Thursday: Siena

We left our fabulous Scandicci villa this morning and headed to the walled city of Siena where we will spend the next few days.

It is hard for me to believe that once again we parked our car and then hours later could not find the lot. Here’s how easily it can happen in a walled city: (1) park the car, (2) walk in via the grand arched entrance (there are about five of them in Siena, I have come to learn), (3) walk around inside the walled streets with very few cars, have lunch, walk into a few shops, walk along some narrow almost-alleys to look around, (4) decide to get the car and check in at our hotel.

Attempts to retrace our steps didn’t work. We had walked all over in the three hours we were there. Yes, we had taken photos of where we parked, but that that didn’t help because there are so many entrances to the walled city, each about a 15 minute walk.

I put the parking receipt address in my phone and it brought us to a lot on the other side of the city, maybe the main lot but not where we were parked.

It rained, sometimes very hard in the 90 minutes we were searching. Finally we saw an available taxi and I showed the driver our parking receipt. He knew where the lot was located based on its name, which my GPS didn’t recognize.

It turns out it was a surprisingly long 10- minute cab ride away. I don’t know how we would have found the car otherwise. We would likely still be walking around.

We checked in at our charming old hotel, our clothing stuck to us from the rain. The receptionist, Alicia, was a gem, telling us in her very sweet English that she would give us the “best room possible” and then she walked us to it (I guess so we wouldn’t get lost).

We will explore more of Siena tomorrow. We can leave our car at the hotel and use the map Alicia gave us.

photos: bike outside a restaurant in Siena; lunch starter; this bar made me smile as we walked by


Wednesday: Florence

Today we took the tram in to Florence so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking or traffic in the city. The tram station is just a 15-minute drive from where we are staying and the huge parking lot is free. It was a very good decision all around, since the city today was full of people, buses, cars, and general busyness. Plus, it was a great day to be walking about.

We first went to the Duomo Cathedral, and the outside of the huge building is almost as impressive as the inside. It’s beautiful, with light-colored marble that has survived the years well since it was built at the end of the 13th century.

We had been inside the cathedral and gone to the top about 15 years ago, so with the long line to enter (it is free) today we didn’t feel the need to go inside and not be able to get near the artwork. Still, it is quite a fantastic sight to see from the piazza.

We went to the Uffizi Gallery next and spent a few hours checking out their ancient masterpieces. Again, it was crowded but it is surely tons worse during the height of the tourist season.

We left there and walked along the Arno River where a lone sculler had the entire stretch of river to himself and he seemed to be happily moving along.

By then we were ready for some coffee and amazingly the cafe had sfogliatelle, more commonly known as lobster tails in the US (when you can find them). First we split just one, then of course got another one because they are so perfect.

photos: a sculler on the Arno River in Florence this afternoon; sfogliatellešŸ˜; the beautiful exterior of the Duomo Cathedral

Tuesday: Around Tuscany

Today we set out to see the Villa Medici at Cafaggiolo near the Mugello region, about 45 minutes from where we are staying in Scandicci. The villa is notable because so many important events took place there during the Italian Renaissance, and its architecture is supposedly fabulous.

Although we found the huge villa, it is completely under renovation and closed to the public. We could not even get close enough to take a picture and there was nowhere around to park, but this summer home looked very impressive and perhaps we can revisit it in a decade or so when renovations are complete.

We still had a wine and olive oil tasting coupon for another wine producer not far from where we were yesterday, so that was our next stop. Their olive oil was so fresh – just made this week, and was the best ever. We got some to take home, if we can avoid opening it.

Next we went to San Gimignano, sometimes referred to as the “Manhattan of Italy.” The buildings there are tall and ancient, and there was a lot going on there. We encountered more people, mainly busloads of tourists, than we have seen in all of Italy. (Most of them were speaking English, which we hadn’t heard in a while.)

There were many small shops in the city, and we walked all over, not realizing we would have trouble finding our car. Every single time we have parked anywhere, we have taken a picture of where we are. Not this afternoon.

It took us 45 minutes through the maze of narrow streets, but we finally found it as the sun went down. Another five minutes figuring out the ticket payment machine and we were on our way back to Scandicci.

photos: our hosts set a beautiful table for us every morning and begin our day with a huge breakfast; the panoramic view from Mugello; an empty street in San Gimignano at the end of the day, after visitors left on their buses and we tried to figure out where our car was parked.

Monday: Barberino Val d’Elsa

Our hosts in Tuscany gifted us with a wine tasting coupon, so we headed to Barberino Val d’Elsa to check it out late this morning after another grand breakfast.

We made a stop along the way and when we got back into the car, the Check Engine light was on. The nearest Citroen service station was 35 minutes away in Florence, so away we went. The mechanics there were so nice and took a look right away, fixed whatever it was in a half hour, and charged us nothing.

We left busy Florence ( we plan to spend tomorrow or Wednesday there, but go by train) and went to the wine tasting, which was very good and it was interesting to hear about the wines they produce. After, we drove the long and winding dirt roads to the vineyard where their wine is made and got a fantastic nice long tour of the facility by one of the owners.

photos: the narrow road into the city. Below: an easy way to move furniture out of an apartment; olive trees are all over the place

Sunday: Scandicci

We are loving life in Tuscany after just 24 hours here. Our hosts are fantastic, and their attitude is that if you’re staying with us you are part of the family.

