Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tuscany (Siena) and Rome

Dennis and Betsy, Troy's cousins, visited us in July after going to a wedding in Sweden and we decided to go south for some warm weather and wine! What better destination than Tuscany.  Oh and I have to mention that this was a kidless trip! Our great friends here graciously offered to watch Abby and Ryan.  It was amazing!!  The trip outdid all of my expectations and I would definitely recommend Siena and the Tuscany region for anyone to visit if they ever have a chance.  It was the most beautiful scenery and towns.  I did not realize that most if not all of the Tuscany towns are built up on a hill with a medieval wall that was used for protection years and years back.  We flew into Pisa and our first stop was the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Such a neat landmark, but there is not much more to the city than this site, so we headed to Siena pretty quickly.  Troy was driving and since it's so hilly there it was a lot of up and down thru the country roads.  Luckily no one got carsick!  We stayed in Siena at a cute bed and breakfast, which by the way did not serve breakfast, but could go down the street to the local cafe. :)  There is very limited driving in the city, so it was great to walk around.  There were lots of art shops.  The major event in Siena is a horse race in their main piazza, 2 times in the summer (which we missed by a few weeks).  There are 10 riders representing 10 of the 17 areas of the city.  It is a major event and lots of pride for each of the areas of the city.  The pictures looked amazing - tons of people and these jockeys racing bareback.

Betsy also did some research and found a local wine tour guide who was the highest rated on trip advisor.  She was an amazing tour guide to local wineries that we would have never found on our own.  Our first stop was to a cheese and winery called Il Casale.  This is a biological farm that makes goat cheese from their own goats.  They are also a farm that you can come and volunteer to work at. They provide a place for you to stay and you work on the farm for 2 weeks.  She also made fresh ricotta, which was amazing!  We sat under a terrace with amazing views and sampled their wine and cheese.  2 of my favorite cheeses was one that sits in dried wine grapes, so it has a hint of a wine flavor and a nut one.  We also were able to see their cheese factory and she showed us how they stored their cheese.

Our next stop was the San Polino winery.  This is another biological vineyard.  They are pretty new to wine making, but their first batch got a very high rating, so they are very busy with the demand.  It was a beautiful vineyard and house (600 years old).  The neatest thing about this tour was we were basically invited into their homes.  The wine made in this region is Brunello de Montalcino (more expensive) and Rosso de Montalcino.  This vineyard made both and their Brunello was amazing.  We bought a bottle to share later that night.  We also learned that many of the wineries strive to have the DOGC label on their wine (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), which guarantees the wineries have met certain standards and it's a prestigious marking on their bottle.  Additionally, the wineries cannot water their grapes unless they are around a year old, so they really rely on mother nature.  It was amazing listening to these farmers and these grapes are their babies.

The next stop was for lunch at a local man's house, who cooks from his garden.  Another find that we would probably have never found on our own.  It was amazing food of pasta and lamb.  It was quite an experience in the back of his house (only has about 5 tables).  He did not speak much English.

The next stop was a honey farm.  I didn't write the name of this place down (I think I was sleepy from the yummy food and wine), but honey is also pretty common here.  We were able to see some of their bee hives and taste some of their honey.  It was pretty delicious!

The last stop was another winery named San Carlo.  The grand-daughter is now mostly running it with her father.  I believe her grandfather started the vineyard.  Another amazing wine and beautiful location.  She was so excited when it started raining!

We also enjoyed two great nights of 2 hour + dinners in Siena.  Such a treat with 2 small children.  So relaxing sitting outside enjoying delicious Italian food!

On our 3rd day we headed to Rome.  My friend here is from Northern Italy and has never been to Rome.  I find this crazy since she lives in Italy, but she says it is too busy and there is nothing she really needs to go there for.  Well, after being in Siena, where it's so relaxing and calm, and then going to Rome I can see why people don't go to Rome.  Busy, busy, busy with tons of tourists!!  We stayed near the Piazza Navona, a beautiful fountain.  We did quite a bit of walking, but every location was very busy with tourists.  We saw the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Vatican (including Sistine Chapel), and drove by the Colosseum. So much beautiful history here.

Our 4th day we headed home after the Vatican.  Such an amazing trip!  Wasn't quite ready to come home, but I missed miss Abby and Ryan!  They had such a good time with our friends that the first thing Ryan asked me was when dad and I were going on another trip so that he could stay there! :)

Beautiful Main Piazza in Siena

View from the top of Siena

First stop on our tour to Il Casale

2nd stop to San Polino

 Last winery stop at San Carlo

 Piazza Navona