Last Day–Cats & Rome

Today we woke up around 7 and got ready to leave the villa. We said our goodbyes and Greg drove us, Jim and, Doreen to the train station in Castelfiorentino. We were all taking the train from Castelfiorentino to Florence. From Florence, Don and I were going back to Rome for the day so we could fly back home the next day. The train from Florence to Rome was pretty cool, it was a high speed train, 247 km/h.

We arrived in Rome at noon and we were on a mission to find the luggage deposit so we could walk around Rome all day without our bags. I had found instructions online on how to get to the luggage deposit in Roma Termini but none of them were very descriptive. Basically the easiest way to do it is by exiting Roma Termini onto Via Giovanni Giolitti and walk South along the train station and just after the Airport Shuttle you can re-enter the train station and you will find where you can deposit your luggage. It was super easy and and I think it was around 10 Euros for us to leave our bags there for about 5 hours.

We wanted to leave our bags because we had to be back at the train station later to take the train to our hotel by the airport. Once we were not weighted down by our luggage we were free to roam Rome for the afternoon.

We wanted to have carbonara again because we couldn’t stop thinking about since the dinner in Montecatini Alto. I found a place called La Carbonara and we decided to have lunch there. It was pretty crowded and seemed like a tourist trap.  The carbonara was nothing compared to what we had earlier in the week at Casa Gala. It was ok though.

After lunch we walked to the cat ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina. When we were in Rome earlier in the week I had noticed there were no cats roaming around and I thought this was weird because every where we have traveled has had cats. I usually make it a point to photograph cats in places to travel to, so I was a bit disappointed by the lack of cats in Rome.  A friend commented to me on facebook that we should visit this place and I hadn’t even heard of it so I wanted to check it out on our last day. Largo di Torre Argentina is an archaeological site where there is also a cat sanctuary. Stray cats are cared for here at the shelter and they are allowed to roam the ruins. This place is also were Julius Caesar was killed. It was a weird place. When we first arrived we were looking down at the site and we saw a few cats sleeping among the ruins. It was so hot. We were trying to find a way to get down into the ruins and we found stairs that went down to the shelter. We went into the shelter to check out the cats. The shelter was divided into two areas: one area had cats that were recovering either from sickness or injury and the other side had cats that were just roaming freely. The cats were well cared for and it seemed like you could adopt cats. I am still unsure about that. All of the products they were selling were used to benefit the shelter. I bought a magnet here. We spent some time with the cats and it was pretty cool. I was a bit disappointed because while you could look down into the archaeological site and point out cats you could not go into the site. The site itself seemed a bit forgotten, there were signs around that you could read about the place but other than that there was very little information on site. It seems like they could do more to this place but maybe they are working on it. It was very cool to see cats in the ruins.

After the ruins we didn’t really know what else we wanted to see but we were not ready to go to our hotel. We decided to check out this park we saw on the map earlier, so we risked taking the city bus again. We successfully rode the bus to Villa Borghese Park on the North side of Rome. It was a nice park, we walked around for a bit, and then we noticed there was some kind of horse show going on. We stopped for a bit to watch some horses run around and do some tricks. It was pretty cool, we have never really seen anything like it. Then we walked around some more and came across a small pond where people were in rowboats. Later I found out this area was called Temple of Asclepius. It was a really pretty area. Then we decided to walk back. We stopped at a cafe in hopes of using a bathroom but their bathroom was closed. We each had an overpriced cappuccino and enjoyed being outside at the park. We tried to take the bus back to Roma Termini to get our train but the bus was never coming so we ended up walking. It was about a 30 minute walk.

On our walk back to train station, I may have left my hat in Rome….I just didn’t want it anymore.

We got our luggage from the luggage deposit and we were both so happy that it worked out for us. Then we took the train from Roma Termini to the airport. Once we got to the airport we couldn’t figure out how to get to our hotel. We were staying at a Hilton but there were two Hiltons near the airport. We ended up walking to the Hilton that was connected to the airport because it was right there and we hoped that there would be a shuttle we could take to ours, but there was not. The walk was so long and I was getting tired and grouchy. We had to walk back to into the airport where we ended up calling our hotel and they told us where to find our shuttle. We were staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Rome Airport hotel, which was still very near the airport but you could not walk. It is also cheaper than the Hilton Rome Airport, so if you are ever trying to get to it the shuttle is at terminal 3 door 3 in the airport. The shuttle was weird because it went all around the airport and airport workers would use it.

Once we got to the hotel we were surprised to see the check in line was out the door. The check in went pretty fast though. There were a ton of police checking in and all around which I thought was weird but apparently it was the G7 Summit here.

