Showing posts with label Cortona Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cortona Italy. Show all posts

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Next stop: Florence. . .

“Visiting Florence was like attending a surprise party every day.”
                        -- Jennifer Coburn, We’ll Always Have Paris

I’d like to tell you that we hopped off that train from Rome that we were on when I last wrote and walked straight to our hotel in Florence, our first stop on our week-long Tuscan getaway.

But I can’t. Because sometimes even seasoned travelers like us can get themselves turned around. Or  in other words, lost.

Sina Vill Medici Florence Italy
The Scout, had searched and selected the hotel, in part, because of it being easy walking distance from the train station. The other reason was that the Sina Villa Medici was housed in a magnificent once-upon-a-time family home in Florence; it one of those hotels that virtually ooze history as you walk their hallways.

Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
It IS an easy walking distance if you don’t arrive after dark and take a wrong turn exiting the station as we did. Our rather long, circuitous route added a good 20 minutes to our walk but it also took us through some interesting areas like Santa Maria Novella and its expansive piazza, pictured above.

So with suitcases rattling on the uneven cobblestones we took turns asking for directions at two other hotels along our way. We finally arrived at our hotel with a much needed paper map in hand (given to us by a kind hotel desk clerk of whom we'd asked directions). I should note our cell phones don't work in Italy making Google Maps useless.

Bags in room, glasses of Italian wine in the lobby bar and it was time for the vacation to begin:

First stop:  David

PicMonkey Collage
Michelangelo's David at the Accademia, Florence, Italy

We visited Florence once – long ago – and didn’t waste precious sight-seeing time standing in the blocks-long line of people waiting to see David, Michelangelo’s marble creation carved between 1501 and 1504. By the time we made this trip we’d smartened up: from home we'd made reservations and purchased on-line tickets. We simply walked up to the door at the appointed time and entered. In fact, we arrived two hours early to pick up the tickets with a plan to return at the appointed time and instead they allowed us in early.

Another piece that caught our eyes - Accademia, Florence, Itay
It was as amazing as everyone over the centuries has said it would be.  But then we found much of the artwork to be amazing and always ponder why one particular item like David or Mona Lisa get all the press while other amazing pieces don’t.

Aimless Ambles

Street art near our hotel - Florence, Italy
With the one thing on our ‘to do’ list done, we ambled aimlessly through this city sometimes called the ‘Athens of the Middle Ages’, home to Dante Alighieri and the birthplace of gelato. 

Florence street scene
We walked past the city’s popular tourist destinations, the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio among them, but found just everyday street scenes to be more interesting than those tourist attractions which had already drawn thousands of visitors and were overrun with tour groups.

Street art Florence, Italy
Florence, while immensely interesting, isn’t what we’d call charming. We find its streets and architecture rather severe – and that isn’t a bad thing. It lacks the romance of Venice and the allure of Rome.  Serving as the capital of Tuscany, its metropolitan population back in 2013 was nearly 400,000 inhabitants. While rather stark, its many rather drab and mundane streets lead to piazzas, palazzos, and basilicas; many of which can take your breath away. Or as Jennifer Coburn says in the opening quote, a surprise party every day.

The Way to a Tourist’s Heart is via the Stomach

PicMonkey Collage
Cheese stuffed ravioli with zucchini blossom sauce, left,  and wild boar ragu on the right.
So much food and so little time, we told ourselves time and time again as we walked past tempting establishments offering some of the 120 varieties of pasta that exist in this world. We found them to be reasonably priced at less than 10 euros a serving. (Of course pasta here is meant to be just one part of the culinary feast, usually eaten between the starters and the main meat or fish course. Dessert follows - oink!). We had plenty with the pasta alone.

Free tidbits with purchase of a drink - an Italian tradition
What we’d forgotten about Italy was that bars often set out a mini-buffet of appetizers in the early evening that are served for free with the price of a drink (in our case an Aperol Spritz for 5 euro and a glass of wine for 4 euro).  This spread pictured included bruschettas, small sandwiches, pasta salad and pizza.

A Trip to the Market

Mercato Centrale, Florence, Italy
No trip for us is complete without a trip to a municipal market; those sprawling marketplaces that sell a bit of everything from food and drink to clothing and household items.  Florence’s Mercato Centrale has gotten a bit on the upscale side since our last visit with far more wine bars and restaurants than farmers and fish mongers hawking their food items. It still can send you to sensor overload within minutes of entering it.

Cooking school Mercato Centrale, Florence
What we hadn’t expected to find was a large, modern cooking school right in the midst of the market. Although when you think about it, it is a perfect fit.  And this school isn’t to train professional chefs, it is run by them to teach people like us how to cook Italian foods!  You can choose to take a class or watch a demonstration and then dine with the chef.  To learn more about this place check it out on their website,

Artwork above doorways was as interesting as in galleries, Florence, Italy

Had we  more time in Florence, I just might have signed up for a class but it will have to wait until ‘next time’ as we were heading to Cortona the next day. Made famous by Frances Mayes in her “Under The Tuscan Sun”  two decades ago, it is continuing to draw visitors like us to it. We hoped it wouldn't be over-run by book or movie fans. And we were hoping to see some of that 'Tuscan Sun' as it had been rather rainy in Florence. . .

