I saw DEAD People in Palermo! And so much more!

Dead people? YES we did see them, but first we eat and drink café!

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After a busy first day in Sicily, and even though we were exhausted by the time we returned to our room the night before, we still stayed up until almost 2am, so when I awoke after 8am, I felt refreshed, and HUNGRY! We were very happy when we entered the breakfast room to see a spread of Amazing food all set out for us at our own table! The day before, when we checked in,  I had told Rosario that I was “Celiaca” and ate “Senza Glutine”. I could see that he understood, and was MORE than accommodating, as the selection for me to eat was above and beyond my expectations! 20160917_020252In addition to the regular pastries, meat and cheeses, he had gluten free cookies, rice cakes, 2 kinds of GF crackers, and a soy drink that also was labeled as gluten free!

20160917_02124720160917_020602We felt like queens with the delicious and generous spread of breakfast items, and whatever kind of café we desired!

On our agenda for the day were 2 important things plus a couple bonuses: Visit the Catacombe dei Cappuccini, the Cattedrale, revisit Quattro Canti, and the fountains from the night before before we pick up our bags then pick up our rental car at 4pm.

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Our needs are quite simple, but I must say that we are very easily distracted by some shops we were looking forward to seeing in Italy! We did take at least 1 quick pit stop to shop, AND a stop for café and an Affogato, after which we continued to get our sight seeing done.

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From the small amount we had seen so far, we didn’t feel that Sicily was much different from other places we had been in Italy, but then we came across the Cattedrale. It was different from other churches we had seen, including the lofty palm trees. The Normans started to build it in 1185, and also has Gothic, and medieval influences. It is said to be a pantheon for the Normans, and has 6 royal tombs inside the church, a museum, and crypts in the basement.  We paid the full admission price to be able to also climb the stairs to the roof, so that we could experience the breathtaking 360° views.

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The inside of the church was was beautiful and different from any other church we had seen in Italy before- evidence that Sicily absolutely is more of a melting pot of ethnicity than the rest of Italy.

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Cattedrale: √  Now to go and see dead people!

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We used our app City Maps2Go to supplement the signs that we periodically found to direct us to the Catacombes.

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You may be shocked to hear that once again we were distracted! This time by Yummy food!

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One of the Sicilian ‘street foods’ that I was wanting to try were Aracini balls, and as we passed by this nice looking Café with some yummy looking deserts, we went in to see if they had anything gluten free. Just my luck their Arancini balls filled with ragu were senza glutine! YUM! I was hooked! For those of you that do not know what Arancini is, they are rice balls that are filled with a variety of fillings, including cheese, ragu, meat and peas, etc, then deep fried. Another ‘food’ that is from Sicily are granitas, a semi frozen desert made from ice, water, and a variety of flavours, somewhat similar to sorbet, but better because it is Italian….. We each bought one to go, and continued on our way to find the Catacombes.

dsc_0225The Cappucin Catacombs, is the place where the living meet the dead! Not kidding!

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The pictures shown were found on Google Images! I DID NOT take them, as they were very specific about NOT taking any pictures or video once inside. That said, I was very annoyed to see others sneaking pictures.  I am a bit of a rule breaker, but when it comes to showing respect for other cultures, I try my best to observe and follow the rules. Yes, Mom, I would make you proud in this instance!

We paid the admission fee and went down the flights of stairs, and instantly you were in a place very unique and eery. There were rows, and rows, and rooms, and corridors of corpses in wooden caskets, display boxes, but mostly they were hanging! Yes, hanging! Some were all bones, and others you could still see some features! I swear that one was watching me! They were all fully clothed.

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There are several corridors dedicated to specific people including for whom this all began for, the Friars. Also were corridors for priests,  women,  families, and professionals including lawyers, surgeons, etc and a chapel for children.  The last body was that of a 2 year old girl named Rosalia Lombardo, who died in 1920. Her body is remarkably still intact as her body lays in a small casket, which is roped off and displayed on her own.  So, yes we did see dead people in Palermo!

Before we left for Italy, I found very little from Rick Steves on Sicily, but the one thing I did find  was of him visiting Palermo and the Cappucin Catacombes. If you want to see more, please watch his YouTube video.