The room here was nice, along with the lobby. I would definitely suggest staying here for the convenience and the price. We decided to get some dinner at the hotel restaurant, it wasn’t very good. Don had carbonara and I had pizza. During dinner we were watching a couple from afar who were in an obvious fight. They were American and we had fun commentating on what the fight could be about. It lasted a long time.

I can’t believe tomorrow we are leaving Italy. This trip has been awesome. I really don’t want to leave.


Lucca and Pisa

Today was our last full day at the villa. We got on the bus around 9 again to check out Lucca. On the way there our driver, Fernando, told us a bit about Lucca and what we should see. Lucca was a very cute city. There is a wall built around the old part of Lucca. The wall was cool because you could go on it and walk the perimeter. You could also bike the wall and we were planning to do that but we got caught up walking around and seeing different things.

We saw this awesome kid driving his car.

We ate outside at a cute little place called Bistrot e Winebar Des Arts. We had an appetizer of meat and cheese and of course it was great. I had a pesto pasta that was also amazing and Don had some kind of quinoa dish.

After lunch we walked around more and came across a very pretty church.

We also found the amphitheater which is all shops and restaurants now. We quickly got some gelato here and made our way back to the bus.

Our next stop was Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. It was pretty cool. It was fun to watch everyone trying to get the perfect picture of themselves trying to hold the tower up. It was crowded and hot but we all got our photos and headed back to the villa.

Once we got back to the villa we immediately wanted to make the most of the pool on our last day. We all were relaxing and having drinks at the pool. The water finally felt like it had really warmed up and most people were in it. All of the sudden Greg and I were in a diving/jumping contest. We had fun providing entertainment for everyone. Hanging out in Lucca today and seeing the leaning tower in Pisa was very cool, but the dive contest was probably the highlight of my day. It was so fun!

While we were swimming the chefs had arrived with their wood fire oven to make our final meal of pizza. The pizza dinner consisted of about eight different types of pizza that we all got to try. They were amazing! The ones that stood out the most to me was the margherita, veggie and burrata cheese pizza. The burrata cheese pizza was amazing!! I wish I could have some again right now. We also had an anchovie pizza, which wasn’t bad. The tuna pizza was probably the most interesting one and I don’t think I would eat that one again. After dinner we had some more drinks then we had to start packing so we could leave in the morning. This trip has been awesome!

Crazy Bus Ride To A Winery and Pool Fun

Today we left on the bus around 9 again to head to a winery for a tour and tasting. We had a new bus driver today named Riccardo and we got a little lost on the way to the winery, although I don’t think it was entirely his fault. The route was really confusing and the GPS didn’t seem to be working correctly. We had to stop a couple of times and ask random people for directions and no one really seemed to know anything. Finally Don saved the day by using his awesome navigation skills and some google translate to tell the driver in Italian what we were doing wrong.

The drive was crazy though. We were on a tiny road on a mountain pretty much the entire time in a giant bus. There was barely any room for the bus and often you could not see far ahead of you to see if another car was coming. At times we would be inches away from the wall of the mountain and one time we even had a car coming at us head on. I have to admit I don’t even remember how we got out of that, I think the car backed up. I was not feeling so great with a bit of car sickness and it was really scary so I didn’t look outside a lot.


We finally made it to the winery after about 2 hours and they were shocked to see all of us because apparently we did not finalize our reservation. The winery was called Montefioralle. We had some time since they were not expecting us so we took a few pictures. Everything around the winery was beautiful,but what did you expect it’s Italy.

Once things settled down we got a brief tour and then we were seated for some snacks and tastings. We were able to taste five wines and they were all great. We also had meats, breads, and bruschetta. I normally do not like bruschetta because I don’t really like raw tomatoes but as usual everything in Italy taste better and I even ate the tomatoes! We really enjoyed our time here and a lot of people purchased a lot of wine to be shipped back home.

On the bus ride home many people slept, I was one of them. Once we got back we went to Castelfiorentino to buy train tickets for Saturday. We also went to a grocery store. Once we got back we all had fun at the pool and cannonballs were done.

After the pool we went to dinner where we were greeted with little dolls.

Dinner tonight was very good. It started out with an appetizer of asparagus and mozzarella on bread. Then there was a truffle pasta, which I didn’t even know if I liked truffles, but this was soooo good. It was probably one of my favorite pastas of the trip. I wish I could have some right now! The rest of the meal was veal with potatoes and salad. We also had a little birthday celebration for Greg during dessert. After dinner we went to bed pretty early.


Florence & An Amazing Dinner

Today we got on the bus again around 9 to head to Florence.

The bus ride was more fun and interesting today because it started out with Greg finding out there was a microphone in the front of the bus.

“How did I not know this was here? Welcome to your hell.”

