Tuscan Sun

We got into Florence around 5:00 rather than 3:30 as we were originally expecting, but since it’s summer we still had enough daylight to explore and walk around after checking into our budget hotel. It worked out cheaper to get a private room in Florence than for us both to stay in the hostel. Florence and Rome were next to impossible to find couchsurfing hosts as the people in these places in Italy each get asked at least 10 times a day by different people wanting to surf their couches. We walked around Florence that evening and saw the famous Duomo, but it was closed so we couldn’t go in but figured we would go in the morning.

The good Luck pig. Everyone rubs its nose for good luck.

A wine shop in Italy!

Done by a street artist with chalk on the sidewalk

We just walked around a lot and enjoyed having some strolls in Italy’s cobbled streets at dusk. We got some dinner at a pretty crap restaurant but which was really cheap. The thing with the food in Italy is that it can be really amazing but you are going to pay an arm and a leg for it in most cities. We checked out a bar underneath our hotel and when the owner paid our bar tab we knew we should probably go beause things would only get uncomfortable from there.
The next morning we awoke early and got ready for the bike tour that we scheduled through the Chianti region of Tuscany. David, our tour guide was supposed to pick us up from the Vespucchi bridge and while we waited there, we met a group of Southern Americans. Two women who were best friends and one of their children and his wife were set to take the bike tour with us but instead of coming back to Florence they were going to ride all the way to Siena on a 3-day tour that would cover 50 miles. It was pretty funny because only one of the women wanted to do this bike ride and everyone else in their group was begrudgingly coming along for the ride so to say. They kept joking that they were going to do our tour which was only 12 miles which was a breeze in comparison. They had no experience on bikes and David wouldn’t be leading them any day except for today. The other days he just drops their luggage off at their hotels and they met him their by bike. They were really funny from the start. We also met James from South Korea who was studying in Cardiff, Wales who would also be on our tour. David, our tour guide is from Colorado and moved to Florence 20 years ago after college and never looked back. He now leads these bike tours through wine country. Once we were picked up, he drove us to the place where he keeps the bikes in the country and we all got suited with a bike and headed off into the Tuscan countryside.

Our first stop was a villa that is also a winery. It had olive trees to make olive oil and Sangiovese grapes for Chianti wine all spread out over 300 acres of land.

On the way to the winery, we saw the owners mini-ponies and also spotted some wild boar tracks.

There were also cherry trees where we could pick out our own cherries to eat.

Once inside the winery we learned about the fermentation process that takes about 30 days, then they separate the seeds and skins and put the juice into French Oak barrels (each which cost about 650 pounds and can only be used three times.) They are left there for 8 months(or 12 if it is their reserve wine they are making).

Ellie with the expensive French barrels

Then they are bottled and stored for 3 months before being shipped around the world. 31% of the wine they ship goes to the USA, 26% goes to Italy and the rest goes other places around the world. Each bottle retails for about $40.00-60.00. I asked when they stopped the process of mushing the grapes with their feet and they told me that no Italian has any recollection of anyone ever mushing grapes with their feet and that maybe it is urban legend. The Italians are, in fact, very repulsed by this idea.

After our tour, we went back to the villa for our tasting which is now a 5 star hotel with rooms ranging from 1,500-3,000 euros a night ( which is between 2, 225 -3,750 USD a night). It was such a beautiful place. There we had samples of the Chianti Classico and the Chianti reserve, as well as olive oil with Italian bread. The olive oil was some of the best olive oil I have ever tasted in my entire life. It was so fresh, it was amazing.

at the villa

From the villa, we rode about 3 miles before stopping for lunch in the little village of Casciano where we had a traditional Italian meal with a big jug of red wine and the most amazing panna-cotta and pecorino cheese(from the Tuscan region) for dessert.

We said good-bye to our Southern friends who were continuing on their own from there on out and we continued up some hills and into the beautiful countryside which is covered in vineyards.

(a little scary to see some crosses at the most dangerous part of the ride)

Our ride was really tough at some points, going up hills but when it was over, it was totally worth it. I think that the bike ride was one of our best experiences in Italy so far.

After the tour, David dropped us and James off at the Piazza del Michelangelo so we could see the view and walk back to our hotel. We walked with James and admired the Ponte Vecchio bridge along the way before saying good-bye to him.

The next morning, we packed up and left our luggage at the counter and headed off to see the Duomo. The Duomo may have been the prettiest church we had seen yet, in my opinion.

After touring that, we got some sandwiches from this tiny little deli with some of the best ingredients. We got a sandwich that had fresh eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto that the little old man made for us right there. It was one of our best culinary experience in Italy so far. We ate them on the train as we headed to Lucca that afternoon.


Lucca, was a place suggested to us by Merlin who had done a tour of Italy and really loved it. When we arrived at the train station, we caught a cab to the hostel because we had heard it was a far walk and we didn’t have a map. Once we arrived at the hostel, the only one in Lucca, it was really beautiful and old with about 10 different wings. We were showed to our room and met one girl from Sweden who was laying in her bed reading a book and two really sweet girls from England. We both went into the bathroom to fix our hair and Ellie locked the door for some reason, excited about the old lock and key and lo and behold, we got locked in. The key wouldn’t fit back in and we were completely stuck. We started to yell to our roommates who said they would go get someone to help us out. Well, we waited for about 45 minutes and no one ever came. I spotted a girl with a purple shirt and said “ Hello! You in the purple, we’re really stuck in here, help us please.” She said that someone else already went and frustrated we tried one more time and it worked! So free of the bathroom, we met Erica, the girl in the purple shirt who is from NYC but is taking a break from her high power job at Nickelodeon to figure out what she wants to do with her life and if she should continue with her wedding invitation business that she runs on the side for celebrities. She was very modest about all of this and we had to drag it out of her pretty much. After chatting for awhile, Ellie and I set out to walk around the town and Lucca was pretty charming. Far less tourists, tons of bikes and cute little modern art shops which were surprising in antique Italy. The city is one of the last walled cities left in Italy and the intact walls are gorgeous and give you an amazing view of the city that locals take advantage of in the afternoon to ride their bikes and rollerblade around.

view from the hostel room

We went back to the hostel to freshen up and ended up getting into an amazing conversation with all of the girls in our dorm, including one 50 year old woman who is German by birth but has lived in South Africa for the last 15 years and her visa has just run out and she is expected to go back to Germany after all of this time. She was really upset and she and Erica kept trying to encourage each other. The conversation was so good that we skipped dinner completely.
The next day we walked around the walls in the morning and met Erica for lunch at a little restaurant that was a “local favorite” according to our book. After lunch, we packed up and left Lucca heading for Cinque Terre.


2 Responses to “Tuscan Sun”

  1. 1 LaurenMoriah August 16, 2008 at 12:06 am

    is that the tour guide with his arm around you kel in the group pic?

  2. 2 LaurenMoriah August 16, 2008 at 12:09 am

    i can’t believe you got locked in the bathroom. that’s one of my biggest fears. how’d you even see a purple shirt girl?

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