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On we went to see the other things on our list including Quattro Canti, officially known as Piazza Vigliena. The octagonal square is the crossing of 2 main streets in Palermo, Via Maqueda and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

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The four corners each have a baroque building, each with almost an identical facade, but each has a fountain and a statue to represent each of the 4 seasons, the 4 Spanish Kings, and of the patronesses of Palermo. As this is not a traditional Piazza, to which is pedestrian only, if you are not paying attention to where you are, or know of any history of Palermo, you can walk or drive past this square without realizing where you are.

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Our final stop before collecting our rental car was  Fontana Pretoria, the large fountain that we briefly saw the night before.  The magnificent Fontana Pretoria is a work of art done by the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani in 1554. One of the things that I love about Italy are the fountains. It is astonishing to me how 100’s of years ago with none of the technology we have today that they were able to build such beautiful fountains, all with unique statues.

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This square was once known as the “square of shame” because of the naked statues around the fountain. It is located next to Palermo’s Municipal building, which is in the heart of the historic center.

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The Piazza Pretoria, which was not shameless at all, was a wonderful place to end our quick 24 hours in Palermo.  I look forward to visiting Palermo again, and exploring the many beautiful sights!

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Bellas’ Next Adventure- Sicilia and Firenze (Sicily and Florence)

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I am up way to early this morning as I can not sleep. The wheels in my head are turning and won’t stop, as I leave for Italy in only 4 days from the time I am writing this post.  I am travelling with my good friend Kathy, who is my fellow Italy lover and travel partner; this will be our 3rd trip to Italy together. We will be on the ground for 10 days, but away from home for 11 days. This was all that we could get away from our families as we both have children in school, working husbands, in addition to our own jobs. So we are exploring half of Sicily in what we are calling our Part 1 trip, and ending our trip in our Italy home- Florence.  Part 2 will be sometime in the next year, to which we will finish exploring the other half of Sicily.  You can only imagine the eye rolling our husbands did when we informed them of that tidbit of information??? I keep telling my husband I am more than just good looks! His response, “Yes, that is what I am afraid of!” wink, wink!

We will be experiencing many new things on this trip, including renting a car, staying in B&Bs and renting apartments rather than hotels, which Kathy has not done yet in Italy and me being Gluten Free. I won’t bore you with my diagnosis, but I have an auto immune disease to which I am extremely gluten sensitive. I have never been healthier in my life right now, so when people ask me if I am sad that I won’t be able to eat everything in Italy, the answer is easy- NO.  Also I have been doing more than the usual amount of research for this trip, and have been pleased to find many resources from Blogs but the best resource has been the AIC website. It is the Italian Society for Celiac disease. Canada and the U.S have A LONG way to go to catch up to Italy- home of Pizza and Pasta with their Celiac and Gluten Intolerance education, and awareness!!!  There are SO MANY options of food for me to eat that I will have NO problem gaining the inevitable weight from the Gastronomic adventures in Italy that I will be having!

That said, I will be Blogging and Vlogging (video blogging) while we are in Italy, including EVERYTHING gluten free and of course so much more!

WE will be your good looking, female version of Rick Steves, but with our own zest for life and ALL things Italian!

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Our goals for this trip are quite simple yet fitting for Italy- Drink Espresso, Eat with the locals and what the locals eat, daily Aperol Spritz at Happy Hour, eat Gelato when we aren’t hungry, explore, get lost, learn some Italian, relax and live La Dolce Vita, and of course shop in Florence. I will also be visiting an artisan leather shop in Florence, and sharing their story, enthusiasm and talent for leather and design, as my bad experience with a leather shop in Florence was the whole reason why I started this blog.

Here is our basic Itinerary:

Palermo- 1 night

Rent a car

Cefalu- 2 nights

Syracuse/ Ortigia- 2 nights

Taormina- 2 nights

Fly to Florence

Florence- 3 nights

We will be visiting more cities and towns than listed, some of which we don’t even know yet as we have no idea when and where we will get lost….

Stay tuned to hear about Trina and Kathy’s Italy Adventures!

CIao, Ciao!

Trina

P.S.  Remember that sharing is caring! If you have any advice for me, please share! Grazie Mille!

The World’s Best Pizza is in Naples!!!! And my bonus- some shopping!

I am a bit out of order for my posts, but I have had Naples on my brain this week, and I must first do some sharing about our trip to Naples, then I can go back to the order of our trip. I must also say how thankful I am that I blogged a good portion of our trip while we were still traveling. I have found that since we got home, that my “normal” life gets priority to my travel blogging…  But Today, I MUST write about Naples!

