Under the Tuscan Sun

Trip Start Aug 19, 2013
Trip End Dec 13, 2013

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Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Saturday, October 26, 2013

I'm in Athens right now!!! It's crazy!! But before I get carried away talking about the interesting adjustments in my life right now (the next post?), I'm going to talk about my week long break I had with my parents!
Last Tuesday they arrived in Rome. This happened to be the day of my two finals: Art History and Theology. I was quite restless during the day as you may imagine. As soon as my Theology final was over I sprinted home as fast as my short legs could carry me and met them on the Island. The  hugs exchanged that day were the best ever!! I could immediately sense how jet-lagged they really were (they had only slept one hour in the last 24!) so I gave them a quick tour of my neighborhood and we went out for dinner where we caught up on life. I sent them to bed right after ;)
The next day I was lucky and didn't have any finals so we spent the whole day together. I brought them to my favorite cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) café and we walked over to the Colosseum and Roman Forum--stopping along the way to admire some awesome Roman ruins. We got an awesome tour of the Forum and Colosseum (something I actually hadn't done during my time there) and then we went out for pizza after. The rest of the afternoon we spent walking around Rome towards Piazza Navona, stopping along the way for a gelato stop as well as at the Pantheon and a church--with a random Michelangelo piece (no big deal!). After seeing the Piazza, we went to Campo di' Fiori and had happy hour in the square. :) Then we walked all the way back across Rome to see the Trevi Fountain at night, stopping for dinner on the way. As you might guess, we walked a LOT that day and were quiet tired at the end of the day. It was a really great day though; we accomplished a lot and got some quality family time.
Thursday I stayed home and packed up the apartment and cleaned a lot. My parents went to see the Vatican and the museum, which I've done enough times :) It was sad to say goodbye to my friends and Rome that night!
Friday morning was spent getting to and figuring out the rental car and then once we got it we started the drive to Assisi. Getting through Rome was quite interesting, especially since there was a transportation strike that day we had to avoid (luckily we could get our car!!!). I was in the front seat during the whole week, helping my dad navigate thanks to our trusty "Surly," the GPS app on my dad's phone (called Surly because it sounds like Siri but isn't because it's an Android). Throughout the week we used Surly for every excursion because of the daunting task of figuring out Italian roads; the twists and turns plus Italian signage would be impossible without the app. By the end of the week we could find the humor in navigating Italy: "in 300 meters, keep going straight" or "make a U-turn whenever possible" were some of Surly's common phrases. We made it through the week without any trouble which is quite an accomplishment!
We arrived in Assisi around 4 and checked into our beautiful hotel. Having a clean room with a hot, pressurized shower is about all I ask for anymore (yes my hygiene standards have lowered)so I was quite pleased. That night we decided to go to San Dominic for evening vespers service. Because of a miscommunication of time we ended up spending a great deal of time which is fine because it's beautiful and significant. After the Italian vespers service we walked into town a bit to get a lovely dinner. The town is quite sleepy at night so we went home after dinner; we were also tired because of the stressful drive to get to Assisi. The next day we did a tour of the Basilica of St. Francis, shopped a bit, got lunch, and then saw the Basilica of St. Clare and the Basilica of the Holy Angels. As you might imagine, the main attractions in Assisi are the churches, which are lovely. But the town is beautiful in its own way with it's creamy brown stones and flowers everywhere. Some streets are so quiet and lonely, I felt as though I was discovering them for the first time. Assisi is one of my favorite places in Italy. My parents loved it as well! Pace e bene!
After our half-day in Assisi we got in the car and drove to Tuscany to find our villa. As I mentioned in the last post, it is in the middle of nowhere. We literally had to meet up with the owner so he could drive us there because it was not on the map. Surly thinks we were "offroad." It was a nice change for me to be in the middle of nowhere though. Our villa was about as quaintly beautiful as they get! It was exactly as I had dreamed it would be. The mustard yellow walls, pictures of grapes on the walls (among other varieties of artwork), and stone-lined arches made my dream come true. Not to mention the view from the windows, overlooking the rolling countryside! It was our home for 5 nights and was just perfect. That night we went to the grocery store (where my expertise was helpful) and came back and cooked spaghetti and drank some wine.
