Tavarnelle – Tuscany’s Hidden Secret

For those with a sense of adventure and a lust for discovery there are bountiful wonders to be enjoyed beyond Florence’s historic old city.  It starts with a southerly trip down Via del Serragli to the massive wooden gates of the Porta Romana.  This, the old gate to Rome, serves as a modern day portal between the bustling streets of Firenze and the Tuscan countryside. As we set out to explore, accompanied by a group of local representatives from the Tavarnelle Tourism Board, our goal for the next three days was simple – to discover and wander the often overlooked wonders, tranquil beauty, rich history, and succulent flavors of the Chianti countryside. Our destination was the commune of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, which falls under the Province of Florence due to its close geographic proximity.

Ponte Vecchio At Night – Weekly Travel Photo

When I close my eyes and dream of Florence there is one image that always comes to mind.  It is the sight of the Ponte Vecchio at night, lit by the soft golden hues of street lamps as their mild light warms and illuminates the yellow, amber, and orange paint that covers Florence’s buildings like a thin layer of multi-hued skin. While there are a variety of different locations to enjoy the Ponte Vecchio from, my person favorite is the nearby Ponte alle Grazie, which, isn’t very pretty by itself but does provide an excellent view of the Ponte Vecchio.

An Instagram Tour of Chianti in 15 Photos

I recently had the pleasure of spending a week wandering through Tuscany.  As part of the trip, the local tourism boards invited me on a three day blog trip in the Chianti hills focusing on the area around Tarvarnelle.  While the high quality photos from my dSLR will follow soon, here is a cross section of my 15 favorite instagram photos from the trip.  All were shot on an iphone 4s and edited in either the VSCOCAM app or Snapseed.

This is the lion of Florence. Found in Florence’s Archaeology museum is is roughly the size of a real lion and one of the most beautiful pieces of bronze sculpture I’ve seen in the past year. The museum is located in the heart of the city and a great alternative for those of you who are sick of the long lines at some of the city’s more famous locations.

One of my favorite things to see and do while in Italy is to spend time at agriturismos. For those who haven’t had the pleasure yet, these are typically old farms/estates which now offer rooms and locally sourced food almost exclusively grown on the premises or in the immediate area. They also often have their own vineyard and olive oil which tends to be exquisite. This photo is of the patio at the Paganello Agriturismo where we enjoyed fantastic wines and an extremely fresh vegetarian-friendly meal.

Another shot from Paganello Agriturismo/Fattoria Il Paganello, with a view out over the vineyard and of the surrounding countryside. Their locally produced wines (pictured in the wineglass in the photo) include “Quanta Cura” a delicious Tuscan red, as well as Il Paganello Chianti and Chianti Riserva.

For years I’ve stared out the windows of my passing train or bus at all of the tiny hilltop towns that dot the Tuscan countryside. This blog trip provided the opportunity to finally get in and explore many of them. This photo comes from the entrance to the Palazzo Begliomini in Tignano. As you can see, the entrance was guarded by a fierce and ferocious guard dog.

What is a visit to Italy and its vineyards without a good shot of an old wine cellar? This is one of the numerous rooms at the Badia di Passignano monastery.

Another absolute favorite was the Monastery at Badia di assignano. This beautiful old facility has a gorgeously frescoed church, sprawling wine cellar, wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and fortress inspired design.

Another shot of the exterior of Badia di Passignano. Quite the impressive looking monastery ehh? There’s also a high end fine dining establishment owned by the Antinori family situated immediately outside its walls.

Italy has a long and rich history and reputation for craftsmanship. During the blog trip we had the opportunity to get an up close look at how handmade silver pieces are made at Argento Firenze. This photo is of one of the employees (he was over 80 years old) who still does enamel work on things like silver cuff-links. I honest expected the experience to be quite boring and was fairly disinterested going into it. However, watching the craftsmen work and learning about how they do what they do ended up being an extremely interesting experience and one of the highlights of the trip.

