Hello my lovely readers! As you may remember, I entered, and won, Tuscany Now’s Nominate to Appreciate blogger competition and we were given three days in Tuscany at the end of October to unwind and catch a breath after a particularly stressful year.
All flights were organised for us and we flew from Stansted to Pisa airport early Saturday morning. I left my car in the airport parking which cost me less than £40 for 4 days because I booked in advance. I also sorted a Post Office Travel Money Card which my mom and I pooled our money onto, as well as organising a EuroTraveller rate to use my phone while there. All that sorted, we were up in the air, ooh-ing and aah-ing for a couple of hours at the stunning mountains on the coast of Italy.
We were blessed with beautiful, warm and sunny weather as we arrived at Pisa airport and it was easy pisa (geddit?) to organise a quick bus journey to the leaning tower of Pisa. We did end up jumping on the wrong bus or missing our stop, I’m not sure, but that just meant taking the scenic route which was an absolute delight!
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we walked through the walls surrounding the complex where the tower is but I certainly didn’t expect it to be so beautiful!
It certainly is leaning at quite an angle but the facade is a brilliant white that shines beautifully in the sunshine and with it’s many, many arches, is just lovely to look at.
We didn’t have long before we had to catch a bus to the train station and then a train on to Florence. I must say, I was impressed by the trains in Italy. Not only are they incredibly cheap (£24 for two of us for an hour’s journey! It costs me upwards of £35 just for myself to travel for an hour on the train here in England!), but they are triple deckers with plug sockets! PLUG SOCKETS! FOR EVERY ONE! Not just for First Class passengers. I was absolutely delighted about this and immediately set about charging my phone which got a lot of use mainly with the Maps and translation app!
We slid into Florence happily and caught a taxi to our villa in the nearby olive grove fields of Bagno a Ripoli just a 25 minute drive outside of the city. As we arrived late in the afternoon the sun was beginning to set but we managed to capture a few photos of the incredible view over Florence from the gardens of our villa.
Our lovely hosts and owners of the property that the villa, which is a renovated orangery, greeted us warmly and showed us around the property explaining anything we needed to know as well as letting us know they had stocked us with wine, snacks and fresh fruit which was a lovely surprise. We had also made a quick stop at a bodega in order to pick up some dinner supplies so we enjoyed a mini feast before crashing into bed.
We fell asleep to the sounds of hooting owls and that is about it. The peaceful silence was a welcome respite and just what we needed after the year we have had.
The next morning we woke to the sounds of distant farming, chirping birds and the heady scent of olive groves and Cyprus trees. We marvelled at how there didn’t appear to be any fencing or walls between farms and my mother confirmed this on her return from her photography walk around the neighbourhood, while I slept a little longer.
As it was Sunday, we decided to just rest and recuperate before two busy days ahead visiting Lucca and Florence. We went on a long walk taking in the Tuscan countryside, stumbling across the most beautiful graveyard I’ve ever seen and cooking up a delicious lunch from items we found at the bodega the previous evening.
Not used to the late dinner times the Italians enjoy, we were half starved and the earliest people to arrive at the restaurant within walking distance of our villa. How we got there is a very funny story!
When we arrived we were told there was a path up to the road behind the villa where the restaurant was but as it was pitch dark when we left for dinner, we got thoroughly lost in dew covered long grass and ended up having to climb the wall of the owner’s property to get to the road which somehow made their electric gate begin to open and caused us to fall down the other side of the wall damp, covered in burrs and in fits of giggles! We dearly hope our hosts did not spy us climbing their wall as the explanation might have gotten lost in translation!
Our restaurant host was a lovely man who patiently described his entire menu to us in English before recommending a sumptuous red wine because neither of us know anything about Italian wines.
We started with a slice of pecorino cheese on a chestnut sauce which was absolutely divine. My main was a sirloin steak in a balsamic sauce with a side of Tripadvisor recommended roast potatoes which were simply amazing! My mom had grilled duck on raw cabbage which she wasn’t so keen on unfortunately but our desserts made up for it!
Absolutely stuffed, we walked the correct way home which passed the cemetery now lit with little lamps at each grave.
On Monday we headed to the walled city of Lucca, a roughly 45 minute train journey from Florence. The city is surrounded by a wide tree-lined wall of about 4 kilometers that you can walk along or enjoy a picnic if the fancy takes you. We strolled along until a road that would lead us up to the Anfi Teatro which we wanted to visit. Getting slightly lost we passed the Guinigi Tower which we, thankfully, decided to climb to the top of.
After paying 4 euros, we made the long climb up, first up flights of stairs where, surprisingly, many people had left their foot prints on the walls the entire way up until you reach the more precarious and extremely steep steps of the upper tower. Finally you emerge at the very top from a very narrow staircase to be surrounded by trees growing at the to of the tower and the most magnificent view over the entire city and it’s close-knit roof tops and narrow streets. An absolutely wonderful way to pass half an hour.
Now very hungry for lunch, we made our way to the Anfi Teatro by following a group of German tourists! After a spot of touristy shopping, we picked one of the many eateries within the courtyard of this unique space. The Anfi Teatro is completely surrounded by houses with no gaps except for the tunnels by which you enter and exit making for a fabulous panoramic photograph (thanks iPhone 6!).
On our return to Florence we struggled to find a corner shop or supermarket to get something for dinner even though I had Googled and found a couple near the station! Eventually we found one, right outside the side of the station and we would have walked straight past it had I not known it was in the vicinity! Convenience stores are not as common in Italy as we are used to here in England!
Grabbing a taxi from the station we were driven home by a very sweet and friendly old chap who tried his best to point things out to us in what little English he knew and by this point all I had memorised in Italian was “dove il bango?” (where is the bathroom?) and “posso avere il conto per favore” (can I have the bill please) and of course the basics of hello, thank you and please – because it’s only polite to at least know and use the basics in any country we visit.
Our last day was Monday and I was feeling a little under the weather. We begrudgingly packed up our little carry-ons, had one last shower in the soft, soft water of Tuscany (oh how I miss you soft water!), said good bye to the villa’s chocolate labrador and were kindly given a lift to the taxi station by the lady of the house.
We dropped our bags off at the station and headed into Florence city for a few hours to do the usual touristy things and to properly enjoy it this time around as the last time my mother and I visited Florence was on 9/11 and I don’t really remember much.
It felt to me like I hadn’t been there before, I took in all the gorgeous architecture, art and sculpture with fresh eyes and an eager camera trigger finger before we headed to one last lunch time at a restaurant recommended by Tripadvisor. As we were entering an American lady was leaving and asked if we had booked, on hearing that we hadn’t she gave us her luck, which was perfect because we were warmly welcomed and seated at a table with an American couple. While we waited for our food we took in the busy, lively atmosphere from both locals and tourists. Our waiter somehow read my mother’s mind and recommended the perfect meal for her, the first that she enjoyed at a restaurant while we were there. She devoured her veal stew with glee while I gobbled down my very salty lamb chops with another side of amazing roast potatoes! We shared a dessert and then rolled ourselves back through the busy streets of Florence to the train station feeling quite forlorn to be leaving Italy.
I must say, almost as soon as my feet hit the tarmac in Italy, I felt as if I was very much in love with the country. I remarked to my mom a number of times over our stay that I could happily move to Italy and maybe one day I will, the men are certainly easy on the eyes!
I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Tuscany Now and the team at Search Laboratory for being so thorough, efficient and helpful. My mother absolutely adored the villa and being in the countryside of Tuscany and because of that, my thorough enjoyment of our trip was doubled. We both felt replenished on our return and very grateful for the opportunity.