Sip… Schlep, Sip some more…repeat. Touring Italy (traveling anything but light!)
by Debra Chappell
View from Ponte Vecchio – Florence, Italy:
Writing this from Siena hotel room – requisite glass of wine within reach, recent acquisitions safe and in one piece. We’ve been eating, shopping, gawking and sipping our way through Italy. Seems ages ago since we were in Venice but it’s only been a week – we’ve covered a lot of ground (and water) in that time. One thing Elaine and I have learned on this trip…virtually every time we have deviated from our oh-so-planned-ahead-itinerary, or happened on a serendipitous conversation with a local, it has led us to a fascinating adventure that can’t be found in Rick Steve’s pages or any other guide book.
In Venice, the hotel clerk shared his personal recommendation for the best place to sample “cichetti’s” (small plates – tappas). That led us to an out of the way family establishment hidden in an ally, filled with locals, fun, great food and an accommodating proprietor who poured us wine from a jug but later shared a favorite bottle with us. In Verona, we set out to dinner walking in the mild evening up the Piazza Erbe on our way to our pre-determined restaurant for dinner…only to stumble into an enthusiastic group of people milling outside a sidewalk restaurant. A woman was flitting about handing out glasses of wine and little pork sliders. We at first rebuffed her attempts saying we weren’t part of the party but she explained in halting English that it was a celebration of her newly opened restaurant– she was the proud proprietor – the food and wine were complimentary and to please join in the festivities. Not wanting to cause any cross-cultural angst, of course we obliged!
And in Florence we had two unforgettable experiences that won’t be documented in Fodor’s or Frommer’s – all because of luck, serendipity, and well, yes, a smile or two that is a universal language. Yesterday we decided late in the day to take the bus up the hill overlooking Florence to Fiesole – Elaine had read about it in a guidebook along with the suggestion to have a drink overlooking Florence in the bar next to the bus station there. We boarded the appropriate bus and soon noticed an elegantly striking woman who boarded a few stops later. Within a few minutes she chatted with Elaine and then offered her bus tickets to us as she had 2 extra rides on them she wouldn’t be using. Upon learning we were headed to Fiesole for the view, she suggested we get off two stops before instead – at the same stop as her — and walk up to Hotel San Michele and have a drink and enjoy the exquisite view from there. Hotel San Michele , as it turns out, is a very chi-chi hotel and our drinks cost more than our dinner that evening. But the view, the nibbles, the champagne cocktail that E ordered and the Kir Royal that I ordered were exquisite and well worth it, as was the setting, the live piano music, and the charming waiter Dennis who was only to happy to fuss over us (and the fact that we were the only ones in the bar had nothing to do with it!). We never made it to Fiesole but didn’t care – Trip Advsior just couldn’t have enough stars to rate our afternoon
. And finally this morning – our last morning in Florence. We set out early to see Michaelangelo’s David – because even though we’d both seen him before – you can’t visit Florence without at least stopping in on one of the world’s masterpieces can you.? So there we were, at 8:30 am striding with purpose and all good intentions towards the Accadamia to see our inspiring friend. The plan was to grab a cappuccino in Piazza Republicca on the way and get there ahead of the crowds. Alas, what should appear on a little side square but a tiny flea market with…yes, a bounty of glassware and ceramics…oh my. Well, a little poke couldn’t hurt now could it? But as I was paying my 6 Euro for a cute hand painted sugar, creamer, salt and pepper set, a local woman recommended a better market on the other end of town, passed the Duomo with an antique brocante on the way, and yes, if you have a map I can show you exactly….. David got overthrown in a hot second in favor of frothy cappuccino , a flea market hunt, and a great little ceramic shop in a local out of the way neighborhood with less-than-Florence prices and family painted pieces to boot. We have now made it to Siena and will no doubt find other deviations to keep us entertained and on the go. In the meantime we are sampling the regional wines….and sampling and sampling and schlepping all our new found treasures in a newly purchased extra suitcase. How we are going to get it all home though is still beyond me- but I’m sure if we smile, nod, and use our unique combination of broken Italian and sign language, someone will surely give us a few suggestions….