As a huge space geek the opportunity to visit the recently opened Osservatorio Astronnomico (astronomical observatory) and to see both Jupiter and the Moon up close and personal was one of the highlights of the trip. It was also extremely interesting because we learned how Galileo modified and built his telescope and used it to chart his ground breaking discoveries. This is a photo taken through the telescope on my iphone, so it doesn’t fully capture just how amazing it is to see the moon in its intricate detail. The experience of being in the dome, and tracking the stars and moon was also an absolute blast.

The best view in Florence can be found at the Piazzale Michelangelo which overlooks the city. With a beautiful tulip garden, and a view that encompasses the palace, duomo, and ponte vecchio it is ideal for enjoying a glass of wine and watching the sun set.

Located just outside Florence the new Antinori Cantina is an incredibly unusual building. A mixture of active vineyard, restaurant and museum the building has an ultra-modern design which was completed in 2013. The wine is fantastic and the facility is well worth a visit to explore its highly unusual architectural personality.

The picturesque charm of Tuscany’s rolling hills with their low hanging clouds and orderly vineyards just outside the town of San Donato in Poggio where we stayed at the Del Giglio B&B which was one of the cutest B&Bs I’ve seen in a long time and which had lovely owners.

One of the trip’s greatest surprises was Arezzo. Situated an easy and convenient train ride from Florence the city was nearly empty while Florence was positively overflowing. It is home to a stunning cathedral, beautiful Sienna-esque square, and lovely mixture of views and history.

While the Ponte Vecchio gets all the glory, Florence’s other bridges can be equally photogenic. Particularly late in the afternoon as the sun’s yellow hues brings out the color and textures of the local stone.

The View From Assisi – Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

Situated in the heart of the rich Umbrian countryside the hilltop town of Assisi embodies the aura, charm, and personality of Italian hilltop cities.  The view from the historic city is enchanting and takes in a vista that includes carefully manicured fields, Assisi’s new town, Italian villas, vineyards, and a number of historic buildings including perfectly maintained cathedrals that are several hundred years old.  Despite the grandeur of the view, it is all flavored by the humble ideals and mentality of the Franciscans, who have served as the city’s dominant religious group for hundreds of years.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Rooftops in Perugia – Weekly Travel Photo

Streets of Perugia - Umbria, Italy

Tile rooftops, winding streets built upon the collapsed ruins of ancient city walls, aqueducts, and fortifications all combined with the hustle and bustle of a vibrant Italian city.  The streets of Perugia are the embodiment of everything that comes to mind when one closes their eyes and pictures Italy.  This photo captures the discordant layers that give the roof line of Italy’s historic cities a romantic charm and is a glimpse of the views which capture the imagination.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

My Fantastic Packing Mistake

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

I had a comfortable late-morning flight to Rome.  The route to Copenhagen airport is an easy one.  Hop a reliable bus for a 5 minute ride, switch to the metro for a 35 minute trip and boom. Next thing you know you’re at Copenhagen airport ready to move quickly through their efficient security lines and on to your destination of choice.  The whole process is an easy one and something that I’ve gotten the hang of.  But, what’s the old saying? Complacency is dangerous? That sounds about right.

Perugia, Italy - Traveling Boots

Many of you probably found your way to VirtualWayfarer because of one of my packing videos or blog posts.  Both are an area I specialize in and consider myself a bit of an expert in.  So, when it came time to pack for my 5 day visit to Italy I didn’t stress out about getting things pre-packed.  Oh, sure, I  did the basics and made sure that the laundry was done. I even spent some time the night before fretting over what formal clothing to pack.  You see, I was heading to Perugia as a finalist in the Perugia International Journalism Festival’s ‘Stories on Umbria’ contest but there in lurked my pitfall.

The Colosseum - Rome - Traveling Boots

As I fretted over which suit to pack … to go formal or casual … which tie to take … and how to get it to Italy without turning it into a wrinkled mess in my backpack I neglected actually packing the essentials.  When morning came and it was time to leave I launched into a flurry of motion tossing clothing, electronics, and the usual assortment of items on the bed.  I was confident – and dare I say a bit cocky – chatting on Facebook and chuckling when friends asked if I’d packed yet.  After all, I’m an expert – I only need 30 minutes.

Rome - Traveling Boots

Sidetracked repeatedly by conversations and general distractions I eventually realized that I was running a bit behind.  I made the last minute decision to wear a sports jacket, dress shirt, jeans and a pair of leather dress oxfords for the flight. I’d only have about 30 minutes between when I was scheduled to arrive in Perugia and the welcome reception/dinner so I ruled out changing upon arrival.  I also packed a full suit and dress shirt which I took in a hanging bag as a carry on for the following day’s official ceremony.  This meant I needed to pack my normal walking shoes in my backpack.  Which I did. Quickly.  Grabbing a pair of my signature Keen Targhee IIs, tossing them in an old supermarket bag, and burying it deep inside my bag all took about 45 seconds. Then in went the rest of my clothing, camera chargers, spare batteries, dopp kit and the like. I paused, and with a flourish tossed the bag over my shoulder, snagged my camera bag, my suit and was out the door.

The Vatican - Traveling Boots - Rome

I made my flight to Italy with oodles of time.  The trip from Rome to Perugia was uneventful. I applauded myself for my efficiency.  The dinner was delicious and provided an incredible opportunity to socialize with veteran journalists from the likes of the AP, New York Times, and Telegraph.  The following day’s award ceremony was equally enjoyable. Though I didn’t win the prize, being in the final three was an incredible honor.  Particularly because I was the only blogger in attendance.   I spent the remainder of the day walking around Perugia in my black dress oxfords.  It was only the following morning as I transformed from semi-formal journalist to relaxed travel blogger that I realized I’d made the worst packing mistake in my personal history.

Last Minute Packing

As I sat in my dimly lit hotel room, still a bit groggy from the night before, I pulled on my jeans, tossed a black v-neck t-shirt over my head and then dug around in my bag for my walking shoes.  Unceremoniously I yanked them out and dumped the yellow Netto bag out onto the floor.  With one hand pulling my t-shirt down over the rest of my body I slipped my left foot into my shoe and then kicked the right shoe into position.  Then, as I went to slide my foot into the right shoe I realized it felt odd.  I re-positioned, still not focusing on it, and tried again.  That’s when I looked down and paid closer attention.  That’s also when I realized that in my haste I had made an impressive error.  I had packed two Keen Targhee IIs, true.  Unfortunately the two were also two left shoes in similar, but slightly different colors.

Rome - Traveling Boots

That’s right.  I packed two left shoes. Two left shoes that were also different colors.  Sure, it would have been bad if I ended up with one left shoe and one right shoe from different pairs – that I could have passed off as being creative, or gritty, or…hell, I don’t know.  Instead I was left with one simple conclusion.  I was an idiot. Not only was I an idiot sitting in a dark hotel room, 2 days into his trip laughing at himself, I was an idiot that had three days of hardcore walking around Rome scheduled.  Not something you typically want to do in a pair of black dress oxfords with minimal support, smooth souls, and stiff leather. As far as just wearing the two left shoes?  Fat chance.

The Pantheon - Rome - Traveling Boots

Too stubborn (and perhaps cheap) to buy a replacement pair of shoes for a mere 3 days I pressed on and wandered Rome alternating between my shower flip flops and my Oxfords.  To make matters worse the Oxfords were relatively new, which meant that the leather was still quite hard and hadn’t formed to my feet. So, my penance for rushing out the door and not packing properly?  Blisters, sore feet, and a bit of blood.

Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II - Traveling Boots

Oh, and for those of you that might wonder why I have two pairs of near-identical Keens – it’s because I picked up a replacement pair right before my 50 day Africa/Europe trip this past summer.  The old pair were still good, but not quite good enough to risk the trip.  The end result: two near-identical pairs of keens which sit like old dogs at the foot of my bed. The latest in a long line of shoes which have been featured repeatedly in the 320+ photos that comprise my traveling boots album. So, if you noticed that the shoes in my recent Italy Boot Shots were a bit out of place…now you know why.

Moral of the story?  Even if you think you’re an expert, it’s still a good idea to pay attention.  After all, no one is perfect.