The first impression of Naples from the train station.

How and why we went to Naples for part of a day: We as a family decided when planning our trip, that we all wanted to visit Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. The high speed train took us from Roma to Napoli, then to Pompeii, and for the return I booked our train tickets so that we had 4+ hours in Naples for 1 reason- PIZZA!

Is pizza all the same in Italy? NO!!!!! Just like eating pizza at home from places like (YUK) Pizza Hut, Dominos, or even at a nice Italian restaurant, they will all be different in size, shape, and taste.  BUT, the one thing that I love about eating pizza in Italy is that you are in Italy, eating ‘real’ pizza. So when being so close to the birth place of pizza and not go to one of two restaurants that have been making pizza for decades, we had to make it work to stay for just long enough to experience the real thing. And as I write this, my mouth is watering thinking about THAT PIZZA! OH MY!!!

MY GOAL: To eat pizza at the following original Pizzerias!

From the book, Eat, Pray, Love. Serves only Marinara and Margherita pizza.

The other Pizzeria, Trianon- across the street from da Michele.

At the train station we found the TI to get precise directions for how to walk to both of the original Pizzerias- Pizzeria da Michele, and Pizzeria Trianon. What I did not realize was that da Michele had become widely popular to even more tourists since the book and movie, Eat, Pray, Love because this is where Elizabeth Gilbert went to eat pizza for the day. How I did not clue into this is beyond me, because I have read the book twice, and have also seen the movie. We were warned that it might be very busy, so on the way as I held my purse as close to my body as I could we discussed our plan of attack on these restaurants. Our plan was that we would eat first at the restaurant with the shortest line, then we would go to the next one after.  But one other deciding factor that ultimately helped us to decide where to eat first was that Trianon had air conditioning, which was welcomed by us all after a day in the sweltering heat at Pompeii.  Luckily Trianon had no line up, and da Michele did, and it was not even open yet.

Instead of explaining our choices of Pizza, here is a picture of the menu. Could there be a wrong choice? NO!

Oh my! Instead of each of us choosing our own pizza, the kids each chose one, and Kim and I decided to share so that we could save some room for more pizza across the street at da Michele.  After we ordered and were taking in the simple yet, thankfully cool atmosphere, I went over to the also simple pizza kitchen to take some pictures. What I was not expecting was being welcomed into the kitchen to not only take pictures but really be a part of our pizzas being made and cooked.  Follow the pictures to see the simple process from dough ball, to table process.

Dough balls being shaped.

Adding the toppings.

Posing for the camera

Time to go in the Pizza Oven

Each person has their own job. His is the kitchen greeter (at least to me) and to cook the pizzas.

Our pizzas cooking in the VERY HOT oven.

After only approximately 2 minutes, our pizzas were cooked!

Our Naples Pizza! YUM!

The pizza Kim and I shared. They were all HUGE! And they were better than we imagined they would be! The kids each had their own- our little piggies…

AHHHH…. Is how we all felt after finishing our cold beer, Fanta (Noah), and our Amazing Pizza. BUT, could we find any room in our stomachs for more pizza at da Michele?! Unfortunately no. We were stuffed! Plus, this is what it looked like outside of da Michele.

Da Michele was now open, and the crowds were getting bigger.

So off we went back on our journey back to the train station. Why I call it a journey is because,  Naples is hmmm, how do I describe it but a little crazy. On our way to find our pizzerias, we were stopped by someone on the street selling Ipads (most likely stolen), we saw many, many people selling knock off items like bags, watches, jewellery, etc on the street, and guys trying to make money washing windows for the cars stopped at red lights. The traffic was crazy, there was a tonne of graffiti and vandalism, and you could see the poverty everywhere. Naples was very different from any other Italian city I have been to, and not a place that was telling me to stay for more than just a pizza.

