Florence: Wine, Art, Gelato, and Wine

Love Locks

The train ride from Venice to Florence was about two hours long, but went fairly quickly. On the way there I read through our Italy guidebook and my notes from our Florence guidebook to refresh my memory on places we wanted to make sure we saw.  We arrived at the train station and used the scary underground walkway to get to the other side of the street, opposite the station. Then, we promptly got lost. Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here. We walked around for about another 20 minutes, the whole time within a block of our apartment. Don’t you love that?

Our apartment contact, Artan, was pretty awesome. After checking in, he took Bryan and me out into the neighborhood and showed us where the nearest grocery store was, the general store, the meat and produce market, where not to buy leather, and the best (and cheapest) meal in Florence.

Our apartment was huge and had a really weird layout due to the fact that the building was from the 1400s. Definitely rustic. It had a family room/dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms, a loft and two bathrooms. It was in a great location, right around the corner from the Duomo, on a really quiet street.

After checking out the apartment and unpacking, we went to the grocery store for the first time this trip. Being able to buy and cook your own food is a great way to save tons of money. Going to the supermarket for the first time in another country is always interesting. It typically goes a little something like this:

  1. Go into store and wander around trying to figure out what everything is because the labels are all different. You spend lots of extra time spent trying to figure out what you’re looking at, because it’s in a different language.
  2. Walk around the store some more and try to get the layout down pat. Where was that cereal again?
  3. Put lots of wine in your basket, because it’s cheap.
  4. Buy waaaay more food than any other person in the store and get crazy looks from the cashier. From what I’ve seen, most people in Europe shop day to day instead of weekly like a lot of Americans do. Note: this also makes it easier to carry things back to your apartment.
  5. Carry all of your loot home and find out you forgot to get something.
  6. Go back to store and repeat, but this time you know where everything is.

By the second or third trip to the grocery store, I usually know where just about everything is and can get in and get out with minimal issues. It’s kind of comical when you notice people that are obviously there for the first time and think ‘That was just me yesterday!’

Our first night we made some awesome chicken parmesan, played card games, and went to bed early so we could have a full day of touring. We spent a very rainy day exploring the Duomo, the Duomo Tower and the Uffizi Museum. The Duomo is spectacular on the outside and absolutely beautiful on the inside. Even better, it was free. We bought combined tickets for the Crypt, Tower and Baptistery, and in my opinion, it wasn’t worth it. I’ve seen a few crypts in my travels and this one was just ok. Nothing spectacular. I loved the Tower climb (really great quad and butt workout) and at the top, there were great views of the city and the Duomo’s dome. I highly recommend making the climb. We wanted to climb to the Duomo’s dome, but the line was crazy long. Not really worth the wait since we were able to go right up the Tower stairs.

Duomo

Afterwards, we went to the Uffizi Museum, which is over by the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. We didn’t purchase tickets in advance (or the Firenze Pass), but we were able to get a time within 15 minutes of buying our tickets. The Uffizi has soooo much art in it that you could easily spend two days going through each of the hallways and rooms. I love art, but by about the second hour I was tired and starving. We had a late, cheapo lunch at a pizziera in the square. It was 5€ for a slice of pizza or Panini and a beer…not bad, right?

Ponte Vecchio Bridge

After lunch we did a little more wandering, some gelato tasting, shopping, and then headed back to the apartment for dinner. Did I mention yet how miserable the weather was the entire time we had been traveling so far? Rain the entire time. We made the best of it, but it kind of put a damper on walking around. We made another trip to the grocery store and had some hamburgers (‘Merica!) and pesto grilled chicken sandwiches for me because I don’t eat red meat.

The next day was our freaking awesome and totally-worth-it wine tour. Wine! Our winery tour with Pierre of Tuscan Winery Tours was one of the highlights of Florence. We met him on the other side of the city, underneath the Piazza de Michaelangelo. He was very warm and friendly, and gave us a rundown of our itinerary for the day. The plan was to visit two wineries with lunch in between, and then make a stop in a little town to browse some shops.

Wine barrels

The ride out to the first winery, Coranzo & Paterno, was quick and we introduced ourselves to the lovely woman and her mother that joined us from Romainia to celebrate Women’s Day. I had never heard of Women’s Day before, and it seems like it’s popular outside of the US. It started raining harder as we got out of our van, so we quickly looked at the vineyard and headed inside to see where they make, bottle, and store the wine. Then we got our wine and cheese on. Coranzo & Paterno Winery also has a diary onsite and their cheeses were out of this world.

I.Love.Cheese.

Wine and Cheese Tasting

We sampled five different vintages of wine and six different types of cheese, along with three olive oils and two types of jam. Pierre gave us a quick lesson on how to taste the wine and olive oil, and told us a little about each of the wines. My favorites were the 2008 and the 2011. We bought two bottles of each, which were reasonably priced. After drinking about a bottle myself in an hour probably anything would have seemed reasonably priced. When in Tuscany….

Chianti view

Next, we took a short ride to Dario Cecchini, the Crazy Butcher’s, shop in Panzano. We were warned by Pierre that Dario is an artist, and that we should be able to tell what kind of mood he was in by the type of music playing when we walked in. He kind of put a little fear in us, dropped us off at the door, and sped off to ‘park the van’. I was a little worried about what we had gotten ourselves into as AC/DC came pumping out of the shop. We walked inside and were greeted with heavy metal, free flowing wine, cured meats and lard on bread. Sounds like a good time to me!

The Crazy Butcher

Someone mentioned to Dario that they liked his taste in music and he replied by saying, “You like AC/DC?!” and cranked the stereo as loud as it would go. I think my ears are still bleeding ringing, but it was pretty cool to rock out with a knife-wielding legend. After a few minutes of headbanging, we headed across the street to Dario’s restaurant where we had our own table set up with fresh veggies, olive oil, vinegar, delicious bread and more wine.

Veggies

And then came the meat. Now, I’m not much of a carnivore…I just started eating pork five years ago, and still won’t touch ham today…but the food we had here was life changing. We had rosemary roasted pork that was delicious, a pulled pork that was mouthwatering, and a steak tartare, which I didn’t eat, but I heard was amazing. All of that was accompanied by roasted potatoes and some homemade sauces that were so good I thought about stuffing a few of the bottles in my purse…or at least lick what was left off of the plate. Soooo good!  And so good that I didn’t take pictures. Ha!

After rolling our food-and-wine-stuffed selves back into the van, we took a short ride to Montecalvi Winery to spend some time visiting with Jacqueline, one of the owners. The weather was still crappy, so we took a quick tour of the grounds and headed inside to warm up by the massive fireplace in her lovely, rustic home. Talking with Jacqueline felt like talking to an old friend. We had a great time chatting about the winery and about life in general. After we had exhausted our bottles of wine, we said our goodbyes and made one final stop at a few quaint little stores to do some souvenir shopping. By the time we got back to Florence, we were exhausted and grabbed some quick dinner.

Montecalvi

The next day, Bryan and I went to the airport to pick up my sister, Kim, to join us for the rest of our trip. Once we found the bus station, it was really easy to get to the airport in Florence. It took us almost 30 minutes to find the bus station once we got to the train station. We asked for directions at least 3 times, including the information desk at the train station, which was so not helpful.

It’s inside a building about a block away from the train station. Crappy signage and lots of time wasted. If you still can’t find it, look for a bus and follow it…that’s how we finally found it. Luckily, we got to the airport just as Kim’s flight landed. The bus wasn’t leaving for Florence again for another 30 minutes, so we took a taxi back to the apartment. It was a little more expensive than the bus, but it brought us within a block of the apartment.

We went to the apartment to drop off Kim’s luggage and it was at that point that I realized I had left my jacket in the taxi. I didn’t get the taxi number or remember the company, so I considered the jacket gone. Bummer. It was one of my favorites because it was warm, waterproof, and had a awesome hood. That jacket went with me on at least five other trips. I ended up buying a waterproof jacket at a Superdry store that was not so waterproof.

