Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 2 in Florence (Honeymoon Recap)

We woke in our Piazza della Signoria-based bed and breakfast feeling relaxed and refreshed. The bed at Olga's Place was comfortable, the night outside our hotel's windows had been quiet (after the protest ended, that is) and we slept contently. If anyone smiles while they sleep, we were smiling that night — our honeymoon had been nothing but amazing.

Seeing in that we had a walking tour that day, we donned comfortable shoes and clothes we could layer. From there, we descended the stairs and walked just a few feet to a breakfast cafe. The vouchers Roberto gave us were good for a croissant of our choice (I chose a custard-filled one, Dan a classic buttered one) and a coffee drink (cappuccino for both of us). We checked our watches and headed in the direction of our tour's meeting place — just on the other side of the open air market past where we'd had dinner the night before.

Luckily, we arrived about half an hour early and located one of the guides. I say "luckily" because the tour guide representative checked her list and realized we were on the following day's list. Whoops. Rechecking our materials, we realized we had our days mixed up! Instead of a walking tour, we were supposed to be doing our bike tour through Tuscany. With only 30 minutes to spare, we hightailed ourselves back to Olga's House, changed into our athletic gear and borderline jogged to the meeting place one bridge down from the Ponte Vecchio. 

We managed to make it to the bike tour meeting spot with a few minutes to spare. We chatted with a few other couples, singles and a mom-and-daughter duo. Most of the patrons were American, with a few from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Everyone seemed incredibly nice — and very open to sharing their travel plans for their time in Florence/Italy.

A few more people gathered at the meeting spot while we caught our breath. Mary and Keith, our guides, immediately put us at ease. Mary was from the States and Keith from... Ireland?  Scotland? They both had fabulous senses of humor. Keith and his business partner, Andy, started Chianti Wine Tours after realizing there wasn't a business model like it — then recruited the American after meeting her one night at one of their favorite nightspots.  

Italians are crazy drivers, for the most part. Mary seemed to pick that up pretty quickly. Aboard one of two vans, we darted in between cars and quickly took turns and curves — and after 30 minutes, we arrived at a gorgeous castle. The Castello di Poppiano Guicciardini, to be exact. The 12th century castle is still home to a count and countess and houses a wine and extra virgin olive oil production facility. We did a brief tour of the facility, walking through the casks and bottling areas for the wine then the press and production area for the extra virgin olive oil. Then we enjoyed a half-glass tasting of one of the house chiantis and a sample of the olive oil on fresh-baked bread — mmmmm. The tour concluded with a stop by the castle's gift shop. This sounds kind of gimmicky, but we thought for the price (about $8/bottle for wine and $12/bottle for olive oil), it would be fun to bring back a "taste of Florence" for special occasions.

We stowed our new goodies and headed for the bikes. This team didn't kid around when it came to safety. We were briefed on everything from the brakes to road etiquette (single file, please). Mary was stern when she said that if we misbehave, we would be taken off our bikes. We hit the road.

Wow. As I write this, I again wish I had photographs from our trip. The views were more picturesque then I could ever describe. Incredible rolling hills, gorgeous Tuscan villas, lush green countryside, etc. The gorgeous blue skies (just barely sprinkled with clouds) only added to the aesthetics. Most of the ride was easy, with much of it being downhill. I mostly watched Dan from a distance, as he was always toward the front of the pack. The first half of the bike was invigorating, energizing and relaxing all at once. What a great idea, Dan!

We stopped for lunch at a true, classic, Tuscan restaurant. We were all treated to salad, fried bread and polenta to start. I chose the prosciutto, peas, cream and penne pasta dish for my lunch — and couldn't pass up an espresso and sponge cake with gelato and fruit salad for dessert. Dan seemed pleased with his penne and sausage lunch. We enjoyed talking with our small group, too. One girl, for example, told us how she was traveling from New Zealand by herself — and that she was tired of waiting for her friends and boyfriend to have vacation time — so she decided to embark on a month-long trip through Italy on her own. 

The second leg of the bike was a little more intense. Much was flat — but I felt my muscles stretching during a few long, slight inclines. The very end was where we met the super intense hill. 900 meters at a rather strong incline was enough to tell me I'd need van support. Dan braved it and managed to make it to the top sans heart attack. I was impressed. About half of the 20 of us didn't even try — and about a half of those who did gave up. The last mile or so of the bike was smooth sailing — and it was great to see the castle in sight — though I didn't want the tour to end as we cruised through more of the amazing Tuscan countryside.

The 60/euro a person fee (including lunch) for a six-ish hour adventure was definitely worth the experience. Mary dropped us back off at the bridge and wished us well. Before bidding adieus, Keith gave us a map of Florence with all of his and Andy's favorite places (low-key and high-brow night spots, cafes, casual restaurants, high-end restaurants, etc.). That was a nice touch! 

After a stroll back to the bed and breakfast and a quick refresh, we evaluated our dinner options. We remembered the guys' recommendation for a place called Trattoria Anita. Keith said when he was new to the city, he rather blindly decided to try the place because his sister's name is Anita — and he was in love. I put on my amazing new boots and was ready to go! Dan and I walked around rather aimlessly for about half an hour before we finally found the place (your map could use a little calibration, Keith!) but it was well worth it. 

We had oven-baked pecorino (cheese) and ham with a layer of truffle sauce. Dan chose the ravioli with butter and sage and also a chicken breast with tomato sauce, ham and cheese dish. I had the sausage and white beans with tomato sauce and a simple house salad. We capped the meal off with a cappuccino, as we wanted to venture out for a while after dinner.

We decided to venture out to one of the locales on the same nifty map. Pop Cafe was touted to be a low-key, locals hangout. We made our way across the Ponte Vecchio and through people walking their dogs and hanging out on the steps of centuries-old churches to the famed Pop Cafe. The place was a dive for sure — and it was fun to people watch. In fact, Dan and I both felt the area was reminiscent of Little Five Points here in Atlanta. We each grabbed a Jack Daniels and diet coke then took up post outside (apparently there aren't any open container laws). We watched a teenager who was obviously over the limit (the multiple vomiting episodes gave it away) and the friends trying to take care of her. We did not run into Mary, Keith or Andy.

We heard English and Italian being spoken — as well as a few other languages I couldn't make out. When I went inside to get a little more ice for my drink, I heard a local say, "a blonde!" Before out trip, I'd heard Italians sometimes commented on blondes, as natural ones are few-and-far-between there.

We finished our (stiff) drinks and walked slowly back, along the river, so we could take in all the scenery. We'd have just one more day and one more night in the beautiful city.


B. Beck said...

I want to bike around Tuscany. I bet it was beautiful! Great story of the day.

B. Beck said...

I want to bike around Tuscany. I bet it was beautiful! Great story of the day.

Moeko said...

I love reading your re-caps. I picture everything in my mind and can almost taste the food :)

Katy Beck said...

mmm nom nom. Can't wait to taste the food at your house tonight!