But that's a tale for next week!  Thanks for being with us on this stop on our week-long Italian getaway.  As always your time and interest is most appreciated.  Safe and happy travels to you and yours~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Sunlight Serendipity ~ Frances Mayes did it again. . .

“Life offers you a thousand chances. . .
all you have to do is take one.”
--Frances Mayes

Our village, Agios Nikolaos at sunset
Well she did it again. That ne’r-met friend of mine, Frances Mayes, showed up last week in the village and in a subsequent rather wild and crazy turn of events and emails we are off to the place she made famous, Cortona, Italy next week. . .

A Bit of Backstory:

Under the Grecian Sun

Long time readers of TravelnWrite  know I am enamored with Frances Mayes’ books. I credit her “Under the Tuscan Sun” (that tale written more than two decades ago about having the courage to buy a home, Bramasole, in Italy and making it her own) for planting one of the seeds that has led us to our full-time Greek residency.

Her later, “A Year in the World” has become a rag-tag travel bible of sorts, that has a permanent spot within easy reach on my nightstand (first in the States now next to the Greek bed)  In this one she’s set loose the travel bug through her tales of long-term stays in far-away destinations. She’s sung the praises of spending enough time somewhere to really get a feel for a ‘sense of place’.

Mediterrenean doorways fascinate - Kythira, Greece
Six years ago her “Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of Italian Life”, a retrospective look at her Italian experiences, offered some poignant observations about the passing of time and life itself. It came along at a time I had just lost a couple of dear colleagues to illness and I too was pondering the fleeting passage of years and relationships.

You long-timers here know I refer to her as a ‘friend’ and do feel that she is a friend  – despite the fact we’ve never met and likely never will. Her ‘friendship’ is much like that I have with many of you whose written words have provided both encouragement and understanding; like that of any friend, near or far.

Sometimes among the most encouraging and understanding friends, I am learning, are those I’ve never met face-to-face.


Staying in touch with long-time friends
So my comment that Frances 'appeared in the village' really means her latest novel that I had ordered arrived at our mail table in the local taverna.

Women in Sunlight” is a novel that caught me up in the storyline just as has her non-fiction.  Perhaps it is because it involves three women in their 60’s who decided to chuck the safe and sane approach to aging and set off for Italy for a year-long adventure (I can relate.)

The narrative, with its thread of friendships made along life’s way, has an Italian village for its backdrop and is punctuated with her signature references to food, wine, and la buona vita, the good life.

Women in Sunlight comes from one of the major joys of my life – my friends. On every page, my love goes out to them,” she writes at the book’s end.

Sunlight Serendipity

Exploring the world - a 'sense of place' 
The Scout and I have been contemplating a week-long getaway (remember, we moved here so we could explore more of this side of the Atlantic). We could fly to Budapest, or Vienna, or Rome, we said. Or we could go somewhere within Greece. All are rather easy getaways with flights only two or three hours long.

We simply couldn’t decide where to go and were about to give up the idea.

In between pondering travel and reading, I’ve been catching up on long over-due correspondence. One long chatty email was to a friend in Seattle. I’ve been missing my friends ‘back there’ – the lunches and coffees, giggles and conversations.  Frances had reminded me again in her book of the importance of those relationships.

Among the topics I told my friend, Sharon, about was the book I was reading.

A secret spring on a spring day
Sharon wrote back saying that she and a friend were traveling next Tuesday as part of a group tour to  Tuscany and would, in fact, be based for a week in Cortona (the town made famous in “Under the Tuscan Sun”).

And yes, she said, they are both fans of Frances Mayes fans; their decision to join this group was sparked in part by their love of her books.

Setting off for serendipity

“Wouldn’t it be fun to write Sharon and suggest if she had a free evening that we go to dinner with her and her friend in Cortona,” I off-handedly suggested two days ago to The Scout. I wrote her and asked for her schedule – luckily there was some free evenings built in to their activities.

“Hmmm. . .said The Scout, “We could catch the train to Florence, spend a few nights there and then head to Cortona for a few nights, a final night in Rome. . .” And hour or so later we were booked!

So that Frances did it again.  She appeared at just the time I needed a reminder about friendships and she was again a spark for getting us out to explore a place we've never been before. Just like any good friend, she gave me the nudge when I needed it!

That’s it for this week at The Stone House on the Hill. I’ll be back next week with a report from Cortona and maybe I’ll be a few days late checking in with you all.  I might just be busy next week raising a glass with Sharon in toast to Frances and to friendships far and wide ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend


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