Saturday, September 13, 2014

Le Meilleur de la Toscane Part 3: San Giminiano and Siena

the pines, the vines and the olives... i really am in Tuscany!

loving the potted flowers

ancient clock

inside one of the long rows of shops in San Giminiano
it was quite touristy... although from outside the fortified city, it was quite hard to tell...

it came as no surprise that San Giminiano was lovelier than what we'd expected. we arrived right around lunch time coming from Lucca.

we saw a nice restaurant with a lovely terasse, far from the maddening crowd of tourists. we also spent some time walking around the walled city. there were lots of shops offering crockery and pots and some truffle and olive oil and lots of Italian products -- pasta, leather goods, etc. the red bricks reminded me so much of Toulouse. and it's such a nice color to look at, so wonderfully and comfortably warm, like the weather... and those red-orangey bricks gave us a sneak peak of what Siena might look like... speaking of which...

i have the same color as Siena!

sweets and goodies

Spritz -- a famous local cocktail made of Aperol, prosecco, sparkling water and a slice of orange

one of the loveliest restaurants i've been to

seafood with a view

storm brewing atop the cathedral

i love these colors!

believe it or not this is neither filtered nor photoshopped
of all the places i've visited in Tuscany, Siena is my favorite. there is just no boring corner in Siena. everything around is a feast to the eyes. it's probably why it is the site of some famous movies, including James Bond, Quantum of Solace's horse race scene. it definitely is one of the loveliest places on earth.

i have also found one of the nicest restaurants i've been to. although, the service and the food quality is so-so, the view of the rolling Tuscan hills and the changing colors of sunset enveloping the ancient city was indescribably magical.

i wouldn't mind visiting Siena again. :)

up next and last: Chianti, Arezzo and Cortona

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Le Meilleur de la Toscane Part 2: Pisa and Lucca

from Firenze, we headed off to Pisa, to of course, see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. everybody's telling us there's not much to see and do there except see this tower.

en route to Pisa from Firenze

we noticed that the highway is a bit too narrow. and there were some areas with major traffic jams. nevertheless, it was a quite a short drive. two hours, if i remember correctly.

the parking area was a bit far away from the city center. we parked there because there are restrictions on allowed vehicles inside the city center. on the way there, we passed by a bustling area with buskers and flea markets and this:

Keith Haring's Tutto Mondo

this is Keith Haring's last public art work before he died. i don't usually like contemporary art because they usually look like some kids' crappy doodles/experiments to me. but i like it when it's juxtaposed with the classic, like this modern mural is painted on the side of an ancient church. it makes for a lovely contrast.

it's quite convenient that there is a small café with free WIFI right in front of this structure and we took a bit of refreshments before heading back into the heat to see the Pisa Tower.

teeny tiny chapel right next to the Arno River

we passed by this teeny tiny chapel right at the edge of the Arno River on the way there. it was so cute and small and charming.

crossing the Arno River on the way to the Pisa Tower

i just had to have my pic taken here. it was so hot i was starting to burn like toast. look at my dark tan.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

a few minutes later, here we are at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. we didn't know that we can climb all the way to the top. so we took the opportunity to buy tickets. it was quite a long queue.

and this is how it looked inside:

some metal structures that keep the wall from caving in or further leaning (?)

you can see that they've built some supporting structure inside to strengthen the walls. it was quite tiring to climb. it was so narrow and you can feel the stronger pull of gravity towards the side where it is leaning. it felt so weird.

you are really forced to lean on the wall because it is sloping towards the side

these are the last few winding steps to the top of the tower:

all the steps are curved in the middle because of the pressure of all the millions of feet that have climbed them for centuries

on the way down, i just had to take off my slippers because i was afraid of slipping. nevertheless, the view from the top is magnificent.

life on top!
a bit of interesting excerpts from wikipedia:
On January 7, 1990, after over two decades of stabilisation studies, and spurred by the abrupt collapse of the Civic Tower of Pavia in 1989, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to relieve some weight, and cables were cinched around the third level and anchored several hundred meters away. Apartments and houses in the path of the tower were vacated for safety. The final solution to prevent the collapse of the tower was to slightly straighten the tower to a safer angle, by removing 38 cubic metres (1,342 cubic feet) of soil from underneath the raised end. The tower was straightened by 45 centimetres (17.7 inches), returning to its 1838 position. After a decade of corrective reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public on December 15, 2001, and was declared stable for at least another 300 years.[20]

In May 2008, after the removal of another 70 metric tons (77 short tons) of ground, engineers announced that the Tower had been stabilized such that it had stopped moving for the first time in its history. They stated it would be stable for at least 200 years.[21]

we're quite lucky to have arrived there at a time that it is already stable enough to be climbed by the public.

view of the cathedral from the tower

right after visiting The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Cathedral, we headed straight off to Lucca, where we will be staying the night. we stayed right at the heart of the fortified city where Giacomo Puccini was born.

Hotel Athena's lobby

we stayed in this charming hotel called Hotel Athena with a very nice Italian Lolo as the owner. He has a gorgeous son that looks like a model! he was so nice to pick us up a few meters from the hotel because we had trouble locating it.


everything looks antique inside the room. it kinda looked haunted to me. it's a good thing i was too tired to worry about ghosts at bedtime because i was exhausted from all the driving and walking in the heat.

this mirror is scary-looking old

we rested for a bit and then walked around the city towards dusk where we found an open market selling antiques. but the shops were already closing down when we got there.

antiques for sale

there was also a music festival featuring Stevie Wonder the following evening. too bad, we had to leave early the following day for San Giminiano and Siena.

artists performing at the music festival in Lucca

walking around the fortified city, we saw a lot of small shops with some old Italian Lolos gathering at a corner having some passionate discussion. :)

Italian Lolos having some heated debate

and of course, we searched for a nice restaurant for dinner. i love that there are olive trees everywhere. makes me feel that i really am in Tuscany. :)

charming set-up but we didn't eat here. we just wanted to have apero here but they only serve dinner. tant pis!

lovely flowered bicycle

of course, the restaurant with a lovely terrasse where we originally wanted to eat was fully-booked, so we had to settle for this one:

my dinner date

which was not that bad at all. i liked my fried oysters and rosé.

oysters for dinner

after dinner, if you keep strolling around, you will find all these interesting sites:

Lucca Cathedral

this is Signor Puccini sitting comfortably right in front of his very own birth place, which is now a restaurant under his appellation.