A lot of that ends up meaning food, and we are all for it. After an extra hour’s sleep because of the time change, we had a delicious and grand breakfast of eggs, cheese, pancetta, bread, jam, fruit – all grown by the family or prepared by Teresa, the host. It was delicious, needless to say.

We met a young couple from Canada who had been staying in the second bedroom for three days but were leaving that morning. They were fun to hat with a bit before they had to leave for their flight put of Rome.

We wandered into town, which was quiet since it is Sunday. When we came back to the villa, we were treated to wine, and mushroom lasagna, then a beef and potato dish, again with every ingredient grown or made on site. We were happily finished with eating when along came a mascarpone dessert with chocolate shavings on top. It was all better than any restaurant food we could have had, and all unexpected.

We left and stopped by an open house at a small nearby olive oil factory, and although we watched the whole process of olive and leaves going into the machine, the olives being separated, the fruit being chopped and blended, and eventually olive oil coming out, we did not sample anything because we were not at all hungry.

We came back to watch the sunset – an hour earlier than last night – and Teresa offered us wine and prosciutto on small warm rolls she had just made. Which of course we ate.

photos: Sunday sunset; an evening snack (plus wine); blending the olives – olive oil being made

Saturday: Collodi

(I am not sure why this post came up blank for a few days, but I only realized it thanks to my friend, Daniela. I’ll summarize my original post.)

Collodi is an interesting and somewhat quirky little town and the place where Carlo Collodi created Pinocchio. It was on our way to Scandicci, where we will stay for the next five days, so we made a stop there.

What a delightful place. We walked around the gorgeous gardens of Garzoni – the 17th century estate built by one of the most important families of the time. Probably because it is so huge and expensive to maintain, some of the upkeep seems to have slacked off but the stairways and statues are beautiful. We enjoyed checking out the expansive grounds.

We had lunch at a cafe next door and then walked around seeing the cute Pinocchio-themed everything that is a huge part of the town’s livelihood.

We took a series of winding dirt roads to the absolutely perfect Tuscany villa where we are staying. If not for GPS, there would be no way to find Pinocchio is at the entrance to the town; the entrance to the gardens; waterfall statue at the GarzoniĀ  gardens

Friday: Turin

We took the train to Turin today, a trip of a little over an hour. Turin is the capital city of Italy’s Piedmont area and like every other city and town we have visited, it is beautiful. As the train got closer to Turin, we could see the snow-covered Alps in the distance.

Turin is a big city and needs more than a day trip to see everything, but we got a nice feel for life there. The giant squares – piazzas – look to be used for festivals and gathering, and today were crisscrossed with what seemed to be university students .

We visited the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento, a beautiful building with portraits and artifacts of Italy’s 19th century history. That took most of the afternoon after a pizza lunch at midday.

We planned to take a 4:30 train back to Alba, but didn’t realize there are two huge train stations in the city and we were in the wrong one. We left on a train an hour later than we planned and our stuffed-full- with-people train reminded me of Friday nights of long, long ago on the Long Island Railroad.

photos: one of the piazzas in the city; ready for Halloween in a big way; the ceiling in a room of the museum

Thursday: Cherasco

Today we visited Cherasco, the self-proclaimed snail capital of Italy and also a big chocolate/hazelnut town. They say they were the first to add hazelnuts to chocolate, and okay – we will believe it.

The small town is charming and of course like the entire Piedmont area, very old. Thursday turns out to be the market day in Cherasco, so everyone was out and about. We checked out their ancient and beautiful church, strolled around the town, and had a delicious lunch. I had to have lumache (snails) and was glad I did.

We drove to Alba on some back roads – the long way – to take in the perfect views in this part of Italy.

photos: snails for lunchā¤

the ornate ceiling insiijs the church in town; market day beyond the arch

Wednesday: Saluzzo

We drove to Saluzzo today, a medieval city that is about an hour from where we are staying. The fog was very thick when we started, but as we drove up in the mountains a bit it became much clearer.

We got to Saluzzo on their big market day and many roads were closed off in the center of the city. We drove around for a while before finding parking on a side street – it seemed that everyone in Saluzzo was at the market.

We checked out what they were selling: meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and clothing, shoes, household items. The market was similar to the one in Alba on Saturday, but still fun to walk around.

We had wanted to tour La Castiglia, a castle there, but it was not open today. The ancient church was closed for a funeral. No matter – it was still quite a beautiful town to walk around. We bought some tomatoes and a couple kiwis.

We had lunch at a busy restaurant with a fantastic buffet. Again, it seemed as though everyone in town was there. We headed back to Alba after buying a few bakery treats at a forno – a bakery – we walked past as we went back to our car.

photos: the ancient city; at the market; decorated streets for a festival this weekend

Tuesday: Barbaresco/ Neive


We visited Barbaresco today, a small city with beautiful – but foggy today – panoramic views and plenty of vineyards. They make wonderful wine there, but it’s tough to find an espresso in town. We never did.

We enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings and the quiet solitude we felt there. Tourist season is over for sure – we may have seen three other people during our time in the center of town.

We drove to Neive, a neighboring city that’s just a little bigger than Barbaresco. We easily found coffee there and we checked out the area. A school seemed to be for students all the way to high school, and kids dashed out on the streets at lunch time.

We had lunch in one of the two restaurants in town before heading back to Alba.

20191022_09371620191022_123500photos: autumn in Neive; Barbaresco view; Tiramisu dessert!