Friday, October 10, 2014

Fun Times with Em and Mo (part 1, a little bit of Stuttgart and a Bunch of Italy)

Emily and Mo rounded out our string of back to back to back groups of visitors and we were thrilled to host them.  After getting over a bit of jet lag (and not taking my advice to sleep on the plane!), the four of us piled in the car and headed south for some sightseeing. Lichtenstein Castle, oddly enough not in the country of Lichtenstein, is a funny little castle perched precariously on a cliff in an area of southern Germany known as the Swabian Alps.   

Unfortunately, Kristin got a little "sleepy" on the tour so we actually left early and headed home.

Stuttgart is surrounded by farmland and parks, both of which have lots and lots of public trails through them that people use for walking, jogging, biking, and to generally enjoy being outside. Especially on Sundays when all of the shops are closed.  To do as the Germans do, we headed to the north side of town and strolled amongst the vineyards in Fellbach.  Some of the grapes were still ripe and ready for harvest while others had already been cut and the leaves were changing for fall.   All of it was fun to see, especially on such a beautiful day.

After finishing the walk with some hard-earned wine, it was time to get back to what Germans do best and go to Cannstatter Volksfest...which some might remember from blog post #1 when I first arrived in Stuttgart.  What a year it has been!!

One of the fun traditions...drink a little shot and put the bottle cap on your nose.  It totally makes sense about 3 liters of beer in.

It's tough to capture the excitement, silliness, and hijinks of the beer tents so I'll just say that we had a great time. 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     

The next few days I had to actually go to work to make sure I still had a job, while Em and Mo toured around Stuttgart. But then we were off to Italy!

First stop was Verona, mostly because it was closer than driving all the way to Florence.  That night we had an awesome dinner to celebrate Mo's birthday and then the next morning we did a quick tour through the city, thanks to our trusty Rick Steves' guidebook.   

It was a beautiful morning to cross the Adige river and see the heart of the city

Founded in the 1st century B.C., the city center is a UNESCO world heritage site and has an incredible number of buildings that have lasted hundreds of years.  I don't know about anyone else, but it was exactly the old world charm I was hoping for on my first trip to Italy.

We were visiting on Saturday morning so of course there was a market in the Piazza delle Erbe.  The best find of the morning was delicious parfaits full of fresh fruit.

Some famous dude.

After a couple of hours, and a conscious decision to NOT see the balcony of Juliet Capulet, it was time to hit the road again.

Our next stop was the widely celebrated town of Florence.  The capital of Tuscany, the birthplace of the Renaissance, home to Michelangelo's David, and another UNESCO world heritage site.  Visiting in early October was supposed to help us avoid all of the frustrations you hear from people sightseeing in Europe during their summer vacation...primarily that cities, especially in Italy, are hot and crowded with tourists.  Unfortunately this is exactly what we found after fighting the crazy Italian traffic and desperately looking for a good lunch.

Duomo is Italian for cathedral so nearly every major town has one but this one is Florence is often known as The Duomo, or Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore for short.  It features the largest brick dome in the world and was finished in 1436.  While impressive and beautiful, it was also incredibly crowded so we just admired it from afar over a glass of wine.

That was enough of Florence so we grabbed some ice cream and headed to Siena.

While Florence is all about the art and history, Siena was all about the cuisine and wine.  The town is atop a hill, surrounded by a wall, and full of narrow alleys and wonderful shops that tourists love.

Few cars are allowed inside the city walls so it's nearly all pedestrians inside
The heart of the town is the Piazza Del Campo where tourists and locals can sit side by side and enjoy or ice cream or just relax (smoke), and watch the day turn into night.  Twice a year it transforms to host the Palio horse races, which draws tons of people out to cheer on the horses galloping around a track of imported dirt and jockeys struggling to hang on while riding bareback.  Each contrade, or ward of the city, is represented with a horse as well as with their colors and crest.

Siena also has a Duomo, which was designed to be the largest cathedral in the world.  Unfortunately, money ran out long before this could happen, but the scaled down version is still pretty impressive.  I really liked the stripes of white and green marble that gave it a unique look in addition to all of the other amazing intricacies that I have come to expect from major European cathedrals (but still really enjoy seeing!).

Even more amazing when you understand the scale

What better way to appreciate the heart of Tuscany than to learn more about the food and wine of the region?  Tripadvisor is a wonderful resource for finding suggestions and it again led us to a gem with the Tuscan Wine School.  We started and ended our education with wine in their shop and in between walked to several local merchants to hear about the history of what they offer...and then try some.  The tour (and all the food and wine) was fabulous.

Kristin was nice enough to share her wine ... but not her chocolate.

October was a wonderful time to visit

It was important to stick with your buddy and not get lost or distracted amongst the winding streets

My favorite stop was for the meats and cheeses, though I passed on a second serving of blood sausage.  We needed to wait for the bakery to make Kristin happy.

We even learned how to drink espresso like an Italian

A shout out to our friend Sarah D.B. for the great recommendation to visit Siena!  It was a wonderful place that I can't wait to visit again when we can spend more time exploring.

In an effort to see and enjoy as much as possible of Italy, we noticed the town of Pisa was on the way to our next destination so we decided to stop and check out their famous tower.  What we didn't realize is it's actually a part of a large Cathedral Square owned by the Catholic Church and acts as the bell tower for the adjacent cathedral, baptistry, and cemetery.  Despite the rough and dirty town outside of the walls, inside this area was a well manicured lawn and blindingly white marble structures showcasing more of the impressive Italian handiwork. We were also there late in the day so the sun was perfect for pictures and the crowds had subsided.

They couldn't resist.  I pretended to not know them.

This was a great first half to our Italian adventure but you're probably as tired of reading as I am of describing so we'll pick up our adventures of Cinque Terre in the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment