The beginning of our travel to Italy
03.20.2011 - 03.21.2011
Our March 2011 Trip to Italy
This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.
The beginning of our travel to Italy
03.20.2011 - 03.21.2011
Italy Day 1
03.21.2011 - 03.21.2011
I found out today that three flights, 1 bus, 1 cab, and 1 train is just a little too much travel for one day. The day started off in Des Moines. The plane left about an hour late but we still had plenty of time to catch our next flight from Chicago to London that left at 11:45pm. This was a 777 that had plenty of room but every single seat on the plane was filled. We arrived at London heathrow at noon the next day and just barely caught the next plane that went to Milan. From Milan we had to take an hour bus to catch a train to Bologna. We got to Bologna about 8pm and took a taxi to our hotel. The Hotel Porta San Mamolo was very nice and the staff was helpful.
We did have a little drama in Milan. After getting off the bus in Milan at the train station we went to buy some train tickets. For some strange reason, you have to partially pay in cash for the tickets. We headed for the ATM which was a block away. Got to the ATM, stuck in my card, requested 300 euro, and was denied! I knew in the back of my mind that everything would ok but it's still a little scary to not have one cent to your name in a foreign country. We then tried another account for less money and everything went through fine. I later figured out that I was probably went over my limit since 300 euro is over $400 U.S. The card worked the rest of the trip.
Bologna and Ducati
03.22.2011 - 03.22.2011
Had a great time today visiting the Ducati factory in Bologna. It was very cool to see how they build the bikes. This is also the headquarters of the Ducati Corse but that area you can't see during the tour. A few blocks down the road is the Ducati outlet but only the clothes are on sale Interesting side note, the newest Ducati MotoGP bikes are actually more orange than red. Apparently this makes them show up better on HD TV's.
The tour only lasted a couple of hours so we had some time to visit Bologna. Bologna is not really a tourist city but we really enjoyed it. We had a great dinner about a block from our hotel at Al Sangiovese. We stayed at the Hotel Porta San Mamolo and was really happy with the room .The breakfast was just ok but everyone was very nice and we'd stay there again.
Italian Days Food Tour
03.23.2011 - 03.23.2011
If you're in Bologna, this is a must do.
Italian Days Tour
We saw great reviews on tripadvisor about this tour and couldn't agree more. We went during a slow time of the year so we were the only ones on the tour. Alessandro was a great tour guide. We rode around in a new Mercedes and visited Parmiggiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico in Modena & Prosciutto di Modena Factories. We then had a HUGE lunch at a restaurant in the hills of Bologna. Fabrice the driver did a good job driving us around and even took us back to the train station instead of forcing us to pay for a separate cab.
One of the surprising things we saw on the tour was a drive up wine station. It was just like a gas station but wine came out of the pumps.
03.24.2011 - 04.24.2011
On days 3, after the end of our food tour we got on a train to Venice. The train ride took a little over an hour and dropped us off right across the water from our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Antiche Figure. This was a nice hotel with plenty of space, nice staff, and easy to find.
On day 4 we decided to roam around the city. We purchased a 24 hour pass on the water taxi and everything worked as planned. We visited St. Marks square, went up into Campanile di San Marco, and visited Doge's palace.
We had dinner at Taverna Ciardi. The food was good and the owner was very friendly.
Overall I'm happy that we visited Venice but I think one day is enough. Even in slow season it was very busy and once you get past the wow factor it's just ok.
Driving in Tuscany
03.25.2011 - 03.25.2011
On the morning of day 5 we woke up early and headed to Hertz to pick up our car. At times like this I was happy that we decided to each just take a backpack. I could write a another blog just on our decisions to take 2 carry on backpacks but I'll save that for another time.
We got in our little Fiat 500, plugged in the GPS, and headed for Siena on the autostrade. The Fiat worked out perfect for this trip. It had enough power to get us going 95mph, handled well in the curves around the hill towns, and was small enough to get around well on the small city streets. The trip from Venice to Siena took us a little over 3 hours.
In Siena we stayed at Borgo Grondaie. This is a converted Tuscan farm located about 2 miles outside of Siena. We wanted to stay in place where it was easy to park and easy to explore local hill towns. Once again, the accommodations we good and the staff was helpful.
Since it was late afternoon, we decided to just drive into Siena and check out Piazza del Campo. I really liked Siena and can't imagine what it likes to be there during the Palio horse races.
On the way home we decided to stop at the local grocery store to pick up some pop and check things out. I was very surprised to see the busiest grocery store ever and this was early afternoon on a Friday. Over 40 checkouts were running and they had some interesting technology. When you walk in the store you can grab a price gun and just scan everything you buy. Then when you go to checkout you just hand the clerk the price gun and you're checked out.
