Saturday, 31 May 2008

family holiday in tuscany

This wonderful villa has been our home for the past two weeks.



Our families have been planning this trip for months. My parents, S's parents, my sister and her husband, her husband's parents, her sister-in-law and her boyfriend, and of course, S and me.

Most of the information we had came from these two websites and google earth, so we were happily surprised to find that it was every bit as luxurious and beautiful as promised. And pleasingly remote!

We rented several cars between us (except for L's boyfriend, who flew first to Munich to pick up his new BMW for the ultimate road trip through Europe) and spent our days exploring as many lovely towns as possible.

Sadly the weather was a bit hit-and-miss, but we didn't let the rain stop our tourist aspirations.

Mon 19 May
We started with a tour of our local landmark, Castello del Trebbio.


Alberto, our host and tour guide, explained the castle's role in the Pazzi Conspiracy, and its more recent history as a family-owned property. He told us about Mario, the game keeper, who has worked loyally for the castle since the 1950's. And he plied us with olive oil-drenched bruschette and sips of Chianti.

In the afternoon, we drove to Fiesole and parked the car, just as the heavens opened and we sat through a torrential downpour punctuated by dramatic thunder and lightning. Ask S for his photo of the rain on the windscreen.

Tues 20 May
We spent a soggy morning in San Gimignano, one of the towns I most wanted to see after hearing stories about it for years. I was disappointed not to see it in sunnier splendor, but I managed to hide it well, I thought.





From San Gimignano, we drove to Siena, and sat in a cafe soaking up the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we got to the Duomo too late to go inside, but we consoled ourselves with a bit of shopping instead.


Wed 21 May
The sun came out, so we attempted Fiesole again. This time, it was lovely to walk around the Etruscan ruins.




From Fiesole, we took the first of several #7 bus rides into Florence. I have been to Florence twice before, but being greeted by the Duomo is still amazing:


We climbed the 463 steps to the top, and were rewarded with a gorgeous view and the sounds of the Campanile bells ringing next door.



And who can resist the Ponte Vecchio?


Thurs 22 May
Ready for pictures of more beautiful places? We went to Poppi, "Uno dei Borghi piĆ¹ belli d'Italia."



I'm sure S can explain this.

Fri 23 May
Starting closer to home, we drove to Rufina.


Then back through Fiesole, where we stumbled upon this floral mosaic (we weren't really sure what it was, or what it was for. Thank goodness for the internet: Infiorata)


And back to Florence for some mother-daughter glove shopping at Madova.


I wish we could recommend Madova a bit more wholeheartedly. The gloves are beautiful and will be terrific in the winter, but customer service is not their strong point. Aside from general rudeness, they don't let non-EU tourists claim the VAT back for their (rather expensive) purchases. My sister fared much better at Il Bisonte, where they treated her like a principessa. And they still have the same style wallet she bought there 13 years ago. Which is what you'd expect for fine Italian leather goods.

Sat 24 May
We decided to visit some of the smaller towns near San Gimignano, starting first with Colle Val d'Elsa (which is also called Colle di Val d'Elsa, which I found slightly easier to pronounce).


The main residential area is built high on the hill above the town centre, and the clever people who live there have installed an elevator to take them up and down more easily.


Next to Monteriggio for a quick gelato stop.



And a little impulse buy. Blame Pratesi and their lovely handbags.

Finally, onto a private winery near Castellino in Chianti, which was closed but we ran around taking pictures and drove away before they could throw us out.



Sun 25 May
S and I took off on our own to explore the Cinque Terre. It was a long drive, and we were discouraged by the pelting rain and "parking full" signs as we got closer. As luck would have it, though, we found a place to leave the car and the sun came out just in time. It made a pleasant day that much better.

We began in Manarola...



and walked to Corniglia along the coast of the Ligurian Sea.




Absolutely worth it.

Mon 26 May
We drove to Pisa in the morning. The Leaning Tower truly lives up to its name!



S, who had been there before, rightly pointed out that most people focus on the Tower, completely missing the impressive Duomo and Battistero next door. So here's a birthday cake angle of the Duomo facade, to show that I tried to be more observant.


I did not want to be too observant, however. Sadly, Pisa has got to be the least attractive Italian city I have ever seen. I found it overrun with junky tourist souvenirs; spoiled with graffiti; and harassed by pushy street vendors; to the point where I could not wait to move on to Lucca.

Which was, just as I had expected, picturesque and charming!




Tues 27 May
Having already hit most of the places on our short-lists, we headed to Arezzo. First impressions were not very promising, and we feared a repeat of Pisa. But as we wandered further uphill toward the Tower, we were blown away by the view and the park area surrounding the Fortress.



Arezzo quickly won us over. Plus, Roberto Benigni's heartbreaking movie, Life is Beautiful, was filmed there. Not sure if I could sit through it again (sob!), but maybe it will make its way onto the LOVEFiLM queue... Hmmm, what do you know? There it is.

Wed 28 May
Back to Florence for our* final day.

(* Final day for S and me, that is. The way it turned out, everyone had slightly different holiday and flight plans, so while the villa was rented for 2 full weeks, only one couple was lucky enough to be there the whole time.)

Despite having been to Florence twice before this trip, I have missed most of the major indoor attractions on previous visits. I remedied that by tagging along to the Medici Chapel. Of course, it was in restauro, but we spent an hour examining the marble and pietra dure marvels.

Next, we strolled through Santa Croce. I had no idea that it was so extensive!

I liked this detail from Michelangelo's tomb.


As well as this fresco, floating on one of the walls.



We had our obligatory gelato at Vivoli, bought a few quick pressies, and said Arrivederci...

It was a great trip, and it was nice to spend time with our families. Grazie, tutti!



Sunday, 11 May 2008

roasted vegetables


reading food blogs is beginning to have an effect on me.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

lovely day


a typical stereotype of brits is that they always talk about the weather. if there was a day that deserved to be talked about, it was probably today: it was absolutely beautiful. sunny, warm, with a lovely breeze. the only problem, really, was that it was just after the bank holiday weekend, which meant that it could not be fully appreciated at work.

i was late to work anyway, and had a few minutes to enjoy this pleasant garden outside the merton register office, before submitting my application for british naturalisation (sorry american compadres - this word has to be spelled with an s instead of a z. that's 'zed,' not 'zee.' for that matter, i think it's 'spelt,' not 'spelled.' it's tricky to be bilingual in english.)

the home office has recently announced that they are changing the requirements for naturalisation, but they have not elaborated about the upcoming changes very clearly. logically, then, there has been a rush of applications while people try to slide in before the new rules. i got lucky that i qualified so soon after getting ILR (since my year as a student before marrying s counted toward the residency requirement). i took advantage of the nationality checking service, a clumsy name for "we'll check your application, charge you 40 quid, and send it to the home office so you don't have to be without your passport for the 20 or so weeks it will take to make a decision." all in all, i thought it was well worth the £40.

the merton register office was surprisingly nice - a charming building, currently covered in wisteria, which would make a pretty backdrop for wedding pictures, i suppose. while i was waiting to be served, i looked at the notices for upcoming weddings. nice to live in such a diverse community - some of the people planning to get married were from portugal, brazil, poland, mauritius...

and speaking of photo ops, if my application is approved, i will be back there in a few months for my citizenship ceremony, where i get to affirm my allegiance to the queen. and then i'll be able to participate in elections. i'm fairly sure my one vote would have kept boris out of the mayor's office.