, and you can hear the rushing water before you can see it.
Near the Trevi Fountain is the Pantheon, so that was our next stop. The Pantheon was originally built over 2000 years ago as a temple for the Roman gods. Today, it is one of the best preserved buildings of ancient Rome. One of the reasons that the Pantheon is so impressive is the mathematics of it. The height from the floor to the open oculus is exactly the same as the diameter of the circle. Still today, the dome of the Pantheon is the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.
After a nice dinner, we decided to walk to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night. It was quite a site to see.
The next day was another full day of sightseeing. We spent some time walking around the Spanish Steps, and then walked past the Pantheon and stopped at the Trevi Fountain for a gelato. The main portion of our day was spent around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. For me, it is incredible to think that you are walking in the same places that Caesar once ruled. There is so much history in this area, and the feeling is hard to describe.
I have so many more pictures of Rome, and I can't post them all on here, so if you are interested in seeing more, you can check out my picasa web album at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A pit stop in Orvieto

The next part of our adventure with my family had us heading to Rome. We left Siena early Friday afternoon with the intention of taking our time and stopping along the way to see a few places. It was another cold and rainy day, so we decided on just one stop in Orvieto.
In Tuscany, there are many hill top towns. Orvieto is just south of Tuscany in the region of Umbria. And it is not on a hill, but a large rock.
We headed up the giant rock that Orvieto sits on and proceeded to explore the city. We walked around for a while, and then found the main cathedral. The cathedral of Orvieto is considered one of the best romanesque gothic churches in Italy. To me, the exterior looks very similar to the cathedral in Siena.
After exploring the church, we were hungry for some lunch. By that time, it was well past lunch time, so our options were limited. We found a small cantina in the main piazza right next to the church that seemed to be open, although quiet. We shared a bottle of the local Orvieto Classico wine and had sandwiches of prosciutto and pecorino. During our lunch, the owner brought us a plate of pasta to share. It was something that she had made for herself to take home for dinner. She wanted to share with us and we were certainly glad she did. It was penne pasta with an artichoke sauce; very simple, but very good.
After our
delicious lunch, the owner's son brought us downstairs to show us the old wine cellar. It was filled with huge barrels and dust covered bottles. He told us that it had been his grandfather's and that most of the bottles were over 50 years old. The wine was no longer drinkable, but every once in awhile they would open a bottle just for the fun of it. It was really neat to see all of the old bottles and barrels.
Even though it was a quick stop in Orvieto on the way to Rome, I was very glad that we stopped. It is a very nice quiet town with really nice people. It was nice to experience a real town not on the usual tourist track of stops where people will gladly share their pasta and their family history with you over a simple lunch.

Sorry the pictures are so weird in this post, I can't figure out how to change them.

Hello, I am still here

Wow, I guess it has been awhile since I have updated anything on here, and I am so far behind now! We have been traveling all over Europe the last couple of months, that it just seems like I have so much to write about, and it is so overwhelming that I just haven't done it yet.
Still coming up are my accounts of Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Paris, Madrid, Toledo, and then Cinque Terre again. And then in a couple of weeks, we are going to Germany for a week to visit my friend, Nadine.
On top of all of this traveling, I have been busy helping Lella out at the cooking school. As the weather is getting nicer and it is getting closer to summer, Siena is becoming more and more of a tourist city. There have been many more groups of foreigners coming to learn how to cook. I want to share some of the things that we have been making because I have been eating very well!
So, to catch up on all of these recent travels and adventures, I am going to try and post something every night until I am caught up. So, here goes for lots of postings! Next up, Orvieto and Rome.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rain and wine in Tuscany

After having a lovely day seeing a few cities north of Siena, the next couple of days, we headed south to explore more of Tuscany. We weren't as fortunate with the weather these days, as it turned cold and rainy. Despite the weather, we still had a nice time visiting Buonconvento, Montalcino, Abbia di Sant'Antimo, Pienza, and Montepulciano. The day before, our landlord, Paolo, had come by to pick up our rent for the month when we told him we were planning on driving to Montepulciano. He was very excited, and told us all of the other cities to stop at on the way. With his recommendation, we were able to see a lot of small sites that we would have otherwise missed out on.

We ended up stretching this southern Tuscany sightseeing trip into two days. Our first stop was Buonconvento. This is a very small town just south of Siena that was originally part of the Republic of Siena. There is not much to see here but an idyllic, quiet medieval village. This town seems less touched by tourists than some of the other Tuscan villages.

Our next stop was Montalcino, farther south from Buonconvento. Montalcino is situated on top of a hill, looking out over vineyards producing some of the world's greatest wine, Brunello di Montalcino. As it turned out, we arrived there just in time for panini for lunch with a glass of Brunello. One of the things that I love about Italian food, and more specifically, Tuscan food, is the simplicity of it. The panini that we ate were delicious; simply some salumi toscani between two pieces of bread that were slightly crunchy and warm. Paired with a glass of Brunello, and we had an excellent lunch! After lunch, we walked around for a bit, explored the fortezza, then headed back to the car for our next stop.

After following some small winding roads south for a little ways, we came across the Abbia di Sant'Antimo. There is record of this abbey as early as 813 AD, although a new abbey replaced the original structure in 1117. There are still monks who live and work here today. It is a very calm place, located in a beautiful valley.

Our final stop for the day was Pienza, a city rebuilt for Pope Pius II in the 1400's. He was originally from this area in Tuscany, and wanted a retreat from Rome. He had his hometown rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. It is located in the Val d'Orcia, a UNESCO world cultural landscape. These rolling green hills studded with cypress trees are exactly the type of scenery that you would expect from Tuscany. Here, we walked around, bought some cheese (Pienza is famous for its pecorino), checked out the cathedral, and then headed home.

The next day, we decided to take it a little slower, after seeing so many places the day before. As we headed to Montepulciano, we drove through the Crete Senese, the rolling clay hills south of Siena. Montepulciano is another town that is situated on top of a hill surrounded by vineyards. Here, they produce vino nobile di Montepulciano, another well-known red wine. Once there, we checked out some shops, saw an Etruscan tomb, and of course, had some wine with lunch, this time pizza. After lunch, we headed to the main piazza to check out the cathedral and the Palazzo Comunale. Parts of this city looked very familiar, as it was used as a backdrop for movies such as Under the Tuscan Sun, and more recently, New Moon. After taking in the vistas of Montepulciano, we headed home to get ready to leave for Rome in the morning.

To see more of my pictures from these days of traveling around Tuscany, check out my online album here: