We were suppose to fly back to America on the 11th, but when it came to booking our flight, there was not enough room for everyone so we were all rewarded with an extra free day. At this point of the trip, I was ready to spend my last day in Venice and get back to my normal life in California. Six of us hopped on the 8:30 fast train and we took off to Venice for the day. We were all starving when we arrived so we found a café and started our day off with some food and of course prosecco. We spent hours touring the city and stopping at every mask shop in sight. It is really interesting being in a city built on water. Canals surround the cobblestone pathways and it was neat to see everyone commute by boats. I truly fell in love with the architecture when we arrived at the San Marco’s square. My favorite building was the Basilica. Honestly pictures don’t do justice so I guess you will have to go to Italy to see how gorgeous it is. After watching crazy people play with the pigeons and looking at all the buildings, it was time to do some more last minute shopping. We finally found presents for friends and family back at home and we had a few more hours to spare, so our next mission was to drink wine. We found this awesome wine shop filled with wine kegs. You can either bring in an empty water bottle or pay .50 cents for a giant bottle and the shop owner will fill them up with any wine in the shop. We got four bottles of prosecco and watched the sunset as we looked back on our trip. When we arrived back in Florence, I was super exhausted so I bailed on the last group dinner. I found Regina in the lobby and we went to a near by restaurant and enjoyed our last meals and the company. I had a lot of packing to do but all I wanted to do was sleep. I was able to get up early and shove all my clothes, wine and presents into three suitcases. I was really sad to leave Italy, but I was ready to be back in California.
We took off for the airport around 7am and we had to say our good-byes to Linda and Raul. I wasn’t feeling too good but I figured I was just overly tired and I could shake it off by the time we arrive in San Francisco. I was excited to get there because my boyfriend was meeting me in the airport so we could spend a fun night in the city. Sad to say, I came down with a horrible flu on the long flight back and I was feeling beyond miserable when we landed on California ground. Of course I hated life, but I am so lucky I didn’t get sick during my trip.
Today was different from the rest because instead of touring wineries, we toured a butcher shop in San Minato. Walking into the shop, I was surrounded by all kinds of meat. Our giant group had to be divided so the first half went into a back room while we hung out and devoured meat samples in the shop. My group and I were brought into this room and we were given a small lecture while watching two hot Italian men make sausage links. After the short tour, some of us took off and found a small café where we studied for our exam while drinking some prosecco. About an hour later, we hopped back onto the bus and we were taken to a restaurant for an Italian slow food dinner.
This tradition is supposed to last several hours, but honestly I was felt a bit rushed. I was trying to enjoy each meal while recapping the trip with several group members. Each meal was exquisite because they were all made with local organic products. We started off with a black cabbage soup followed by an appetizer, salad, several pasta dishes and a meat dish. Jorge serenaded the group by singing my funny valentine and then we continued to drink more wine and share stories about the trip. After being filled with tons of food and wine, we hopped back onto the bus and some of us were rocking out to music from Danny’s phone. We had our last meeting in the hotel and then we decided to party elsewhere. I went off with Rennie, Hannah and Kate and met up with some Italian men Kate knew prior to the trip. I ended the night by going to Finnegan’s with Hannah to meet up with the rest of our group. Needless to say it was one giant party and I am pretty sure the owner of the bar hates us now. Whatever, you are only in Italy once, so of course we had to make the best of it.
At this point of the trip, the tours were becoming very repetitive. We would start out in the vineyards, go to the production room, followed by the barrel room and end up in the tasting room. We headed off to Montepulciano and started out our tour at Bindella winery. We were surrounded by this freezing fog bank so it made it difficult to pay attention as we were trying to stay warm. As soon as we entered the tasting room, some of us were huddling around the heater to warm up our frozen bodies. The room over looked the steel tank room and Derek provided us with hilarious commentary about the tanks. Great! Now when I see a steel tank, I can’t help but laugh. We then tasted a Rosso and a Vino di Noble and both were spectacular. Rosso is very unique from most wines because it ages in a stainless steel tank, giving it a taste we are not used it. After the first tour, we all took off and hiked to the top of the town and had a very quick lunch. I was starting to get sick of carbs so I switched over to a salad filled with fresh vegetables, salami, and cheese. Mmm, Mmm, Mmm!! The second tour took place at Poliziano where we came across a marble crush pad. I wasn’t too fond of their wines but I did enjoy listening to Margarita as she provided us with interesting facts.
Since I was very well rested, I was ready to roam the town of Siena. Sad to say we didn’t get to spend much time in this neat city and I would have loved to see more of it in the daytime. I decided to switch things up and go to dinner with some of the MBA students and their spouses. At first the group started out with six and then grew to ten when some of our other classmates spotted us. My dinner was fabulous. I had the duck with a current sauce paired with cooked potatoes and carrots. It was fun sitting at a large table getting to know one another and sharing stories about our pasts. Later we ended up at a local bar and enjoyed some delicious cocktails and then headed off to bed. I didn’t want to be too hungover for our last wine tours.
