Tag Archives: roadtrip

un viaje florentino

This past weekend was my first time visiting Italy (of many more to come)!  A few months ago my Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger sent me the itinerary for their two-week long Italian vacation (super jealous), hoping that I would be able to join them along part of it.  It just happened to work out that they would be in Florence for a week, including the weekend of May 25 – 27, so Dan and I booked a trip to meet up with them! We decided to fly through Bologna and then take the train to Florence, since, with all costs included, it still wound up being about half the price.  I took the bus to the airport from my office (20 minutes door to door!) and met Dan in the RyanAir visa check line around 1pm.  Of course, there were a million people that decided to rearrange their luggage once they got up to the counter, so it took us forever to get through to security. The security line was even crazier and Dan told me it was because 99% of people that go through security it is actually their first time doing so.  That’s actually not true, but I believed him, mostly because I’m gullible, but also because people really were taking forever!!

We got in the long RyanAir line and finally after passing the ticket scanner, we were informed that we were at the wrong gate.  We had nearly gotten on a plane to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest corner of Spain!  Crisis averted, I anxiously ran to find the other gate and then waited in that line for another 30 minutes.

After a normal burning hot/freezing cold RyanAir flight we landed in Bologna and took a cab to the train station.  There were two trains to Florence leaving within the next fifteen minutes, so I was getting anxious in the ticket counter line.  There were only first class tickets available for the second of the two, and the next train was not for another hour!  We quickly paid, grabbed our tickets and ran (again) through the crowded station to our platform.  Tons of people standing there, but no train.  Taking the reactions of everyone else into count, I deciphered the Italian train status update and gathered that the train was 20 minutes late.  Once we got on it was smooth sailing for the rest of the weekend though, and we kicked it off with free wine and snacks in first class wooo!

Our hotel was only a ten minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence, so we checked in rather quickly upon arrival, dropped our bags and headed over to the San Lorenzo Mercato, the infamous Florence leather market.  It was closing in an hour, but we weren’t sure when we’d make it back there (we walked at least three more times in the next 48 hours), so we wanted to check it out!  I wasn’t planning on making a purchase just yet, but I did decide to try on a jacket (or 5 or 6) just to get a feel for what I wanted and how much it would cost.  Twenty minutes later we headed back to the hotel with my new leather jacket in hand!  Usually it takes me forever to make decisions, but the fact that I loved it and that Dan and I tag-team bargained with the vendor until he dropped the “special price” over 50% is what sold me!

After phoning Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger’s hotel and showering, we met up with them right outside of our hotel to walk around the city before dinner.  We saw the Capelle Medicee, the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, Ufitzi, Piazza della Signoria y Palazzo Vecchio.  The sun was just setting and everything looked so beautiful in the light!  We made our way over to Acqua al 2, a trendy restaurant that Jackie had recommended to me, since her boyfriend James studied in Florence during the fall, and they had gone there for his birthday.  We enjoyed six tastings of fresh pastas with all different vegetables & sauces, three different filet mignons (one with blueberry & one with balsamic) and three delicious fresh salads.  It was a perfect dinner for our first meal in Florence since we got to try all different things and it really was very affordably priced.  Thank you so much for the recommendation, Jack!!  We finished the night with gelato and made plans to meet up at the leather market around 9am.

 

We started both Saturday and Sunday morning in the hotel with the free breakfast of croissants and rolls with nutella & jam, juice and coffee (cappuccino for me, café con leche for Dan), which gave us the energy to power through the long days ahead!  We spent all day Saturday driving around Chianti and the Tuscan countryside, stopping for wine tastings, fresh tomato/mozzarella/basil paninis, drinks looking out over thehills and lots of photo opportunities in small hill towns all afternoon.  It was beautiful and relaxing and certainly made up for the anxious travel day Dan and I had had the day before!

We made our way back to the city later on, enjoyed a snack of a smooth fresh pecorino (which was amazing), prosciutto de Parma and wines we had tasted and bought that day before heading across the river for a late dinner.  Mark & Ginger ate at the restaurant earlier in the week per the recommendation of their concierge but had no idea how popular it would be on a Saturday night!  We waited a while, but between the free glass of prosecco, people/food watching and conversation it seemed to pass very quickly. We had watched heaping plates of shellfish coming out to almost every table, so we knew we had to order that to share.  We also ordered a buffalo mozzarella stracciatella, which was fresh, torn, smooth buffalo mozzarella served over crispy fresh vegetables, and the traditional panzanella (Italian bread salad with balsamic vinegar and typical veggies).  After about 20 minutes it seemed the heaping pile of mussels, shrimp and clams was not getting any smaller, but when we turned around the table next to us had ordered TWO of them!!  Not only that, but when they finished those, the waiter brought out four plates of linguini with clams, one for each of them again!  We left around midnight, hoping to make it over to a gelato place that four local tour guides/waiters/etc. had recommended, but the gate was literally closing as we turned the corner.  We meandered around the city for a little while, taking in the city at night, which was absolutely beautiful.

Sunday morning, Dan and I headed over to the Galleria dell’ Accademia bright and early to see the David.  We didn’t have a reservation, but we actually made it into the museum in 15 minutes.  The statue was so impressively huge and detailed, I couldn’t believe how all of the photos I had ever seen of it did not even do it justice.  Dan made me snap this picture, even though it wasn’t allowed!!  I was freaking out they would kick us out of the museum, but of course no one even noticed.  The Prisoners were also very interesting, unfinished works by Michelangelo which make the sculptures seem like they are stuck in the blocks of stone.