On the way to Florence Don and I were trying to help Greg finalize the menu for our dinner tonight in Montecatini Alto. We were helping him translate emails from the restaurant owner because google translate was not doing the best job. When the menu was finalized google translated two of the dishes to “Sweet Ass” and “Poodle Wallet”.  So needless to say there were a lot of jokes pertaining to this.

Once we got to Florence the bus stopped at Piazzale Michelangelo so we could take some photos. The Piazzale Michelangelo has panoramic views of Florence; it also has a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The views were pretty amazing.

After everyone got their photos we got back on the bus and the bus dropped us off near the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It was very beautiful.

We took a lot of pictures of the church and then decided it was time to find some lunch before meeting for our walking tour. On our search for food we found the house of the poet Dante Alighieri. Don thought this was very cool because he likes his works. We also found there was a museum for Dante. Before checking out the museum we found a really cute little restaurant that was ran by two sisters, called Antica Bottega Wine Tasting. It was probably one of my favorite meals we had at a restaurant in Italy and it was so simple. Don had the lasagna and I had a prosciutto and mozzarella panini. It was so good!!!  I want to go back! We also each had glasses of the Dante wine, because apparently we were hanging out in his hood. The panini was so good. We had a good time here chatting with the sisters a bit, they told us they had been to Chicago and really liked it. After lunch we made our way to Museo Casa di Dante.

The Dante Museum was pretty cool, really informative. It was 4 Euros each and it only took about 40 minutes for us to go through it. We probably could have spent a little more time here but we had to meet our tour guide at 2 pm.

Our walking tour guide was named Laura and she was very good. One highlight of the tour was seeing the Mercato del Porcellino, which is basically a market. Don was excited to see it because it is in the game Assassin’s Creed.

We also saw all of the statues at the Piazza della Signoria. I enjoyed watching an old man feed pigeons here. The pigeons knew him! He must have come there every day to feed them because they were climbing all over him.

By the end of the tour we were all really tired but we got a boost of energy with some gelato. Then we all got back on the bus and made our way to Montecatini Alto for dinner.

Montecatini Alto is a really cool town because it is up on a mountain and you take a rail car up to the town.

The views at the top were really amazing.

We had some time before dinner to walk around a bit and explore the town. It seemed pretty small but beautiful. We took a lot of pictures of the city below us.

I also found a cat here…

We had dinner reservations at Casa Gala. It was a super cute place and it was probably one of the best meals we have ever had.

Since we had a big group the restaurant just picked out a menu for us. We were able to try all of their appetizers I think, and they were all delicious. We had an awesome meat and cheese board and something with eggplant that was good too. There were delicious sardine bruschetta and fried pasta for appetizers also.  I wish I could find a copy of their menu. We thought the best dish here was the carbonara. It was the first place we had ever had carbonara and it was awesome!! It’s a pasta dish with egg, cheese, and crispy bacon pieces. The dishes kept coming out and everything was amazing. There was a gnocchi but it had bleu cheese in it and also a pork tenderloin that was good. Our dessert was cheesecake. I wish I had taken more pictures but I was enjoying this meal too much. It was a perfect night.

After dinner we walked down a bit to the bus because the rail car was no longer running. It was a very pretty walk with all of the city lights below us.

Volterra and Cooking Class!

Today on the agenda was a morning trip to Volterra or an all day pool day. At first I really just wanted an all day pool day but then I decided if I went to town I could go to a pharmacy and pick up some much needed allergy meds because mine are running out.  These cough drops were the best cough drops I’ve ever had. They actually work!!!

So we took two cars and headed to Volterra. It was about an hour drive and then we had to walk up some stairs to the city. I’m glad I decided to visit Volterra because it was a cool town and uncrowded.

We kind of all went our separate ways to explore the city. We ended up at this super cute wine shop called VolaTerra, mostly because I needed to use a bathroom. We were the only ones in there so the store owner asked if we wanted to do a tasting and we decided, sure why not?! We each tried a few wines and they were all good. We had some breads and olive oils also. The shop was very cute, I’m so glad we stopped by.

After some wine we started to look for the viewpoint that overlooked the country side.  It was beautiful as always.

After that we got some sandwiches from  a little deli and they were delicious and super cheap! Look at this giant sandwich!

Next we met up with everyone and made our way back to the villa.

When we got back we did a little swimming and then the chefs came to set up for our cooking class.  We learned how to  make pasta, bruschetta, meatballs, and tiramisu. It was a lot of fun and easier than I thought it would be. We broke into groups to cook and our group made the meatballs and bruschetta, while another made the tiramisu. We all got a chance to make pasta and that was really cool.

Here are the finished products! Everything was so good, it even ended with a tiramisu tasting because that group broke into two more groups and each made their own tiramisu. I had never had a tiramisu that I liked before and these were both great!!