Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Under the Tuscan Sunset

After my quick, exciting adventures through London, my dad and I headed straight to Florence. I will tell you what we did wrong in Florence maybe so you won't make the same mistake.

Before I left to Europe, I spent months researching Paris, figuring out the best way to do everything, finding things to see and places to eat. I mostly did this because I was so excited to go. It was a way of building anticipation and trying to make sure I got the most out of my time there. 

As I have gone on more and more trips, I have done less planning, just going with the flow. I didn't even make hotel reservations before I went to Genoa. So, I hadn't done too much research on Florence. I had my dad bring us a guide book so we could figure it out day by day. 

That was a mistake. Florence's museums really want you to make reservations otherwise you wait in really long lines. I didn't realize this until the morning we arrived in Florence. I knew you needed reservations waaay far in advance to see the Last Supper in Milan and for the Vatican. But I didn't know that was an option other places. Oops

It didn't turn out too badly. We did wait in some fairly long lines, but we got into the Gallaria dell'Academia to see the David (amazing) and a cool collection of musical instruments, including a Stradivarius violin. We also got through the Uffizi and saw some incredible art. I was slightly disappointed that about 1/3 of the rooms were closed for renovations, but I still saw all the major works. 

I have reach my saturation level for art. Since February, I have been to 5 major museums in addition to an innumerable number of smaller museums and churches. I have seen so much art. I really like and appreciate art, but at this point my eyes sort of glaze over when I see yet another "Madonna and Child" or "Madonna Enthroned." I feel like I'm in my art history class again. It's just so much to see. And I still have to see three museums in Rome including the Vatican. Hopefully I've had a long enough break between then and now.

Inside the Duomo

Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria. 
Doors to the Baptistry outside the Duomo.

 While Florence's art impressed me, Florence itself did not. It's not that I didn't like it or it was bad. It just wasn't impressive. Especially compared to some of the stunning cities I've seen in my traveling. Look at me. I've become a snob. 

This view was quite pretty from Piazzale Michelangleo. 
I did love Chianti. My dad and I rented a car and drove through the hills of Chianti and saw all the vineyards. We spent the first evening there just driving around and watching the sun set in a few of the sleepy little towns. We ate dinner in Greve in Chianti and saw the wine museum. The museum itself was closed but the tasting center was open!

Tuscany at sunset is breathtaking. It's the kind of scenery that could never get old. I spent the whole time running scenes of "Under the Tuscan Sun" and imaging packing up and moving there. I would do it in a heart beat. I probably could live there forever. But for a year would be incredible. 

The next day we went for another drive and then made our way to a vineyard that had a free tour and wine tasting. It was really cool to see an Italian vineyard and my dad nerded out, learning how they grow all the different grapes. Obviously, the Chianti was quite good and I bought two bottles to take to my Italian family. 

Sweet wine aged since '07. 

This vineyard also made Olive Oil and had the best olive oil I've ever tasted. I never thought anything in my life would allow me to judge differences between olive oil, but apparently I can. I think I will forever be dissatisfied with the rest of the olive oil I ever eat. Don't judge me. 

By car is definitely the way to do Chianti if you can. Driving through and stopping at your own pace is a must. My dad would pull over the car and we'd stop and take some pictures and then keep driving. It is worth the gas and rental money. It can be done by bus or train, but I feel like it can't be the same.

Now I am in the last leg of my trip in Rome. Rome has been the stuff of my dreams since I was able to understand it existed. I learned from my mistakes in Florence and pre-booked everything. Information about that will come in my next update.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Literary London

Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, 1984, Bridget Jones, A Little Princess. 

All books I love. All books that are set or have scenes in London. I've been dreaming about seeing the stage for so many of my beloved books since I started reading them.

Finally, my chance came. My dad had a business meeting outside of London, and I was fortunate enough to get to three whirlwind days seeing as much of the city as I could.

I flew in early Tuesday morning, dumped my luggage on my dad, and headed out for the city.

The day was long and by the end of it, my feet hurt so bad I didn’t think I would physically be able to keep walking, but I got a lot of sight seeing done!

The first day I saw, Hyde Park, Big Ben and Parliament, toured Westminster Abbey, went on the London Eye, ate real hamburger and sushi, and walked around seeing different famous streets I read about time and time again.

I didn’t go into London on the second day (I’ll get to that in a minute), so on the last day, I toured the Tower, ate in Piccadilly Circus, and saw Buckingham Palace before I had to make my way back to the airport.

All in all, I enjoyed London. It was a great city. And it felt nice to be somewhere everyone spoke English even just for a few days. I think how unbelievably expensive everything is kind of marred the experience for me. I spent well over $200 in one day there without doing anything special or buy any souvenirs. Between meals, tickets into various attractions and public transportation my money was gone. I know all of it went to a good cause, but usually if I spend that kind of money, I have tangible items to show for it.

What I really liked the most was just being all of the different places I’d read so much about. It was just cool being on Tottenham Court Road and Charring Cross Road because I’ve seen them referenced so many times.

That has been one of my favorite parts of traveling. I have a firm setting in my head when I read about the cities I've been to now. Now I know, when I read about Paris or London or Florence what the cities are like. I know what Luxembourg looks like and how far away it is from Montmartre, so when a character has to rush from one to the other, I actually know how far away it is.

I got my ultimate literary fan girl on in Bath. If you have heard of Bath, I’m willing to bet it has something to do with Jane Austen. Since I was actually staying in Swindon, about an hour outside of London, I decided to take the 25 minutes train ride to Bath instead of paying another 40 pounds to go into London.

Bath is a splendid town. It’s very quaint, charming, and clean. The town is a book lover’s paradise. I stepped of the train and the first thing I saw was a bookstore. I popped in and discovered it was a run of the mill store; it sold first editions and classics. I never knew I wanted a first edition copy of Jane Austen’s works, but I do now.

Everywhere you turn in the heart of the city is a bookstore, or a store that also sells books. Clothing stores sell books, music shops sell music specific books, make up stores sold girly books. It was incredibly. I could tell I was in a city of like-minded people because many shops (even the non-book ones) had literary names like “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Raven.”

The epic culmination of all of this fun was the Jane Austen Center. Jane Austen lived in Bath for 5 years and set two of her novels here, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. They have a house that was modeled after the one she lived in full of information about her life, and on the top floor, they have a cafĂ©. I went up there and had tea with a cheese scone served with chutney. I still can’t exactly tell you what chutney is but it was kind of like jam, but not really. Mine was gooseberry and coriander flavored which was incredibly bizarre but quite good. Later, I even got to walk the path that serves as the setting for Anne Elliot’s engagement.
I loved my time, however brief it was. Fortunately, I headed straight from London to Florence with my dad. And Florence is the subject of my next blog that I will hopefully post shortly.