Unsolicited car window washers on the streets of Naples

Streets of Naples

I must tell you that we received many warnings from Italians about going to Naples. We were told to not wear any jewellery, including watches, there are pick pockets everywhere, and to be careful in general.  Filipo told us that many people, including motorists get their watches stolen when stopped at red lights. Whether the watch is on your left wrist, and your arm is resting on the side window, rolled down, it can be stolen. Or for those that have clued into this, and wear their watch on their right wrist, the thieves then burn the left arm resting on the window sill with a cigarette, and when you go to swap the hurt, they steal the watch from your right wrist while swapping what is hurting you. Crazy!   So, as Jordan bought a watch from a man on the street selling a variety of watches, we thought of Filipo’s stories of watches being stolen…  We were nervously cautious as we walked to and from the train station. We walked with intention when crossing the streets like we were told to, and we made it back to the train station, so that I could do some shopping. Yes, you heard me correct! They had some great stores that I had been waiting to find in Rome, and hadn’t yet, so with the extra time budgeted for the 2nd pizzeria, I did some greatly anticipated shopping. And once again I found myself saying AHHHHH!!!!!

Spending a day in Siena!

Tuscan Boar in Siena

On our first whole day in Tuscany, we decided to go check out Siena. I was very curious about Siena because Siena is compared a lot to Florence (my favourite), and it is a favourite city to many. We took the bus from the town of Monteroni D’Arbia, which took approx 30 minutes to get to our stop, which luckily in my broken Italian asked a woman on the bus,who spoke no English where to get off, and it was the very next stop (something Francisco). Between what she said and her charades, we got off at the right stop, and found our way to the center of Siena, Il Campo.

The many flags of the Siena neighborhoods

The City Tower- Torre del Mangia

Flags from the last Palio

Il Campo

Restaurants and shops surround Il Campo

The Fountain of Joy

Pigeons everywhere!

Fountain of Joy

Il Campo

Filling our water bottles with Potable water

Tower clock even has date.

City Tower, with Clock

Beautiful buildings

People sitting outside the City Tower

Siena is famous for Palio, which is a bareback horse race that happens twice a year- July and August. There are 17 neighborhoods, or Contrade in Siena, each with their own parish church, well or fountain, mascot, and unique colors as you can see in their flag. Out of the 17 neighborhoods, 10 compete in this medieval horse race, which gives the Contrade winner bragging rights for a year as well as a Palio banner made by a local artist for each race. This race is a HUGE deal in Siena, and it is apparent throughout the city. The square is packed with up to 60,000 people on race day, and explaining this to the kids was difficult until we showed them pictures of the square filled to the brim.

Palio pictures posted near the square.

One of my highlights from many places I have been is usually at the top of a tower and being able to take in the view of the city or town I am at, so we waited in the line (that did not move for 30 mins), to be able to climb up the City Tower.  It was definitely an amazing view. I must show you though, what you can not be in order to climb up the stairs…

No Giddiness Allowed! Lost in Translation?

Walking up to the top

All the windy stairs to the top of the Tower!

1/2 way up, and already great views!

Views of Siena and Tuscan countryside

Windy streets of Siena. Typically easy to get lost in.

View of the Duomo

Us at the top of the Tower

So, we made it up to the top of the Tower, and even though all the kids did not necessarily want to go up, they were glad they did. Now it was time to find the Torture Museum! Yes, you heard me right, the Torture Museum was on Jordan and Noah’s wish list. One thing that I really like in Italy is that in every town there is a TI- Tourist Information, and they always speak English, and they usually know where most things are, excluding the coveted coins Kalyna started collecting.

While at the Torture Museum, Kalyna, Kim and I decided to have a bite to eat while we waited. I was of course eager to check out the area and see how the shopping compared to Florence. While I was walking the streets looking for some shops, something caught my eye- a guy with a tripod, then another guy caught my eye. I did a double take, and can you believe it, but it was Rick Steves! Now if you do not know who he is, then either you don’t travel, you don’t do any research before you travel, or you live under a rock.  Rick Steves has literally helped me travel through Europe with his books, and now I was about to be face to face with him, or I hoped!

Me with Rick Steves!

So, here is how it played out: I saw him, started following him, pretending that I was taking pictures with my phone, because can you believe it, but the battery in my camera died! I was playing it cool, and getting candid shots of him talking to his crew for what they were going to be filming for one of his shows. COOL! Finally he stopped long enough for me to ‘cooly’ catch up and I asked one of his guys if he would mind it if I said hi. He told me that he was working, but to say hi anyways, and of course I did. I said to him, “Thank you so much for helping me to travel through Europe with your books!” He thanked me, sincerely, and was off.   UGH! I wanted a picture with him, but I could not keep following him, at the risk of Kim and the kids not knowing where I was, and losing them. Luckily Kalyna was there, so I told her to stay on the corner so that she could see me, and see if Kim came, and as luck would have it, Kim appeared out of nowhere with the boys. I quickly GRABBED my Rick Steves Italy book from Kim, and literally ran after Rick again. Yes, I had become a stalker! I went up to him again, and once he gave me permission to speak (he was working,  and it was kind of rude for me to keep interrupting him), I asked him if I could get a picture of him with me and his book. He was happy to see me with his book, and was nice enough to say yes to a photo session with sweaty, and sticky me. Now that was COOL!