Signor Puccini

sampayan :)

 breakfast at the Hotel Athena was really nice, especially sitting right next to this old statue:

old and beautiful... sitting next to this at the breakfast table

the hotel's breakfast room

i could never get tired of authentic Italian capuccino for breakfast

i asked the Lolo owner of the hotel what this insignia on the hotel keychain means. he said it's the family insignia of the original owner of the hotel

upon check out, the charming Lolo owner of the hotel gave us directions to a nice route on the way to San Giminiano, so i could have a photo-op with these lovelies:

lovely sunflowers basking under the Tuscan sun

that's all for this week! next time: San Giminiano and Siena


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Le Meilleur de la Toscane Part I: Florence

the first stop of our Dream Tuscan Road trip was, of course, Florence. :)

upon arrival, we were a bit disappointed with the airport. it was so small and had very few shops. i also remember waiting a long time at the baggage carousel for our bags and so i noted how low the ceiling was and i started to feel claustrophobic.

speaking about small and cramped, this was our cute little ride all throughout the trip:

The FIAT 500 -- we were hoping to get this from the car rentals, and we did! :)

yes, it was small, but me and hubby fit together snugly but comfortable enough... and it's an Italian classic! i had a chance to drive it a bit but my legs are still too short for this already teeny tiny car! :(

our hotel bedroom

our four-star hotel in Florence... which to me is more like a pretentious three star. LOL.

we arrived at our hotel at past 10 in the evening. the snooty-looking receptionist of the four-star hotel recommended us to have dinner at this Osteria a couple of blocks away.

charming little place a few meters off our hotel

and so we spent our third wedding anniversary dinner at this Osteria. the food was so-so. but the ambience and the restaurant staff were really nice.

it was a coincidence that we had this wine from the famous Antinori vineyard in Chianti that we will be visiting at a later part of our trip

after dinner, we did not waste our time and walked towards the Piazza della Signora, where i saw for the first time a replica of one of my favorite famous nudes:

Michelangelo's David's replica

it's amazing how these sculptures look more alive than most people i know

we woke up to a beautiful sunny morning the following day and it was perfect for a walk towards the Piazza del Duomo.

wearing this shirt and skirt from the French summer sale from a shop called DPP made me feel as sunshiney as the weather

since it was still very early in the morning, we decided to climb all the way up to the bell tower to have these magnificent views:

don't you just love these colors?

view from one of the rose-patterned grids of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore's bell tower

and of course, i just have to be a part of it:

view of the cathedral's dome from the bell tower

we did not really bother climbing to the top of the dome because we were so tired after climbing the tower with more than four hundred steps! we did however made the mistake of queuing to go inside the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiori which is a waste of time because it is more spectacular from the outside than the inside. don't waste your time queuing and paying for that! although, i don't get why they make you pay to enter a church/cathedral/basilica! they should only ask for payment for the museum. how do you do if you're not a tourist and just want to attend the mass or do some worshiping?

feeling all famished from all the queuing and climbing, we decided to go to the Mercato Centrale. we heard that lunch was cheap but really good.

of course!

so many food options!

i love the ambience in this market! we came early, it got really crowded after 12!

and so much good stuff to buy:

i love these descriptive labels on the produce

i absolutely adore limoncello, that's why we bought a much bigger bottle than this one:

TIP: In Italy, they give limoncello and grappa shots for free at restaurants at the end of a meal if you ask for them, otherwise, they don't usually offer.

some sun-dried pomodori, free for tasting:

pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato

we had some freshly-made pasta with some freshly-made sauce and a few glasses of wine. i was a bit tipsy after lunch.

I had a glass of proseco before meal and a white wine to go with the pasta... it wasn't a lot but I still felt tipsy.

but it didn't stop me from still heading towards the Galleria del Academia to see the real deal on Michelangelo's David.

i wonder who owns this shop:

it was expensive and not really my type

i love the classic simplicity of old Italian buildings.

i love these narrow spaces with interesting views peeking at you

and i was not disappointed:

dream-come-true! :)

this guy is the real deal. i would take that half-hour queue in the heat (despite booking online) any time just to get this snapshot!

the next day we headed off to Pisa and Lucca and the rest of our Tuscan trip. we did however return to Florence on our last day to catch the plane back to France. but before that, we still had time to visit a small town called Fiesole, North of Florence that had this restaurant that offers a spectacular view of all of Florence.

these are all my Italian favorites:

small bites at a restaurant in Fiesole -- prosciutto and melons, bruschetta and crostini and some liver paté with our favorite Tuscan apéritif: Spritz

in the evening, we visited a small, cozy rooftop bar called, La Terraza, which has a view of the Piazza della Signorina and the Arno River.

and these cocktails with free-flow of snacks -- chips, olives and cheese.

hubby's girlie drink on the left is called Vesper, from the James Bond girl and mine is La vie en rose, which didn't really taste like the name at all

 lastly, there was this free concert amongst the nudes:

i really love Italy for the food, the sights and the beautiful weather... and also i like how people call me Signorina (Miss)... it makes me feel so young and pretty. :)

 next time: Pisa and Lucca