OK, I recognize that this blog entry is a vast deviation from my normal protocol of documenting backcountry adventures highlighted with pleasant images and sprinkled with family details. Well, a lot of friends and family have been clamoring for pictures from our recent trip to Italy so here they are. Debbie(my 1/2 Italian, travel hungry wife) and I have been planning this trip since we were first married. I briefly visited Italy with friend, Scott Witscher, while in college as part of a pilgrimage to see the US soccer team play in the world cup. The U.S. team was fortunately playing in Florence, Italy which subsequently has become one of my favorite cities in the world. The USA got shellacked but Florence was stunning. My dear wife has been pummeled with stories of Italian grandeur for more than a decade until we finally saved enough money to take the trip we really wanted. Our traveling partners, Max and Chris Reitz were also up for the adventure which was something of a departure from our usual backpacking expeditions with them.
We flew into Rome, where we spent three days in the heart of the city. Our accommadations were modest but our location was excellent as most of the major attractions were within easy walking distance of our B&B.
I was stunned by the sheer volume of historically significant architecture. It would take several lifetimes to explore all the city has to offer. Around every corner was another 2,000 year old roman temple, many which didn’t have informational plaques. We were overwhelmed with antiquities! Some of the highlights were the Forum, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Vatican and I’ll end right there as there were simply too many amazing sites to list.
After Rome, we took a train to Florence, the city that first made me love Italy.
Florence was much more approachable than Rome, in that it was smaller(approximately 500,000 people as opposed to 4,500,000 for Rome) and not so overwhelming in terms of the options. It was everything I’d remembered and hoped it would be. Gorgeous, saturated with history and art, and with a refined yet friendly finish. It is filled with marvels and oddities, such as the enchanting Wine Windows of Florence. Granted, some things about Florence seemed a like a fairy tale land, but it was wonderful for three days. We stayed in the Torre Guelfa, built in the 1200’s, this original tower is the highest privately owned tower in Florence. It’s roof top bar/seating area, predictably has a stunning view of the city, and is conveniently located near the city’s center.
One of the highlights of Florence was it’s seemingly ever present Duomo. It’s exquisite marble exterior and Dome designed by Brunelleschi, were stunning to say the least. If you are ever in Florence wondering if you should pay the 5 Euros to walk to the top of the Duomo, do it. It is sublime. From the close up views of the ceiling of the dome, to the journey through it’s double walled structure to the endless views from the top of the dome, it is well worth the entry fee. Below are several images from Florence’s famous duomo.
While in Florence, we had hoped to visit the stunning Medici Chapels which are part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. From Florence, we took a train to Monterosso, one of the five villages which comprise the Cinque Terra area on the northeast coast of Italy. The area was beautiful, defined by steep agriculture laden seaside hills, and attractive, vertically oriented villages built on impossibly angled cliffs. We spent several days there, perhaps one too many. My favorite day was spent hiking the 9 mile trail that extends between the 5 villages. Below are a few images from three of my favorites of the five villages.
The hike between the five villages was beautiful, but crowded. We ate well and stayed at a wonderful hotel, but as I am more of a mountain person than a beach person, this was perhaps my least favorite stop on a stellar vacation. Much of the time in the Cinque Terra area was spent lounging and eating, both pleasant activities, but the region certainly couldn’t compete with the culture and history of Rome and Florence, of course few places in the world can. Below are a couple more shots of my traveling companions, the best anyone could ask for.
From Monterosso, we sadly had to part ways from the Reitzs. From there, Debbie and I headed south and east to the premium wine country of southern Tuscany. We stayed in the hilltop town of Montepulciano, perhaps my favorite of the trip. There is something about Montepulciano that tugs at my soul. Perhaps it’s the combination of beautifully maintained medieval architecture, meaningful agriculture(vineyards have persisted here since the 1200’s) and a friendly community feel. I have never claimed to be an expert at Italian Wines, although I am fond of Oregon Pinot Noirs, and Walla Walla Cabs. While in Italy I did find what I like and that was the Vino Nobiles of Montepulciano and the Brunellos of Montalcino. They both had a medium body with pleasant layering and full finishes. Both of these styles are grown in the region of southern Tuscany. While in Montepulciano, we stayed at a beautiful hotel, the historic Villa Poggiano. Below is an olive orchard as seen from the window of our three hundred year old cottage.
Next is a sunset view of the city of Montepulciano taken from near our hotel.
Our first day there was spent exploring, having heart attacks while trying to navigate Italian road signs while driving a tiny but sporty fiat rental and eventually exploring the wonderful city of Montepulciano. It’s ancient and excellently preserved medieval walls are lined with residences, countless wine shops, tasteful gift shops, and exceptional restaurants. Below is a photo that exemplifies part of what is special about this city. It is Debbie strolling through a small handmade ceramics shop’s basement, which incidentally includes an Etruscan tomb in its basement which dates to 3000B.C. There are no exterior signs regarding the tombs, nor any national monuments as there would and should be if it was located in the US. It is simply considered a simple side note in an area deeply submerged in layer upon layer of history.
The tombs are through the door directly to Debbie’s right in this photo. Next is a view from Montepulciano over the surrounding country side.
The followong day we explored the beautiful town of San Gimigano and its wonderful medieval towers and the sleepy residential village of Montichiello. San Gimigano, like Montepulciano is famous for its wine and is wonderfully maintained village. Below is a shot taken from the Torre Rosa, the tallest of the 13 medieval towers still standing in the city of San Gimigano.
Next is Debbie next to a typical residential staircase in the sleepy hillside town of Montichiello.
To be certain the trip was everything we’d hoped for and more. I’d like to thank several people for making this dream vacation possible. First off, Max and Chris Reitz for being great friends and great travel partners. Christine Kieffer, who arranged our itinerary and lodging, both of which were exceptional, Kenny and Flo Scholz(my dreaded inlaws!) who flew in all the way from New Hampshire to take care of our daughter Emma while were away, and finally my Mother, Sheila Putnam,(who I occasionally bicker with but love and trust more than anything) who drove all the way from Iowa to care for Emma. It wouldn’t have been possible without these people. Finally a photo that shows why we were so grateful to be home , even after a trip of a lifetime.