After buying a jacket, we made our way up to the Piazza de Michaelango, which over looks the entire city of Florence. It’s a little bit of a hike, but has great views. Afterwards, we did a quick walking tour of the sites for Kim and got some gelato at our favorite place, Corona’s Café.  We made reservations for 5pm at the Accademia to see the Statue of David. The reservation desk is across the street from the museum in the building with the red door. It was so worth it to make reservations, especially for that time of day.  It wasn’t too crowded and an hour was the perfect amount of time to see everything in the museum.  The Statue of David was absolutely awe inspiring; definitely put it on your must see list!

It was our last night, so we had dinner at one of the places Artan recommended. Bistrot La Capannina was one of the best, cheapest meals we had. Our order was taken by the same guy that cooked the food and served us, and it was delicious. We called it an early night to finish packing. The next day we were taking the train to Rome and then picking up a car to drive to Sorrento.

Have you been to Florence? What was your favorite sight?

Sweepstakes: Condè Nast Readers’ Choice Survey

Conde Nast 2013 Sweepstakes

Source: Condè Nast Traveler

I just started following Condè Nast Traveler on Twitter this week and saw they were offering an awesome trip package in exchange for hearing readers’ travel experiences. They want to hear what you have to say about the cities, islands, resorts, airlines, hotels, spas and cruise ships you’ve experienced in the past year.

The Sweepstakes ends April 30th, 2013, so head on over to their website to enter to win a Grand Prize of a 3-night stay at the One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico and a First Prize trip to Australia for a a 3-night stay at Qualia. Honestly, both trips sound amazing and I’ve only heard great things about both locations.

Beware, the survey is a little long if you’ve been to more than 2-3 places over the past year. Good luck!

Are Los Cabos, Mexico or Australia on your future trips list?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Condè Nast Traveler to talk about this sweepstakes. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to win a great vacation.

Sweepstakes: Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

Volvo Road Trip of a Lifetime

I was reading through my email this morning and came across an email from Volvo about their Road Trip of a Lifetime Sweepstakes. Volvo flies you and a guest out to the Volvo Factory, gives you a facility tour, and then lets you drive one of their cars around Western and Southern Sweden. The sweepstakes is promoting their Oversees Delivery Program. I first heard about this last year from Kevin and Amanda’s Blog. Amanda was lucky enough to be contacted by Volvo and given the chance to experience the prizes in this giveaway. You can read about her experience here.

Funny enough, a few weeks after reading her recap I found myself heading to Sweden for work. I didn’t get that much extra time to explore Sweden, but what I did see definitely made me interested in exploring more of that area of the world. I have a draft post for my Sweden trip waiting for some final edits, but in the meantime, take a look at what this contest has to offer.

I chose the Volvo XC60, because I’m dying to buy an SUV so Gus has a comfy ride around town. Yep, I want a bigger car just for my dog…he’s a beast! As you step through the website, it guides you through selecting activities for each day that you add to your itinerary. You can also pick one of the pre-planned itineraries based on your interests. While the pre-planned itineraries looked amazing, I ended up wanting a mix of of historical, culinary and outdoors activities. My final itinerary looked like this:

DAY 1

SAS TRAVEL DAY

Stay at: The Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel

DAY 2

PICK UP VOLVO

  • Volvo Factory Delivery Center
  • Volvo Cars Brand Experience Center
  • Volvo Café and Shop
  • The Volvo Museum

DAY 3 & 4

WEST SWEDEN

Stay at: Bjertorp Slott
Activities:

DAY 5 & 6

SKÅNE (SOUTH SWEDEN)

Stay at: Ystad Saltsjöbad
Activities:

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Map of my Sweden Itinerary

Good luck if you enter!

Have you been to Sweden before, or would winning this contest be your first time there? What do you think would be your favorite part of the trip?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Volvo to talk about this giveaway. I just wanted to share this awesome chance to road trip around a really cool part of the world.