Europe 2012: Day 62, Tuscany

 View of Tuscan hills from Fiesolenear Florence, Italy.

Tuesday, 8/7/2012

Woke at 7am.  My DH’s iPod says the high today will be 95 degrees – tomorrow is predicted to be worse!  Did I tell you that I don’t deal with heat well?

Today we have booked “A Perfect Morning in Tuscany Tour.”    Here is what we are supposed to be doing and seeing on this tour:

Unsurpassed stunning views of Tuscany, a great guide, fascinating stories, a famous hill top town, an exclusive Renaissance Villa, winding country paths, and a delicious Tuscan lunch with wine.

  • Pass through the beautiful ‘must see’ hill top town of Fiesole. See glorious views of Tuscany. Hike ancient paths through Tuscan olive groves and scented cypress woods.
  • Experience the sublime Tuscan setting where the makers of the Mona Lisa and the David – the most famous artworks in the world – worked and played. We see where Leonardo da Vinci tested his historic flying machine and the shaded hillside stone works where Michelangelo learnt his craft.
  • Visit an exclusive private Renaissance Tuscan villa, Fattoria di Maiano,  featured in two famous films,  ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Tea with Mussolini’, with lovely Italian gardens and more superb views of Tuscany and distant Florence. We then enjoy wine with a delicious gourmet Tuscan lunch on the Villa’s estate.
  • This great Tuscany tour includes private van transport from Florence and a prestigious small group.

FYI — We are “prestigious” only because our credit card was approved.

We meet our tour at the tour office a couple of blocks off the main square.   We meet the four other tourists and our tour guide Marc, a young Italian man with an engaging personality.  I could tell he would be quite popular with the girls — charming, witty, and a friendly and caring smile.   He also looked tired.   He told us that we had worked every day since the start of July.  I don’t think we got him at his best.  Here are some pictures from the tour:

Road to the hilltop Abbey (Fiesole, Italy)

View of Florence from the hilltop abbey.

View of Florence from the hilltop Abbey.

The Abbey of San Francesco in Fiesole, Italy.

Road through olive groves to visit the place where “Leonardo da Vinci tested his historic flying machine and the shaded hillside stone works where Michelangelo learnt his craft.”

Passing by a Tuscan castle.

Cave where Michelangelo practiced sculpting stone.

The Villa Fattoria di Maiano that was  featured in two famous films,  ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Tea with Mussolini’.

Garden of the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

View of from the patio of the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

Pool of the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

Entry of the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

Ceiling of the entry in the villa.

Room in the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

Another room in the Fattoria di Maiano villa.

A fireplace in the Fattoria di Maiano villa. Notice the seat in the fireplace for those cold Tuscan days.

Large windows to enjoy the view.

Venetian glass in the Fattoria di Maiano villavilla.

Overall, the tour delivered what it promised.   The other four people on the tour (a couple from London and a couple from Canada) were friendly and talkative.   Our simple Italian lunch of cured meats, cheeses, pasta, and fruit was filled with good food, good wine, and great conversation.   My DH talked to the guys about the challenges of international driving and using a GPS.   We girls talked of shopping and the dangers of buying those tempting handbags off the street.  The lady from Canada warned us that there is steep fine if the Italian authorities find out that you purchased one of these fake designer bags.   How would the authorities know?   “Customs!” she said.  This is not a problem for me but the other women seemed a bit worried.

We arrived back in Florence around 5pm.   It was still hot so my DH and I headed back to the hotel for a nap.   We reviewed emails and my DH did some financial work.   I watched the Olympics on the BBC and read an eBook.

At 9pm, we went out for dinner to a nearby restaurant that was highly rated by TripAdvisor, Il Sasso di Dante, right next to the Duomo.    The restaurant was busy and we got the last free table outside, in the shadow of the Duomo.   Since our lunch was light, we decided that tonight we would have the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.   To most Americans, this looks like a  porterhouse steak but they would be wrong.  It is a steak, it is the porterhouse cut (servers at least two people), but the meat comes from the Chianina beef cow.  The Chianina is an Italian breed of cattle and is the largest and one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world.  The steak was large, rare, and good!    The meat was tender as promised and we barely finished it between the two of us.  On the side we had white beans and grilled veggies, they were good too.   It wasn’t our best meal in Florence, but with the Duomo as our backdrop, it was certainly the most memorable meal to date!

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Tuscan white beans with rosemary and olive oil. These do not look like much, but they are very tasty!

Grilled peppers, onions, fennel, mushrooms, and zuccini — a vegan’s dream meal!

By 11pm, we were stuffed and back in our cool hotel room.   As I rolled myself into bed, I thought that today was a very good day!   We saw some beautiful sights and learned some great history about Italy and it’s contribution to art and civilization as we know it.   That’s the best thing about travel — learning new stuff!

Quote of the day:  “You get to know Italy by using your eyes!   You see cypress.  You see flowers.  You think ‘They are useless, he must be rich!’”  — Marc, our tour guide.


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