Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuscan Goodness

I really wanted to join Kate for part of her Italian adventure (twist my arm).  So, after my weekend in Amsterdam, I flew to Tuscany to meet her.  

As we landed in Pisa, the Mediterranean called to me with its siren song from the window of the plane.  It was an absolutely gorgeous, warm day, so I took advantage of the opportunity to sit on the beach for a bit.  Viareggio was a 20-minute train ride from Pisa, and the trip out of the way was totally worth it.  I rolled up the sleeves of my dress and sat in this bliss for a couple of hours...

Who would've thought it was mid-October?

This was a good decision.  

As the sun started to fade, I walked back to the train station and headed to Siena to meet Kate. 

Insanely beautiful sunset while waiting for my transfer at the Empoli station.

I arrived in Siena just in time for dinner and a walk before Kate and I crashed at our cute little hotel.  The food in Siena was the best I've had in Italy.  Here, we both ordered glorious pasta dishes (Kate: tortellini with ricotta and pumpkin, me: tortellini with fondue and truffle).  They were both amazing, and we definitely ended up at this restaurant for dinner again on our last night in Siena.

We spent the next day walking around and exploring Siena.  It was such quaint little city, and although there were still quite a few tourists there, it didn't seem as overrun as other parts of Italy.  Plus it was October, so that helped.

A few Siena pics...

Gorgeous details everywhere.

Walking around the city walls.

Another fantastic sunset.

On our second day, we found a Chianti tour that sounded cool.  So we rolled out in a van with six other Americans for the day.  

Just gorgeous.

The tour included a stop at a vineyard for wine tasting...yes, please.

This vineyard also aged its own balsamic vinegar, and made truffle oil from truffles hunted by the owner.  I have a slight (read: major) obsession with all things truffled, so my interest was piqued.  We got to sample all of these goodies.  Sensory overload!  I had to stop myself from investing in a small bottle of truffle oil that would've fit so nicely into the liquid allowance of my carry-on bag.  Common sense and frugality took over, and I somehow resisted that little bottle of heaven.  They do, however, have a cooking class that sounds amazing there, so maybe someday I'll have to return...

Keeping my hands busy so they weren't digging around in my euro stash to make a semi-ridiculous truffle oil purchase, I headed outside for a few more pics...

Cute pet pigs.

This place was perfection.

It actually looked a lot like Oregon wine country.  Shh...

The last stop of the tour de van was San Gimignano.  (Yes, I had to ask the van driver how to pronounce it.)

Fun fact: the bushes have capers growing in them.

The amount of gorgeous architecture in Italy is astounding.

Loved the vines.

Medieval towers.

Pretty views everywhere.

Favorite combo: cherry, hazelnut, and pistachio.

I had to head back to Pisa the next morning to catch a flight, so I hopped off the train while Kate continued onto Florence for the rest of her adventure.  I loved getting to spend time with Kate, and getting to spend time with her in such a lovely place was just fantastic.  I was so proud of her for finally taking the time off work and life to follow her travel dreams.

Not knowing when/if I'd be back in Tuscany again (other than for the cooking class and truffle oil purchase, of course...), I decided to explore a bit before my flight.  So I checked out the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Funny, but it wasn't really as grandiose as you'd think a famous tower would be.  Cool that it's leaning, though.  

I also had a little time to make a quick train trip to Lucca, since the city walls are supposed to be interesting.  By the way, the Italian train system is amazing.  They make it so easy to get anywhere, and the trains run frequently.  Thanks, Trenitalia.

The city walls in Lucca were really wide, and they had walking paths and trees on them.  Very cool indeed.

Loving the warm weather and beautiful leaves.

Walking through the city walls to get back to the train station.

All of these places were absolutely gorgeous, and I loved getting to travel with Kate.  I've missed our happy hours, Blazer games, and walks around the neighborhood in Portland.  For now, this was a pretty decent replacement!

Moment of Zen:  the wine, balsamic, truffle oil, and tiramisu tasting at the vineyard.  I didn't take any pics because I didn't want to get distracted from the gloriousness (or look like a rookie).