I learned the hard way that uscita di sicurezza means emergency exit in Italian. Since the place was so busy we decided to just leave without buying anything. I couldn't find an exit so I decided to just go through a gate. What Jenn didn't tell me was that it was an emergency exit and some alarms went off. The clerk turned around and in English said "that is an emergency exit". Pretty embarrassing but we can laugh about it now.
After a long day we decided that we didn't have the energy to drive back into siena for dinner so we had our customary dinner at McDonald's. We usually do this once on every trip. It's a relief to just walk into a place and order a #2 and know what you're getting.
Siena, Volterra, and San Gimignano
03.26.2011 - 03.26.2011
We woke up early on day 6, had breakfast at the hotel, and started the drive to Volterra. There is no way to describe how curvy the roads were around this area. The roads are also pretty narrow and the locals drive very fast. At one point I thought Jenn was going to throw up but she handled it like a trooper.
We arrived in Volterra and everything was fine until all hell broke loose. I had pre-programmed some parking into the GPS but what the Garmin didn't tell me was that it was Saturday and they were having a farmers market in the streets. Even without these farmers markets the drive would have been very challenging. There are no sidewalks so you're driving where people are walking, cars are parked, and the road is narrow to begin with. I got stuck in multiple dead ends and didn't have space to turn around. I had to back down hills where I had less than a foot on each side of the car. Jenn got out of the car to help me get around these obstacles. Looking back i think she got out of the car so she didn't have to experience my breakdown. In the end it all worked out and we finally found a parking lot. I'd like to apologize to Hertz, from the smell of the clutch, I think I did about 5 years worth of damage to the clutch in one afternoon.
Volterra was an interesting town and like other hill towns had an amazing church. After a couple of hours exploring the town we decided to get back in the car and head for San Gimignano.
We arrived in San Gimignano without any issues San Gimignano is a small town that's known for it's towers. It has 14 different towers in town. When talking about these hill towns it's hard to describe exactly what you do because you don't go there to see specific landmarks. You just walk around these towns and that's enough to stay entertained. You turn a corner and see something else that isn't in the guidebook but is interesting.
Before leaving San Gimignano we talked about how we had been in Italy for 5 days and hadn't had any gelato. We went to Gelateria di Piazza near the square and it was the best gelato we've ever had anywhere. The final 4 days of our trip we never went another day without a little gelato
We got back to Siena and had dinner at Trattoria La Torre. In my opinion, this was the best place we ate at during the whole trip. The tiny restaurant probably had seating for 30 people, the owner refused to speak English (usually a good sign), and the food was excellent. The owner seated us and proceeded to give us our options in Italian. There were no menus but Jenn managed to figure out what he was saying and ordered for both of us. While seated you sitting about 5 feet from the open kitchen and you can see everything they do. The dried pasta was sitting on a table as you walked into the restaurant. For desert we had tiramisu, which was also amazing.
03.28.2011 - 03.28.2011
On day 7 our goal was to drive from Siena to Rome, drop the car off at the airport, and get situated in our hotel. We left early on Sunday and decided to stop in the tiny town of Civita. Now this is what I call a real hill town. I would guess there are less than 100 people that live in this town which is situated on a small hill and only accessible via footbridge. We arrived early enough that there were no other tourists. Even though it was a little foggy, the views were awesome. Jenn has a little bit of a problem with heights so she had a little anxiety walking up and down the footbridge.
After Civita we made the trip to the Rome airport which really was stress free. We then got on the train from the airport to downtown rome and then took the metro to the closest stop to our hotel. We stayed at the Artemide Hotel.
Since it was getting a little late in the day we decided to take a cab to Pizzeria Da Baffetto. The last time we were in Rome we got addicted to this pizza. We've always went to the original at Via del Governo Vecchio and have never been disappointed. Be warned that if you don't get there early, you'll be waiting in line. There will also be a good chance that you'll be sitting at the table with someone else.The 3 times we were there on this trip 2 times we sat next to someone. We first sat next to some young girls from Korea and the next night next to a nice couple from Australia.
Rome and heading home
03.29.2011 - 03.30.2011
Since we had been to Rome before we decided to just revisit some of the same sites and just hang out. The last time we were here we somehow missed St. Peters Basilica. We decided to check it out and we were not disappointed. We've seen some big churches in Europe but this puts the other to shame.
We decided not to go back into the coliseum this time even though the basement area is now open. We saw other sites like Trevi fountain, Piazza Venezia, etc.
We did have to switch hotel on the last day. Luckily the other hotel was owned by the same people company and only two blocks away. We stayed at the Hotel IQ. Looking back I wish we would have stayed there all 3 nights. As much as I hate staying at an American type hotel while in Europe this hotel was less than 5 years old and very nice.