Well this morning was very interesting to say the least. We were woken up at 6:45am and there was so much to be done. We were leaving Florence for a couple of days so I had to pack up my belongings and carry everything down to the bus… I don’t think three hours of sleep helped much. As soon as Linda grabbed the microphone, we were scolded for the shenanigans that went down the night before. Come on Linda, we are only in Italy once as a group, so this stuff is bound to happen. We took off to Montalcino where I was being introduced to Brunello. When we were driving up to the little town, the sun made an apperance and put big smiles on all our faces. After being in the cold for several days, I was starting to miss California’s weather so seeing the sun in Montalcino made me very happy. Our tour started out at Consorzio Del Vino where we learned about the history of Brunello and the land it’s grown in.
When the presentation ended, everyone parted off in their little groups and ventured around the town of Montalcino. My group and I found this hole in the wall restaurant where we experienced true Italian customer service. After ordering a bunch of food, the owner surprised us with a complementary meat platter… we were all in heaven. By the time our lunch arrived, we were pretty much stuffed so we boxed everything up and headed off to do some sight seeing. We hiked up several hills and with the sun beaming down on us; I was starting to get tired. All of a sudden we came across a giant castle and I just wanted to play in it. I am terrified of heights but for some reason climbing to the top was very easy. After soaking in the amazing views and the Tuscan sun, we managed to find our way back to the bus and we headed off to our first winery, Casanova di Neri. This tour lasted several hours and the owner shared one Brunello with us. During the tour all I could think about was my leftover pizza on the bus and how bad I wanted it. After the tour, my group and I ran back to the bus and devoured all of our leftovers sharing some with others. By the time we arrived to Fugilini, it was dark out but the handsome men were very kind to give us another tour. Some of us were starting to fall asleep up against the tanks so it felt great to sit down while tasting their delicious wines. We arrived to Siena around 9pm and I was ready to hit the sack. I lugged my bags up several stairs, threw everything on the floor and passed out.
After spending a long day touring the Chianti region, we were all rewarded with a free day. I had the opportunity to travel to Venice with a group, but I chose to stay and play in Florence with some friends I had made on the trip. After getting some much needed sleep, our day started around 1pm and we took off. We were aware it was Epiphany day but we weren’t aware of what was going to take place downtown. We had a couple of goals that needed to be accomplished:
1). Buy train tickets to Venice for the 11th
2). Get some much needed shopping done
3). Climb to the top of the Duomo
We started off for the train station with no clue of how to get there and had to go back to the hotel to retrieve a map. After we purchased our tickets, we took off to the outdoor marketplace. Getting through the marketplace was very interesting. A creepy Italian man fell in love with one of the girls and lured her away into his leather shop. He was dressing her in leather jackets promising she would walk away with a free one. The show was hilarious but it got old and we were able to escape. When we arrived to the Duomo, we came across a giant parade for Epiphany. People were dressed up in fun costumes and loud music was being played. It was hard for us to see the parade due to the large crowd, so we snapped some photos and took off to the bridge to enjoy some delicious gelato.
As the day was coming to an end, we all wanted to go to Finnegan’s to use their free Wifi and enjoy some Prosecco. We returned to the hotel to freshen up when we learned poor Rachel had a rough day. We decided to start the party in her room and then a few of us went to Finnegan’s where we enjoyed more Prosecco. After Finnegan’s more group members showed up to Rachel’s room and we consumed endless bottles of wine, pizza from a German bar, and made some unforgettable memories. I am pretty sure the hotel was not too pleased with us being loud late at night, but honestly it was worth it.
We were off to the Chianti region where we toured two wineries. Linda provided us with information about the city of Florence as well as the history of the Chianti region. The first part of the drive was pretty smooth but things started to get windy as we headed off to the first winery. Liz took over the microphone and told us key facts about Sangiovese, Chianti, Chianti Classico and Vin Santo. Most of us were taking notes on this treacherous ride causing some to be sick when we arrived at the first winery. I was feeling pretty queasy so it felt nice to have the cold air hit my face.
The two wineries we visited were Castello di Verazzano and Badia a Coltibuono. Both wineries are very different from one another and it was fun to learn some history during the tours. At Castello, Mr. Capellini was overly excited to share the history behind the name. The history goes all the way back to the 16th century, which is beyond amazing. We were brought into this beautiful room where we got to sample Chianti and Chianti Classico. They also served us bread with truffle olive oil and sea salt… I could not stop eating. I fell in love with the Chianti right away but I was not fond of the Classico. Chianti Classicos have notes of cinnamon, orange peel, blueberries and TAR!!! I could taste the tar right away and had to stop drinking.
We went to a small town called Radda and when we arrived, there was no person in sight. Some of us came across this small restaurant and I had the best gnocchi of my life. Oh my gosh… it had truffle and it was all mixed in a creamy cheese sauce… my taste buds were in complete heaven. Of course this place had free Wifi and being the freaks we are, we had to use it. We then took off to our second winery and we still weren’t feeling too good. The wine tour took place in two locations; the vineyards and production room and the tasting castle. I really enjoyed this tour because I learned about the gravity flow process of making wine. We started on the top of the building and worked our way down visualizing how they make their wines. When we arrived at the tasting room, Argo, the winery dog, greeted us. Argo fell in love with me and since I had black pants on, you could see all the white hair I was covered in. We walked around for a little bit and then sampled some of their wine. When we returned to the hotel, a group of us grabbed dinner at the German bar and we encountered our first language barrier problem. The waitress spoke no English so it was hard to ask her questions. But we all worked together and left her a generous tip at the end, even though we don’t have to tip in Italy.