Yes four cities! We are just now realizing how much we packed in when Oma and Opa were here. Besides soaking up the Christmas festivities, and fitting in some great museums (Bargello, Pitti Palace, the Duomo Museum) and seeing some glorious churches (Trinita, Duomo, San Ferdinando), we also managed to drive to a few cities. Here are the highlights:
I confess, our memories of Lucca are influenced by walking around with very cold, very wet feet. It snowed! And it was very slushy and well, we don't have great shoes for snow. But despite the numb toes, we loved Lucca. Holiday lights adorned the city, a little ice rink was set up in the piazza, we popped our heads into 3 churches and generally followed our noses. I was taken with the 'cute' shops which means kitchen goods and ceramics... we ate a cozy mid afternoon meal, found a full-blown Christmas market (and bought sweaters for 10 euros each), window shopped during the passegiata and then warmed our toes by the car heater all the way home (while snacking on chocolate).
Ugh, how do I even start? For James, this is one of the most nostalgic cities in all of Tuscany... Italy... the world. He spent two summers in this antiquated, raindrop-sized hill-top town (seriously---the only access is by a footbridge). The first, as an architecture student for University of Washington; the second, as a graduate assistant for the same program. This visit was my first, as well as a first for Anthony, Caleb and James' parents. It was small, quaint, surreal. It was easy to imagine his affection for this little hilltop town.
We have visited Orvieto before, and loved it just as much the second time around. We revisited some favorite spots (Duomo, ceramic shops, streets); we stopped in too many ceramic shops, the boys bought rubber band guns, and went to mass at the Duomo.
I have been craving a visit to this town: so far, it makes my favorite wines in all of Italy. We have tasted the gamut (not super-high end, but a variety per se) of wines from around Tuscany and I find this region's wines to be consistently sublime. The Brunellos are expensive and worth it. The Rosso's from Montalcino are more obtainable and still a safe bet for satisfying your palate. Wines aside, the town was lovely! We walked the wall on top of the tower, peered through streets, and found some lovely shops and a nice dinner.
I couldn't leave out our little side trips. En route from Orvieto to Montalcino, James was magnetized to a tower a top a hill: so we took a tiny detour in the name of discovery. Sadly, the last little gate to the tower was closed. But the tiny town was adorable, full of little nativity displays, adorable small streets and shops and wreaked of authenticity (what is a tourist?). We think Radicofani was a Medici strong-hold.
We were enthralled with the Tuscan landscapes, stopping on more than one occasion to snap photos. We rolled down windows to oooh and ahhhh. There it was: the picture in your mind of Tuscan landscapes, with rolling green hills, cyprus trees lining the sky and a token villa standing on top of it all.
Among the many detours and photo-ops, we also stopped [all too briefly] at BATHS. I will be honest, it is a goal of mine to visit 'baths.' There are token hot-springs, resorts-with-hot-springs, cities-boasting-hot-springs speckled across Tuscany. And I mean to visit at least one while here. And by visit I don't mean the 20 minute photo-op-drive-by-wistful-yearning-see-how-the-rich-live we achieved this time... It was beautiful, romantic, with paths strewn about for when you chose to stroll instead of bath. And beautiful cafes for when you decided to dine instead of bathe... Very nearly the definition of luxury; some day I will have to return to Bagno Vignoni for an overnight visit.
If you want to see more, peek at our photo albums:
Orvieto, Civita, Montalcino