This is the crowd and street that I spotted Rick Steves on.

Off to the Duomo! I discovered that the shopping is nothing like Florence. There are some shops here, but nothing like the variety you find in Florence for clothes, shoes and leather, and the markets with the variety of goods, especially the scarves I wanted to buy. So we went to discover Siena’s Duomo. Well, I must say that it was Beautiful! The dark green (which looks black), white, and pink marble, along with the statues, was a piece of magnificent art! We all sat and admired its beauty!

Siena’s Duomo

Door to the Duomo

The Duomo’s many magnificent statues and art!

Inside the Duomo (No flash was used in the making of these photos…) There are works of art by Michaelango and Bernini.

Inside the Duomo. Notice all the neighborhood flags.

Library of Centuries old books!

On the back side of the Duomo, we walked down some steep steps to the Baptistery. Kim, Kalyna and I went inside to look at the works of artists like Ghiberti and Donatello.

Steep steps down to the baptistery

At the bottom, looking up.

Baptistery on the back side of the Duomo

Baptismal font

Becoming bored with churches- boys waiting outside the Baptistery

So, what did we think of Siena? We liked it, but the crowds of a city we didn’t like, but that is the nature of the beast when you visit in the summer months. I did not find the shopping as good as Florence, but Jordan did pick up a sweet pair of Geox shoes, and Kim bought a watch, and I found my mom a beautiful necklace. Hmmm, something is wrong with this picture!  I will visit Siena again in the months when the streets will not be quite as crowded with tourists. Next time I will also have more time to just wander the streets getting lost, which can be half the fun of exploring.  Sometimes you just might find a GIANT pizza!

MMMM, Pizza!

Ciao Siena! Until next time!

Tuscany, My Italian home!

Welcome Home!

I am very honest about my future intentions to live in Italy, and Tuscany would be my top pick of locations. The landscape is breath taking, the people are warm and friendly,the food speaks for itself, and it is a nice central location to visit many other beautiful parts of Italy from.

After my last trip to Italy, and the wine tour I went on, I knew that I must go back to Tuscany, for more than just a day. I knew that we could rent a villa, but when I started searching, I discovered that there are 100’s of choices. My criteria for searching was as follows:  allow a 4 night rental (most had a 1 week min.), a pool, air conditioning, close proximity to Florence and/or Siena and in our budget. Well, without a doubt, the Universe made sure that we chose the perfect place to stay in Tuscany. Agriturismo San Fabiano, owned by Philipo and Rachel.

We took the train from Monterosso to Pisa, and spent 4ish hot hours there, and once we arrived in Sienna, we were all excited to get to our villa and jump in the awaiting pool. But first we had to figure out how to get there. I was only given driving instructions for how to get to our villa, and I knew there were buses, but I was not confident after asking at the train station, and finding out there is a train to our town- UGH (wish I would have know that before then), how to get to our villa that we would get there ‘easily’ so we jumped in a taxi hoping that we would not be taken for a ‘ride’ and get there in a fair amount of time for a fair price. As much as I love Italy, and its people, a lot of taxi drivers don’t have the best reputations. They can be maniacs, and drive like Mario Andretti would have on the race track as we discovered in Rome, overcharge regularly, and passionately swear at their passengers, and everyone on the street as they listen to their football team not play well in a soccer match on the radio.   Luckily with the driving instructions- in Italian and English, I could figure out where we were, and as luck would have it, we ended up in an honest taxi driver’s taxi and he delivered us in around 30 minutes and charged us E35. Not bad.

I must say that I was all smiles as we drove into the Tuscan countryside. It was very dry from the drought that they were currently experiencing, but everything else was as I had remembered and thought it would be. Rolling hills, Cypress trees, farm land, Villas and Castles. Oh my, how I love it here!

The Tuscan Countryside

Wheat fields have already been harvested.