The next day we slept in (I was woken up at noon...whoops...) and we drove a loop around Tuscany and stopped at towns to do wine tastings. It was a bit rainy and cold but a fun way to spend an afternoon. We ended the day in Siena where we explored a bit and had a delicious dinner. Monday was more of the same with the icky weather but we perservered and went out to sightsee. We went to Volterra (where Twilight's "Volturi" is supposedly from, although the movie "New Moon" was not actually filmed there). We were stuck inside because of the downpour, so we explored a gothic church and shopped for Alabaster for entirely too long. The rain subsided finally so we dashed to the car and drove to San Gimangnano (I still don't know how to pronounce the name). That town was the highlight of my day! It didn't rain while we were there so we strolled around, shopped, had lunch, and walked to the top of the castle overlooking the town. It was beautiful and perfectly medieval. After that we went to the town of Monteriggioni. It was tiny! There was one main strip of road which had a church, a bar, and a restuarant along with like 3 shops. The charm of the town was very well-preserved though--it reminded me of going to the Renaissance festival, although a tiny version of it. Unfortunately we had banked on having dinner at that town--an idea which was shot after we spent about 45 minutes there before thinking we should leave. It was cute to look at and I don't regret it! I only wish we had come there before San Gimangnano so we could've had dinner there. But no matter :) We went home and finished up some pasta and chilled out.
On Tuesday we got up early and jumped into the car at 8am. We drove north with the destination of Cinque Terre in mind. I really wanted to stop in Pisa on the way, just so we could get a picture with the leaning tower. It was pretty cool to see that! We arrived in La Speiza, as far as you're supposed to drive, at 12:30ish. We had to figure out parking and transportation to actual Cinque Terre, so by the time we got to our destination, it was almost 2pm. Ah, the joys of travel! We went to Monterosso and had lunch, with quite a touristy group of Americans, French, and Italians. We walked around and got some great pictures! Honestly, Cinque Terre is exactly how the google images and Pinterest pictures look. Another dream was coming true! It's still unreal to me to think that I was in Cinque Terre. They are the CUTEST towns. As you probably already know, the rainbow cluster of buildings are perched right on steep cliffs next to the Mediterranean Sea. It's picture-perfect and a feast for the eyes. We visited both Vernazza (my personal favorite) and Riomaggioni. Unfortunately some of the hiking trails between the towns were closed because of all the rain Italy got, and the other trails were too steep to consider. We walked around and had several happy hours. I ran into some Johnnies on the Greco-Roman program (I'm on the Roman-Greco) who were visiting Italy and we invited them to have some drinks with us. It was nice to catch up! We went back to La Spezia for dinner of Gyros then conquered the long drive back home. Overall the day was a bit stressful because of the transportation challenges but there were moments of relaxation and heavenly bliss.
On Wednesday we went to Florence! The city is close to our villa which was nice. We parked at the panoramic overlook (Michelangelo's Piazza) and walked down to the city. We stopped for a cappucino, then crossed the Ponte Vecchio bridge--with all the shops--and made our way through Signora Square to the Duomo. I'm really sorry if you don't know what these places are; if you don't you should look up Florence and start planning your next vacation. ;) We went inside the Duomo, which is a massive Church that showcases a beautiful mix of gothic architecture and Bramante's genious. We went to lunch, then we got in line for the Academia to see "David." The line for that actually went by much faster than we expected, like 15 minutes!!! After spending some time in there admiring Michelangelo's work, we went to the leather market!  Florence is known for its' leather so there is a year round market which sells everything from belts to purses to boots to coats. The best part is that you can usually bargain the prices down a bit. :) After shopping a bit, we took a walk around some other lesser-known sights in Florence, like Dante's house and the Basilica of Santa Croce. We felt we had done well in Florence so we had an early dinner at an American bar in which I treated myself to a hambuger, fries, and a milkshake. I'm a hambuger junkie if you didn't know, so it was glorious!!! Then we drove home and went to bed.
On Thursday we packed up and left our villa and drove down the coast, stopping at a town of Santo Stefano which is another cute beach town of Italy! Unfortunately it was another rainy day in Italy so we didn't get to spend as much time outside exploring beach towns as we had planned on. We got to our motel which was right on the ocean, but didn't see the prettiest side of it because of the rain. We went out for one last dinner of Napolean pizza and I finished packing up and went to bed.
Overall it was a really great week break!!! I loved spending time with my parents, although we were missing my sister! We all learned valuable lessons about going with the flow because of travel not going according to plan. There's so much to do and see and I think we did a really great job. I miss Italy a lot, even just writing this blog makes me nostalgic, but I feel like I saw everything I wanted to see in Italy and had the time of my life! Here's to new adventures and life always moving forward!!
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