Monday, July 28, 2014

On The Road to Florence - Secret Passages, Hidden Rooms, and a Toilet Paper Thief

We started our day trip to Florence with a pit stop. Buses must have a permit before entering Florence. There we met the neighborhood gypsy.  She arrives bright and early to remove the toilet paper and paper towels from the bathrooms. Positioning herself between the two toilets she sells it back to unsuspecting tourists. Fortunately, our Disney guides were on to her and came ready with the essentials.

We soon forgot the thief and moved on to Michelangelo's David. Thanks again to the magic of Disney we didn't have to join the long lines. I would advice pre-purchasing your tickets in the summer months. Inside, our local guide had us viewing David from all angles. From the right he appears relaxed, but on the left his muscles are tense and ready for battle. 

Hidden Passages

 After lunch on our own we joined our group for a private tour of Palazzo Vecchio. We walked through halls decorated by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Vasari and discovered hidden hallways and secret exits.

Hidden Rooms With Hidden Treasures



Florence has its share of high end shops, but I prefer the other end of the shopping spectrum. At the  San Lorenzo Street Market, haggling is accepted. There are the usual stands selling T-shirts and souvenirs. There are also lots of good deals on high quality leather. 

Enjoying a frozen gelato after our afternoon of shopping.

Back at the Piazza Santa Croce to join our group and share our shopping experiences. 

There's still Venice. 

Ciao Bellas, 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Family Farm in Tuscany

The Pasta Making Begins

We arrived at the family farm, Fattoria Poggio                              
Alloro where we were introduced to our                    
pasta chef and guide, Sarah. She's extremely
proud of her father's hard work and success in building this farm. 

Two handfuls of white flour, two handfuls of semolina flour and one or two eggs slowly mixed into the ring of flour and we were ready to roll out the pasta dough. I will never use a pasta machine again. With the right tools we were soon making an assortment of shapes. By the end of the morning, everyone was an expert pasta chef.

Our Disney guides had some fun with the 
leftover flour and eggs.

 Before lunch we took a walking tour of the farm. We met the moo cows, learned about the vineyards and wine production. Everything the family produces is grown on this farm. The beautiful rose bushes at the edge of the rows of grapes have a purpose. If they get infected with some kind of bug, it's a warning and they can act to protect the rows of vines.

Wine Tasting, Olive Oil Making, and Lunch

 The saffron pasta with peas and zucchini
was one of my favorite dishes on this trip. No, this is not the pasta we made. That was feed to the animals.
The recipe for this delicious dish is in Sarah's cookbook which I ordered when I got home. Some of the adventurers bought it at the farm, but like I said before, there's only so much you can carry back. I did buy a small package of saffron.

Rest and a Swim

Back to the hotel for a rest and swim before a medieval dinner and entertainment high on the historic town of Certaldo.


The meal started with a sample of olives, cheese, battered basil and battered zucchini leaves. The basil leaves were unique and amazing. I'll try to make them, but have my doubts that I'll succeed in capturing the flavor and crispy consistency.

Once again, another wonderful day had us in awe of of our Disney guides. There's more to come - on to Florence and Venice.

Ciao Bellas,

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tuscany - Mangia! Mangia! Mangia!

Tuscan Hospitality

Arriving at the family-owned private estate, 
Relais Gli Ulivi ( the Olive Orchard) felt like we were visiting family. The tables were set for lunch and the food started coming - salad, grilled vegetables, and grilled meats.

Italians take eating seriously.  For some unknown reason at a restaurant in Rome, my husband was the only one not to scrape his plate clean. The chef actually came out to ask him if he didn't enjoy his food.

I love this Italian saying that expresses their love for food 
and sharing. 
Chi mangia e non invite, posse strozzarsi con ogni mollica. 
He who eats alone and invites no one, will choke with every               

Under the Tuscan Sun

While everyone finished lunch, the junior adventurers had a chance to swim and blow off some energy in this postcard perfect setting

Before eating dessert we were shown how to make the delicious Torta Della Nonna. Grandmother's Cake is a thin top and bottom layer of a sponge cake like pastry filled with a delicious light custard. Oh, yes. I am definitely going to make this.

 Room With a View

From here we moved on to our hotel - Borgo di Cortefreda.

There was time to relax and enjoy the view before dinner with a wine and olive oil tasting.

 Wine and ...

We tasted Crema - a base di Balsamic with tartufo, Greppi Di Silli - 
an amazing jelly like honey that's flavored with herbs, vanilla nutella, and cheese. I couldn't resist buying the honey and balsamic.

