In late May, Gene and I traveled to Italy to experience the food, scenery, culture, art, and history. It was a visually stunning experience from the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside to ancient structures with stories to tell. Here is a little trip through our time there.
Day 1: Colosseum, Roman Forum
The first thing we did when we arrived in Rome was visit the Colosseum. I didn't expect it to be so impactful in person in the same way that listening to a symphony play live as opposed to in a recorded form doesn't seem that different to me at times. But it was stunning.
Seeing the Roman Forum was one of my favorite parts. I kept marveling about how Rome is this modern city that just detours around the ancient crumbling parts of history. It was amazing that we were able to experience a glimpse of life in those artifacts, those layers of the past sprinkled throughout.
I loved learning the story of the Vestal Virgins in high school. Below is the temple as it stands now.
Day 2: Pantheon, Villa Borghese
As we walked into the Pantheon, a choir of students broke out into the most angelic chorus of songs and hymns. The light filtered in, the crowds hushed, and all stopped to take in the pure beauty of the moment.
We walked walked north and wandered into a park, Villa Borghese. There we found a lake with row boats for rent, and Gene took us for a little ride.
Day 3: Vatican, Sistine Chapel
As we stood in line to enter St. Peter's, we realized that this is a pilgrimage of a lifetime for some of the people here. Once inside, the embellishment and gilt of every tiny detail spoke to something grand and opulent. My favorite moment there again involved music. A soloist and his choir were singing a song so sweet, so comforting that the high piety of the space melted into something warm. I was amazed as the people in the mass started clapping to the tune of the chorus. Even though I couldn't find the name of the song and I couldn't understand the Italian words, I will never forget the sound of it or the way it made me feel.
The Papal Swiss Guard:
A beautiful ceiling in the Vatican Museum:
The Sistine Chapel ceiling was gorgeous, but the context in which we saw it seemed less than holy. As we walked in, there was a sign that said, "No talking, no photography," and that's exactly what everyone was doing. So we joined in with the mob.
Here's a little kid digging in the father's fountain for pennies. We thought this was hilarious:
That evening we took a high speed train to Florence. This was our first peak at the Duomo:
Day 4: Bike Tour
One of our favorite days was taking the Tuscany Bike Tour in the country side. Seeing the rural areas and in the open air was refreshing, since we had already spent a lot of time in the city. We look ridiculous here, but it sure was a blast.
Gene was in love with the sausage and cheese in Italy. Here he is in his element:
Day 5: Duomo, Ghiberti doors, Lover's Locks
We climbed to the top of the Florence cathedral, the Duomo and had some amazing views.
Throughout the city, we were perplexed to see places where a bunch of locks were hanging on a rail or a gate. We found out that lovers write their names on the locks and throw away the keys in the river to symbolize eternal love.
Day 6: Gallerie dell'Accademia Venezia, San Gimignano, 1st driving tour
No pictures were allowed here either, but we stole one of the David, until two Italian ladies came running and screaming at us.
By now we were ready to leave Florence and find some more time to relax in the country. On the way, we stopped at San Gimignano, city of towers. In medieval times, lords kept building the towers (and knocking down others') to compete with one another. Fourteen still stand.
Here is the "Castello" di Monteliscai, in which we stayed near Sienna. We felt a little more like the peasants of the castle because of the room. A little musty, dark and dank.
Day 7: 2nd driving tour
We were pretty tired by this point, so we took at day to rest and just drove around to soak in the scenery. Every square of land was covered with grape vines or olive trees, and there was a castle just about on every hill.
Day 8: Chianti winery tour, Sienna, Buonconvento, 3rd driving tour
Symbol of the Chianti region:
This winery tour at the Castello di Bossi was very historically informative. We learned that fifty years ago, pasta and fine wine weren't a part of common people's daily lives. They were very poor and basically enslaved in a crop sharing system. They mostly ate beans, and wine mixed with water was used just to get them through the tough days.
Visiting Buonconvento was one of those treasures you chance upon. It wasn't a tourist attraction; it was a slice of life. As we were driving around one night after dinner, we saw this town on a map and thought, "Oh, this must be a good convent." Turns out it was a small town still situated within ancient fortified walls. As we walked through the narrow alleyways within, we heard people talking to their families as they prepared dinner, we heard the clanging of dishes, and we heard laundry flapping in the wind. Really special.
Day 9: Castiglione della Pescaia
On our way back to Rome, we drove down the coast to spend some time on the shore of the Mediterranean. Castiglione della Pescaia was quaint and sparsely populated. We rented bikes and made our way along the beach.
For dinner, we chose our fish from a cart and had it served whole. It was a fun experience and so delicious:
The beauty of everyday life and the purity of the land stole my heart. Our journey was the experience of a lifetime.
View more pictures here.