We met up with Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger at their hotel around 10:30, stopped in the Santa Maria Novella Farmacia, an ornate, beautiful pharmacy belonging to the church and then made our way across the Ponte Vecchio and up to the Piazza Michelangelo for the great view of the city.  We also stumbled upon a beautiful rose garden that I would highly recommend visiting!  It’s down the far left side of the Piazza, toward the Boboli Gardens.  I love stumbling upon things like that, and it was great to not have a set agenda because we could take the time to explore!!  While making our way over to see the Pitti Palace, we passed a church that was built in the year 1078 too!  We were getting so hungry passing pizzeria after pizzeria, but were determined to make it to Gusta Pizza, James’ favorite pizza place during his semester abroad.  It was definitely worth the wait, I got an arugula pizza and Dan got one with spicy salami.  As if that wasn’t filling enough, we had to stop at the gelateria from the night before.  A small cup of tiramisu gelato & pear ricotta gelato put me in a serious food coma, the perfect state in which to get on the train back to Bologna.

       

 

The weekend was a perfect balance between touristy site-seeing and relaxing, and I’m so happy we got to spend it with Uncle Mark & Aunt Ginger.  Thank you guys so much for everything, and enjoy the rest of your trip!!  Hope everyone else had a great weekend too.  Ciao, amores:)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

chicas en la rioja

I’m so sorry I haven’t been posting very often!!  With just a few weeks of work under my belt I have been coming home and passing out very early almost every night.  However, once I get used to the new schedule, I promise I’ll be able to keep up with blogging even better than usual!

To add to the lack of time for blogging, last Tuesday & Wednesday were public holidays here in Madrid.  My four friends and I took these days off as an opportunity to plan a spur of the moment roadtrip to Spanish wine country.  La Rioja is about a three and a half hour drive from Madrid.  We picked up a car Monday afternoon and to our very pleasant surprise were given a white Audi A4 for the price of the four-door automatic car we had rented, since they had all already been picked up.

We stopped in Burgos for a yummy 7 euro dinner of traditional tapas (including blood pudding), red wine, salad & complimentary honey liquor, as well as to check out the famous cathedral there where El Cid is supposedly buried.  After that we headed to a bed & breakfast in Navarette, a small town about 10 kilometers outside of Logroño, the most commonly visited city in the region.

   

We headed over to a bar across the street for breakfast.  A few confusing encounters in bars, a piece of tortilla and a cup of black tea later, and we were on our way. Our first stop was Laguardia, a small town on the top of a hill and also a former fifteenth century fortress.  We enjoyed the beautiful views of the vineyards before settling on our first wine tasting.  We took a tour of a family-owned winery, very typical of the town.  Because Laguardia used to be a fortress, there are small basements in the bottom of nearly every building, which were used to hide food, water, etc. if need be. However, now they are used for wine cellars, wine-making, restaurants, bars or as part of personal homes. We got to see how the Carlos San Pedro Bodega makes their wine and also got to taste a glass before it goes into the final step of its aging in the bottle.  I’m really glad we started our trip at such a small scale winery because it was so cool to see the differences between this and the other ones we got to visit.  After the tasting we enjoyed some Basque Country pinchos before continuing on our way.

       

Next we stopped at Marques de Riscal, a fairly well-known winery in another small town, Elciego.  We took a tour of the new state-of-the-art winery, the older one and the storage rooms.  There were barrels upon barrels of wine, and they even have a huge storage area with bottles that they have saved from every year’s harvest. We also got to see the hotel at the vineyard, which was designed by Frank Gehry, the arquitect that designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.  We enjoyed a glass of red and a glass of white and then headed into Logroño to explore a famous tapas street there, Calle del Laurel.  Each bar had their own specialty, which was the only dish that some of them made, ranging from pineapple shrimp kebabs to sautéed mushrooms.

          

Wednesday morning we woke up bright & early, packed our things and got back in the car to head to a reservation we had made the day before for another tour!  We toured the Dinastia Vivanco Bodega and also checked out the Wine Culture museum, which is supposed to be the most interesting one in the region.  It was really cool to see all different things about the history and culture of wine-making though, and I’m definitely glad that we got to see it.

   

After the Dinastia Vivanco, we started heading home, but stopped in the capital city of the region, Haro, for lunch.  We had heard great things about Haro being a cute and fun small city to visit, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to our expectations.  Our experience wasn’t as crazy as the last stop we made on our way home from Sevilla in December (remember the Trujillo story?), but it certainly made us bring that up again.  We had a delicious menu del dia, but could not even finish a bottle of wine between the five of us, having drank far too many glasses of tastings in the past 48 hours.

{how red, white & rose wines go from grape to bottle}

All in all it was a really great weekend two days off in the middle of the week!  In between stopping at all of the vineyards we had a great time driving around the countryside and listening to awesome cds that Gabby, Lauren & Jackie had made for the trip.  Going to wine country for two days in the middle of the week with four of my best friends is definitely something I am going to miss when I go back home to the US.  Everyone always says that since I’m here, I have to take advantage of all of the cool things to do, but this experience has made me realize that you can do that anywhere… no matter where you’re living!

Hope everything is going great with you all and maybe this will inspire you to go exploring this weekend!  Animo, amores:)

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized