Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday, September 29, 2019


Posted by Hippobean at 2:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Normally I'd enjoy roaming the airport terminal by myself, checking the shops, finding a spot to settle down and reminisce every stop of the trip, in anticipation of arriving and picking up the car, showing off the photos, and driving home for a shower. This time, heart heavy, trying to enjoy the last of the trip, but simultaneously silently grieving and mourning. Alone in the room facing the tarmac filled with Air France planes. A moment of reflection. A silent prayer. Mãe! Dreading the moment to face the music and the duty, the contaminated car, the now lonely drive home and the lonely night. An empty feeling. The world's gone silent, has lost its colors in the first time and now the remaining light has gone out. Didnt expect this would happen. didnt think it would affect me so tremendously. But now I'm empty. Alone. Hurt and angry. There's no one there. Now I'm free.

Frederica drove us to the Peretola airport. Explore said they didnt arrange airport transfers and I had to ask the local tour guide or the hotel to arrange a taxi. I was pissed at them. Exodus did all my transfers. But Frederica said it was included. She got tickets for the shuttle or taxi or train for the rest and even drove those who planned to return via Pisa all the way to the Pisa airport. That's service you dont see anymore nowadays. I tipped her quite well. She was an excellent guide. Peretola was still quite empty when we got there at this early hour. Hung out with the canadian couple for a bit until they checked in to their flight to spain. Then I headed to the AF priority counter.

Business class proved again to be a good decision. I needed the privacy. finally got to see Dark Phoenix which I've enjoyed. the TV monitor was big enough and it pops out so the angled seat was perfect to view it. I actually like AF biz class better than Singapore airlines. The seat adjustments were electronic and it could be set to any position, totally flat or somewhere in between. since i detest lying down flat on a plane (it made me dizzy), I could adjust the position I liked and still have my feet up. The seat was positioned slightly towards the window, so there's more privacy and one could look out the window. However, there's only 1 small compartment to store personal belongings whereas Singapore had more nooks to stash things. But the service was nowhere near Singapore. There's no attention to details. they didnt call me by name and didnt come around to check on me every now and then, which was fine since I needed the quiet and the privacy. and when asked if I've wanted a meal, they just slapped a white cloth on the table (didnt look clean enough and certainly not pressed). the food of course wasnt asian but the lamb stew I've chosen was very good. the snack before the starter came in little boxes (are you kidding) but they were savory good. But the hot towel and pre flight drinks were offered. This was the trans atlantic flight. for the eu flight from Firenze, biz class was just having the middle seat vacant and a bottle of water (are you kidding) before the meal. Both flights were comfortable.

So which was my favorite cinque terre village? none was my favorite. I couldnt decide even if I like any of them. Perhaps too many tourists or perhaps we didnt have enough time to really explore each one. I even liked bonassola better than the 5 towns. Initially I had wanted to stay in one of the 5 villages. Now that I've seen the crowds, I think having Bonassola as a base was great. At the end of the day, we could return to the quiet and peaceful town to relax away from the tourists. And I've enjoyed the ferries and the azure trail from corneglia to vernazza. porto venere was actually my favorite but it's not part of cinque terre. and I really liked Lucca.

both san gimignano and sienna were great and the tuscany hikes were very good, even with the difficult one to Montepulciano, I've enjoyed all the hikes. the hotels were OK but the rooms were terrible. Always given the worst rooms. There's so much more in Italia that I still would like to do.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Saturday, September 28, 2019

ancora Firenze un'altra volta

Posted by Hippobean at 10:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
morning hour and a half drive to Firenze with me riding shotgun. One last time of the italian highways and european signs. Love them! It's been a long while since I've been to Firenze. Dumped luggage at the Classic hotel on viale machiavelli and drove up to the piazella michangelo for a grand view of the capital of the renaissance. i forgot how beautiful Firenze was. Here I bought 2 tshirts. Walked down past the fountain and along the arno and crossed the ponte vecchio straight into the old city. Immediately the place was filled with people. every church, every restaurant and cafe and shops there were queues. The capital of the renaissance is now the capital of the tourists. didnt want to waste time queuing for tickets and queuing to get in to the sites, I simply walked everywhere. The Piazza Duomo, Basilica San Lorenzo, Piazza san Croce. had a sausage, mushroom and cheese pizza lunch at a restaurant on the square, across from santa maria della novela. didnt have pizza at all on this italian trip. And the pizza was good and satisfying. At the uffizi, I thought about on the first day, frederica had mentioned we should order Uffizi entrance tickets ahead of time. thought about it but decided against it since time was limited and I didnt want to be tied down to a specific time and spend half or most of the day doing just 1 site. I could still do uffizi but it would be another mad dash, so I just had a quiet moment by the arno. i said quiet but had to drown the noise from the crowd next to me. walking back to the hotel, I passed by the Pitti palace. Very long lines. Skipped it.

back at the hotel, my room was again tiny and on the attic with a window on the roof. shabby again. there's a little garden at the back of the hotel which meant another good place for my last evening tea. Last supper was at restaurant a short walk from the hotel. They had bacalla and I've ordered it. Knew it wont anywhere as good as our bacalhau but it was fine.

Very late into the night for my usual evening tea at the garden, all alone. Stuffy was crying a river.

Firenze photos:

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday, September 27, 2019

beautiful hilltop Montalcino

Posted by Hippobean at 9:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This morning the view at the breakfast in the hotel terrace was magnificent with mount amiata in clear full view.

Early morning panoramic drive to San Quirico, another town on the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, passing through cypress landscape where some of the scenes from the Gladiator was filmed. San Quirico D'Orcia, beautiful cathedral, narrow cobble stoned streets, town quiet in the early morning.

After exploring the village, we descended to cross the Asso river and followed undulating trails with views of the Val D'Orcia. This time of the year, the fields were bare and grey. No crops so this part of the hike was quite dull and boring. Picnic lunch again in a vineyard but no views of the hill town of Montalcino. Frederica brought a bottle of red from her boyfriend's farm. Quite good wine. Another satisfying picnic lunch of a different breads, cheeses, prosciutto and turkey, olives and cucumbers and biscuits and cookies. The last part of the trail was uphill to Montalcino.

Montalcino had several beautiful churches, a nice main drag and square piazza del popolo with shops and cafes but it was the Rocca that was worth the visit. It offered fantastic views of the town and church towers. After visiting it, I settled down for one last gelato. The Brunello di Montalcino wine was very good.

Back at pienza, i painted town and looked for a new place to dine. Last dinner in Toscana, I had wanted pappardelle with mushroom and didnt want to do La buca de Fate again. By chance I saw pasta in the little cafe next to the hotel and they did have pasta with porcini. So I've ordered it. While waiting at an outside table, I've heard a microwave ding. Sure enough the pasta tasted like frozen dinner. But it did satisfied my yearning for porcini. One last tea at the cloisters and it's off to
Firenze, the trip's last destination.

San Quirico photos:

Montalcino photos:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thursday, September 26, 2019

town with no flat street - montepulciano

Posted by Hippobean at 11:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post

a bit chilly in the morning. Breakfast was on the hotel terrace overlooking the Val d’Orcia. it looked like a white lake with monte Amiata peeking out from it. The white lake turned out to be the morning fog over the valley. a bit later, the fog cleared and we could see Amiata in full glory. Breakfast at the chiostro di Pienza hotel was good. Good fresh bread, great variety of very good cakes and muffins, different cold cuts, boiled eggs, juices and real americano, not from the machine.

Today we headed downhill from pienza on the strade bianche, the white gravel road towards the village of Monticchiello. The hike was gorgeous passing chianti vineyards and the famous cypress tree avenues on the valley of d’Orcia. This was the most beautiful hike on this trip. We had views of San Quirico, Monticchiello and Montepulciano on the hills along our hike. We reached the hilltop fortified village of Monticchiello, an unspoiled gem in tuscany. Right before entering the Porta Sant'Agata into town, a stone gate with towers, there's a belvedere with lovely views of the Montepulciano on a hill and Val d’Orcia countryside. Beautiful and clear this morning. No tourists and the village was quiet, perfect to explore the cobble stoned streets flanked by ancient brick buildings. the terraces and outdoor stairwells were filled with blooming flowers. Very pretty village. The 13th cen. Pieve dei Santi Leonardo e Cristoforo a Monticchiello church had some well preserved frescoes inside but the façade was unimposing.

We had a picnic lunch at a vineyard among the vines and with a direct magnificent view of the hilltop town of Montepulciano, our final destination. Frederica surely knew how to do picnic lunches. Good local focaccia and sliced bread, a variety of cheeses, tomatoes, different kinds of prosciutto cotto, salamy, carrots and even cookies for dessert. All for only 3 euros each.

After our satisfying lunch and glorious views, we headed uphill to the hilltop town. After passing an avenue of cypresses, the Renaissance temple of San Biagio came into view. From there, it's all uphill to Montepulciano. at 605m high, perched in a limestone ridge, montepulciano was encircled by renaissance walls and fortifications. once we've crossed the Porta delle Farine into the town, nothing here was flat. Only the Piazza Grande which was the heart of town. From the square, every street was a downhill . Inside la Mura della Fortezza, the wine shop had glass floors that showed the archaeological artifacts below the ground and there were some dry wells below and standing on the glass floor looking straight down the well was quite eerie. many churches in the town, and the Via di Voltaia Nel Corso, the main drag, had great shops and cafes and many more churches. Again, not enough time to do the whole main drag any justice, and had to walk uphill back to the piazza Grande. We took a local bus back to pienza.

For dinner that night, i went back to la Buca de Fate and had gnocchi with wild boar sauce. The gnocchi was in thick squares, not at all like the ones we had at home. But the sauce was good. The hike today was quite tiring. Hiking up to montepulciano was an absolute killer.

Monticchiello photos:

Montepulciano photos:

happy together again

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