Drought conditions

We arrived at our Villa, and were warmly greeted by both Rachel and Philipo. While Philipo gave us a tour of the Villa, little Rachel carried our bags up to our apartment. I immediately felt at home- maybe from the tour from Philipo in his ‘pink’ bathrobe, or from the many games and activities outside for families, the other families outside at the pool, and one with a puppy, or from the ‘lived in’ office next to their entryway. I am not sure, but we all were happy to be there.

Stairs leading to our apartment

Il Forno Apartment, the door on the left

Master bedroom

Living room, with 3 single beds

Our little kitchen is just enough for our needs.

Kim helping to cook supper our first night in Tuscany

Courtyard area

Ping pong table, and outdoor eating off the courtyard

Our current address

Courtyard

Our Villa

San Fabiano

Community bikes to ride to town with.

Individual Villa home.

Our backyard!

Outside enjoying Philipo’s many stories.

Original well

My new mailbox…

After swimming, Philipo and David took us into town the evening before so that he could show us the town, and also so that we could pick up some groceries. Surprisingly we cooked that night! We had pasta with pesto, bread, meat and cheese, and a salad from the local grocer. I must say that this was the 1 and only meal that we cooked in our 23 days away from home.  Kim and I ‘cooked’ and the kids cleaned up, then we broke into the gelato we bought from the local gelato store. MMMMMM….

This is what Gelato to go looks like.

Our first morning we decided to sleep in, and just chill so that we could enjoy our surroundings. I asked Philipo the history of the Villa, and he proceeded to take us outside, sat us down and told us many stories of his family and how he and Rachel met, and came to take over the abandoned farm house, completely renovate it (renovate is a small word for the HUGE job it was to get it to where it is today) and now live in this lovely Villa, and rent out their apartments.  To make his long story short, his stories and his family history is Amazing! I will try to retell it as best as I can… He was raised in Rome, and his father was a Count! He came from a very important family that owned a factory that made large equipment (Kim loved that!), and one day when he was young, his father took him to Tuscany to show him all the land he had purchased for the ‘rich mans game’ of pheasant hunting.  All of this land was turned into farm land, and MANY years ago they had 500+ heads of cattle, and 5000 chickens, in addition to the land they farmed. Many farmers were hired to farm the land, which is why the landscape is lined with many farm houses like our Villa.  His father then built himself a castle, which is still in the family; Philipo’s brother owns it, and we could see it from our Villa.

Driveway to the family Castle

The Castle

In 1970’s the laws in Italy were changed so that the owner of the farmland and the farmer no longer had a 50/50 split of the profits (0 if there were losses that year), and the owners, like Philipo’s father had to pay wages, and benefits to all the farmers. This caused much dissension for the owners that lived far from their land, and the owners stopped farming the land for many reasons, including when the cat is away the mouse will play attitude adopted by some of the farmers, once the farmers were no longer invested in working hard for good crops with the loss of the 50/50 split. The farmers then moved on, and abandoned their homes. This is why you see many still abandoned farm houses in the Tuscan countryside.  This is also where Philipo acquired his farm house, as it was one of many on his father’s land, and transformed it into what it is today.  Philipo’s English is Amazingly polished, as he traveled the world as a mechanical engineer before he married Rachel, and let me tell you he has many more stories about his travels. We so enjoyed his company!  Rachel is equally as nice as Philipo, however with the extreme heat outside, we did not see her as much as the carefree Philipo.

Oh the many wonderful stories from Philipo!

I know that we will be back to San Fabiano, but next time we will definitely rent a car so that we can explore more of the Tuscan countryside, visit the many wineries, and explore the other towns. There is something said for independence with your own car.

In my next blog post, I will tell you all about our day with Philipo and David when they took us exploring, as well as our adventure to Siena.

Ciao!

Pisa in under 4 hours

We hesitatingly left Cinque Terre, but onward to the next adventure we went, armed with the most delicious foccacia and pesto in the world!
First stop- Pisa!

Pisa Centrale

We arrived at Pisa Centrale at 11am, checked in our bags at luggage storage, and headed out to find the tower, which we were told was about a 30+ minute walk from the station.

Oh my, as we are walking I am seeing stores- stores to which I like to shop in like Motivi, Calzedonia, Tezenis, and more!  You must remember that I have NOT shopped yet, and I LOVE to shop, especially in Italy! So luckily the boys reluctantly agreed to stop long enough for Kalyna and I to take a quick look in a few stores, and while we looked we also cooled down in the yummy air conditioned stores.  We didn’t buy anything, with the knowledge that we will be passing along these stores again on our way back to the train station- yes!