And the wine...There was a Prosecco, of course chianti, and a limited edition of a blended summer white wine. Our case should arrive by the end of the month. 


There was still room for  
dinner where we finished off the 
wine from the tasting plus an 
additional bottle or two.

Each day was more amazing than the one before. You'll have to wait until tomorrow's blog for our experience on a working Tuscan farm.

Ciao Bellas,

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Brief Stop between Rome and Florence - Up the Hill to Orvieto

After a bus ride from Rome and a fanicular ride to the top of the hill, we arrived in the medieval town of  Orvieto (old city). The town sits on a flat summit of volcanic tuff. Tuff is from the Italian word tufo, a type of rock made from volcanic ash. 

A short walk down narrow streets lined with ceramic, leather, and shops selling truffles leads you to the church and tower. July is sale time in Italy. I did manage to buy a pair of sandals on sale, but passed on the ceramic. We still had Florence and Venice to visit. 

Every little town in Italy is full of history. Our Disney guide told us an interesting story about the town during WWII.  A British tank battalion had reached Orvieto and was greeted at the bottom of the hill by a German officer. This officer had visited the town. He expressed his concern that the beautiful Italian Gothic church, the Duomo of Orvieto would be ruined in battle. Both sides agreed with a handshake to move the battle away from Orvieto. 

 The history of the area predated the Romans. Mysterious Etruscans ruled the area from the 8th to 5th century B.C.
This Etruscan roots pin was one of many our Disney guides presented to each member of our traveling famiglia.
At just the right time our Disney guides treated us to gelato.  They were always there, just like your mother, handing out wipes, water, and first aid. 
 Once we were refreshed from our gelato, we were ready to climb the Torro Del Moro. Forty seven meters high, it was not the worse climb I ever did.

At the top, the panoramic view was well worth it. The palazzo below, the town, and surrounding countryside were clearly visible.
I could have stayed for hours just looking out at the view, but our visit to Orvieto was only a short break on our way to our Tuscan B&B. 
Didn't realize I had so much to say about Orvieto. Anyway, Tuscany deserves it's own blog. Hope you'll be back for more

Ciao Bellas,

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, and a Sprinkle of Disney Pixie Dust

Traveling on a group tour is not our usual way to travel. However, when we decided to visit Italy this summer, Adventures by Disney seemed like the best way to go for our extended family. Italy is very crowded during the summer months and we were able to avoid the long lines to see the best sites.
In Rome we joined a group made up of other families who share a love for traveling. From the very first moment at our first dinner our adventure began.

Hidden treasures

On our own we would have definitely passed by Chiesa di Ignazio Sant'lagnazio di Loyola, a church with a painted dome built atop layers of history. It's a short walk from the Pantheon on your way to the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain was under renovation when we were there. There was a small pool of water to toss your coins into and make a wish. It was a short visit and very crowded, but compensated with by a gelato stop. Stracciatella with chocolate shavings folded in has become my favorite. You knew I would mention chocolate some how. Just a tease - more Italian food to come in my next blog.


Arches of triumph



Christina, our wonderful local guide was an endless source of information. She also had a way of keeping us moving with purpose and keeping the street vendors and other tourists from cutting into our group. 

We were mesmerized with stories of the animals that fought in the Colosseum.

The seating arrangement for events was pretty simple, the 
Emperor and his entourage had special seating. Everyone else- 
including women and slaves had general admission with the masses                                                   
The steps were steep and slippery. Below is a section showing the original marble. 


Junior adventurers got to burn off energy in a mock gladiator fight. Everyone must have thought it was part of the show. A large crowd gathered around them with their cameras and iPads.

Sistine Chapel

One of the highlights of the trip was our private evening tour to the Sistine Chapel. Only 150 people a week are granted this opportunity.
The massive doors opened just for us at promptly at 7pm.
Photos are not allowed inside the chapel. Thanks to Christina's endless knowledge on the history of The Creation of Adam and The Last Judgement, the experience will always be a vivid memory. You're never to old to learn. I never knew that painting the Sistine Chapel was Michelangelo's first attempt with an art form other than sculpting. He never let anyone see his work. The controversial details in the Last Judgement  had even the junior adventurers paying attention to Christina's every word.

On our way to the Sistine Chapel was pretty impressive. As was the grand staircase that took us out.

I hope you'll stop by in the next couple of days for more on my Italian adventure. There's so much to write about - Orvieto, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, and the food. 
Just so you know, Disney had nothing to do with this blog. It is written unbiased from my experiences.

Ciao Bellas,