Florence, Pisa & Tuscany
The second stop for me on my journey was the region many know as Tuscany. On the way there we stopped in Pisa to visit the leaning tower.
The tower is made of marble and it really does lean. We were not there for very long, but while I was there I had an amazing caprese salad and had a necklace handmade for me. The artist and creator of the necklace placed it on me after he made it.
After leaving Pisa we headed towards Florence. Once we reached Florence we had just enough time to freshen up at the hotel then up into the Tuscan hills for an incredible evening at the Machiavelli Villa (tom hanks stayed right next door). It was so beautiful there even though it was a little rainy. It was something out of a storybook.
We were greeted with this blue champagne.
The wine barrels were huge, the hallways and stairways like little passage ways in a castle. It was stunning.
This was probably the best meal I had in Italy. It started off with little toast bites - or bruschetta - topped with tomatoes on one, green olive spread on another and black olive spread on the last. If you know me you know that I LOVE olives. So it was a perfect way to start the night. Oh, and I forgot to mention - we had unlimited wine. Before coming to Italy I never really loved, let alone liked, wine. I can say now that I do love it.
Everyone was laughing and having the best time. We yelled "salute" many times. Gianmarco, our amazing travel director, even helped carry the meat. We were offered the chance to purchase some of the wines we tried. The wines are made there, so of course I bought 6 bottles. I also got free shipping to my home in Ohio! You can order some too if you'd like to try it. Here is their website: http://www.villamachiavelli.it.
It was a magical night. After dinner we all partied on the bus and then at the hotel bar. Gianmarco had us all dying from laughter while he danced up and down the bus! I had some amazing conversations and made some real connections with people.
The next day we went into the city of Florence. We started the day off by visiting Michelangelo's "David". I didn't realize how big it actually was. It is 12,000 pounds and 17 feet tall. It is amazing how old this sculpture is.
Next we did a little stroll through the city, ending at the square in front of the basilica where Michelangelo himself was laid to rest (after the people of Florence stole his body from Rome)! Florence is famous for their leather and gold. So of course Gianmarco set us up with an introduction in two authentic shops to learn more about both. I couldn't afford the gold chain I wanted, but I did walk away with a cute pink, leather wallet!
Later in the day it was our time to visit the medieval Manhattan - San Gimignano. When I imagined what Italy would look like before coming - this town in the heart of Tuscany is what I envisioned. Stone everywhere, tall towers, buildings that show their age, hills filled with green and vineyard after vineyard, and cute little shops filled with wine and cheese. I LOVE cheese.
Gianmarco took us up to the fortress where we got the best panoramic views. It was breath-taking.
San Gimignano also has the best gelato in the world at a place called Gelateria Dondoli! Of course I got some! My flavors: grapefruit champagne, chocolate and espresso. I had the honor of meeting the bubbly, charming owner and gelato genius - Sergio Dondoli!
Visit GelateriaDondoli.com to read more about Sergo and Gelateria Dondoli.
I bought some cheese after taste testing many different kinds. I can't wait to go back and spend more time there drinking wine and trying even more cheeses. Maybe next time I'll buy a block instead of just a few slices.
The night ended with a little pool party and ping pong at the hotel.
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