As we walk to the Field of Miracles, we cross a bridge, called Ponte di Mezzo, and along with the shops we came across, Pisa is starting to remind me a bit of Florence , my favourite city in Italy but with wider streets .  As we get closer, there are remnants of Roman ruins, and then we can see it- The Leaning Tower of Pisa. I am thrilled to be able to see this structure that needs no caption next to it for most. My first impression is that it is much smaller than I thought it would be. It is 8 stories tall and is definitely leaning.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

We arrive at the tower, and immediately retreat to the shade to look at it. This heat is Crazy! While Kim and Jordan stay in the shade, Noah becomes our photographer, and captures Kalyna and I doing what every other tourist is doing, and has done in the past-  takes a picture of trying to hold up the leaning tower.  Yes we know how corny we are- part of the experience!

Strong Kalyna!

Had to do it!

The field of Miracles, or Miracoli in Italian, you can see the Leaning Tower (the bell tower), the cathedral (Duomo), the Baptistery, the hospital (Museum of the Sinopias), and the Camposanto Cemetary, all of which you need an admission ticket to enter. We knew that you could climb to the top of the tower for E15, which we decided we did not want to do in the 40 degree heat. As we tried to enter into the Duomo, we discovered the need for a ticket, but when we saw we had to go WAY over THERE to buy the E5 ticket, so we simply looked from the outside in places with shade, or just quickly took pictures as we passed looking for shade.

The Field of Miracles

Duomo

 

Lots of vendors along the field of miracles

Ticket office and vendors

It was hot, and we were done seeing the sights, so we decided to make our way back towards the train station to sit and eat and have some nice Cold drinks. But instead of going the way we came, a brilliant idea was presented to go a different way. After walking for too long in the heat along a busy street with nothing to look at but traffic, I became very irritated. I thought it was a plot to keep me away from my loved stores on the street that took us to the tower. UGH.  We finally made it back to the street I wanted to be on in the first place, and found a small restaurant so that we could eat and drink, and cool off as much as you can without a.c. Then before we knew it, it was time to head back to the train station to collect our bags, and catch our train to Siena.

Next stop on our journey is Tuscany!

Why must this pigeon be on my head?

Crossing the bridge over the river

 

 

Map of Pisa

Tales of Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre, Tiamo!
This was my 2nd visit to C.T. My 1st one was in April, and I remember saying that I wondered what it would be like there in the summer. I also remember seeing restaurants like Ciak, who serves some of the most amazing looking seafood dishes, made by a man that looks like Popeye, with an animated personality in his kitchen, and thinking that my husband and kids would LOVE to eat there. So here it is August, and I am visiting Cinque Terre with the plan of taking my family to dine at Ciak, swim in the sea, hike the hikes I was unable to, and see all of the miracles that the locals in Monterosso and Vernazza performed from October until now.
I was excited beyond belief to arrive on the train in Monterosso. It was like I was there only days prior, as I got off the train and knew exactly where to go, which was a very nice feeling, rather than having to establish yourself in a new place once again.
We checked into our room, with one queen bed, 1 twin beside it, and 1 set of bunk beds, a small bathroom with 1 toilet, 1 bidet, and a shower. Our room also had a balcony with enough room for 4 chairs, and a small table to set our drinks on, and another window on the wall facing the beach so if there were ANY wind, we would get a cross breeze to cool off our room. There was no wind… Luckily though our room was cooler than ours in Carcasonne. Enough said.

Our first stop in C.T. was to share a few dishes at Gio, on the boardwalk, where Kathy and I had dined at many times in April last year, it was that good.  We ordered the pesto gnocchi, pesto lasagna, and bruschetta, oh and  of course I had a Spritz. The Spritz was great, but the rest of the food was a bit disappointing unfortunately.  Our next stop was for gelatto, and then the old town to check out the flood damage and repairs.

As we passed through the tunnel that connect Fagina (new town) and the old town, I tried to explain to the kids once again the extent of the damage from the floods of water, mud and rocks that had swept through this small town, and buried part of it, in late October, but it is hard to visualize. We reached the old beach and it looked like it had in April. The overpass and underpasses that took us to the old town looked amazing. I was shocked at had I not known about the tragedy that struck this town only months earlier, I would have never known from how things looked.
What was different was how new many things were like the interior of the shops in the old town, the restaurants, and kitchens. They were all shiny and so modern.
Day 13: We hit the beach in the morning along with the locals and it was lovely to relax on a beach that had more sand than rocks. Also the water was less salty than in France.  The beach we went to was under the Gigante, and it was chosen because it had a big rock in the water that Kalyna and Noah could jump and dive off of.
In the afternoon we took the train to Riomaggiore to explore the town, and show the kids, and Kim the real wonders of this area, which is how the homes are built into the rocks and cliffs over the sea, which Monterosso is not known for.
It was HOT,so no one was into too much exploring where there was not any shade for a reprieve from the intense heat. But I did somehow convince the troops to walk the Via dell ‘Amore high above the sea to Manarola.  We saw the many huge Agave plants growing on the cliffs, jelly fish in the sea, and of course the many locks left by those in love as a symbol of their love.
Manarola was a place that Noah wanted to revisit because it had a HUGE rock that people were jumping off of- the next day’s plan.
Tonight, we must eat at Ciak!!! And YES, it was everything we thought it would be and more! Our BEST meal yet!!!

As a result of the floods in October, I found a blog belonging to a now friend of mine, Nicole. who lives in a city just outside the Cinque Terre, called La Spezia.  http://culturalcomments.blogspot.it/ We have been in touch and I was able to meet her in Vernazza after our morning of hiking and cliff jumping armed with Ziploc bags to leave behind for Nicole. Can you believe you can not buy Ziploc bags in Italy! We had a great visit in the Piazza Marconi, and I know that is just the first of many visits for us.
It was interesting talking to Nicole and someone else we met through Nicole, Christian, who grew up in Vernazza and runs some rooms and apartments there. Nicole met her Italian husband in Vernazza, so between her and Christian we heard first hand some stories of the floods, after math and the rebuilding process that is still happening. The situation in Vernazza is quite sad and  uplifting. As you walk own the main street they have blown up photos of the exact location you are standing in after the flood. In many pictures you can not see the door to the shop or restaurant because it is literally buried. What you see are the windows to the apartment 1 floor above the shop and dirt below it. It looks like the apartment is on the ground floor. That is how much they had to dig out to reclaim their lives. Plus EVERYTHING had to be replaced, including tables, chairs, ALL food, and retail items once they dug themselves and their neighbours out. So as I sat in the Piazza and looked around, I realized the extent of having to replace EVERYTHING. Every postcard, t-shirt, umbrella, towel, napkin, glass, cup, picture that I saw just at a quick glace was ALL new in every store and restaurant.
You have to understand also that this community received very little money from the government and then more money that was promised was not delivered because of the earthquake that happened in another part of Italy in June. Also if any of the residents had insurance, this was not covered because it was a natural disaster.
However, the uplifting part of this story is that a community that had become disfunctionally divided before the floods for several reasons had been brought together to rebuild and start from scratch together as a community. They are also still helping each other out financially where and when they can, through paying each others rent, etc.
I have to say that I was moved to tears when I stepped into their church, because I felt that I was a witness to the resilience of this community that all came together through their mourning, suffering, sweat and tears, and kept themselves grounded through their strong faith in God.
So, long story short about these communities. They still need help through donations and tourism. It is especially evident in Vernazza, as the Piazza or the restaurants were not full. We must tell everyone that they are open for business as they desperately need our tourism dollars. If you did not know about the flood, you could be there and honestly be oblivious to their needs, as they cleaned up and rebuilt so much for the tourists. But still in Vernazza alone, a hotel that has 30 rooms is not yet ready to reopen, and those potential guests help the rest of the businesses to survive now, and eventually thrive. Also there are other businesses still under construction, plus many residents unable to return to their homes.
For more information, go to:
http://www.savevernazza.com. and http://www.rebuildmonterosso.com

So, we survived the heat. We hiked, explored every town, swam in the ocean, jumped off rocks and such,drank Spritz, ate foccachia, pesto, and Amazing seafood at Ciak, and spent time just relaxing. And we survived getting caught in a tourist trap restaurant in Corniglia. Never eat at the first restaurant you see, and Always check the prices first… Believe it or not we had way over priced Horrible pasta in Italy. One bad experience out of 100’s of good actually made it comical.

Once again, Cinque Terre did not disappoint. Except when it was time to leave, there were tears in my eyes.
Until next time…

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