Toledo

Florence

Florence food market

Cinque Terre boat trip

Fattoria Colle Verde Winery

Pasta Making

Vinyards and Villa Reale

Lucca

Tuscan Countryside

Kathy's Trip to Spain and Italy

May 2011

written by Kathy Jones

Madrid

Early Monday morning, May 2nd, I left Austin to catch a flight to Washington D.C. where I met my friend and travelling companion, Marilyn. We flew together to Madrid. After a long uneventful flight we arrived in Madrid early on Tuesday the 3rd. Luckily we were able to get into our room at the Westin Palace, located in the heart of the Puerto del Sol area of Madrid.

Puerto del Sol We rested some and then proceeded to walk the neighborhood. We found interesting looking restaurants, parks, fountains and statues not to mention attractive people every where. It is an vibrant attractive city center. The restaurant/bars are where the locals go after work for a drink and tapas before dinner. At around 5:45 p.m. we asked the concierge where we could get a light dinner to which he explained the restaurants opened at 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. but there were some of these bars that had food. We had a wonderful meal at a local trattoria. We went back to the same area several times for more good meals and wine.

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The next morning (Wednesday) we visited the Prado Museum to see the great works of El Greco, Velazquez, Goya as well as many of the great Flemish and Italian painters. Kary and Monica Eldred, friends of mine from the US took us for a lovely lunch. Kary came back to the hotel that evening to take us to a Flamenco show where we had a wonderful Spanish dinner of antipasta and paella always accompanied by great wines. After the show we walked around the Plaza de la Villa (Town Hall Square) and saw the famous Ventas Bullring, which is known as the "Monumental" and the oldest restaurant in the world.

Oldest Restaurant

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On Thursday I took a tour of Toledo, which is located about 45 miles from Madrid. Toledo was the meeting place of many different races, a melting pot of ideas and the birthplace of original culture. A World Heritage City, Toledo was once the capital city of Spain, and it still retains the atmosphere and aura which are characteristic of so many European capital cities. The buildings and winding streets contained within the old city walls hold hundreds of years of history; the River Tajo which runs alongside the city walls adding to its charm and beauty. Click here for some pictures from Toledo.

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The following day we flew to Florence. Marilyn and I had a free day before our tour began so we visited the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) and walked around the area.

Boboli Gardens Boboli Gardens

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The next day (Saturday, the 7th) we began our Tauck "Culturious Tuscany" tour of Italy. We spent the next two nights at the beautiful Gallery Hotel Art situated a block from the famous and beautiful Ponte Vecchio bridge where I spent lots of time and money :). The first night, there was a beautiful sunset. We walked across the bridge to have the first of many wonderful Italian meals at the Golden View Open Bar. The food was great with a nice view of the Ponte Vecchio. Here are a few views of Florence.

Sunday was spent seeing the sights of Florence, which included a tour of the Uffizi Gallery and the Gallery of the Academy where Michelangelo's "David" and the "Slaves" carvings are housed. I was as awe struck on this visit as I was when I saw them at 21 years old! Next we walked to the Synagogue and had lunch next door at a kosher vegetarian restaurant named Ruth's.

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The following day (Monday) we walked into the "Oltr' Arno", the artisan's district of Florence where we visited the two art restoration studios. Then it was on to the Church of Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried.

Tomb - Michelangelo    Tomb - Galileo

Another necessary side trip while in Florence is a trip to the Mercato Central - the city's main food market. Here are some pictures of the market.

That evening we walked to the private residence of Gregorio Nardi for an aperitivo and a private piano recital which was lovely. We all signed the guest book and many of us bought a CD of his music. Then on to another great Italian dinner in a small café featuring the most delicious home made pasta! Everyday we visited a café for a café latte and delicious Italian pastries for a morning break. The Italians do this better than anyone. Café

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A trip to Florence would not be complete without a side trip to the Carrara marble quarries. This is where Michelangelo got his marble for is famous statues. So on Tuesday we took a long and windy road west to the Mediterranean coast of Tuscany to see the quarries.

Quarry    Quarry

After visiting the quarries we drove to the port town of Portovenere to board a boat that took along the gorgeous Cinque Terre coast from south up to our final destination Monterosso al Mare where we spent the next few days. Here are some pictures taken from the boat and in the towns.

I had a lovely birthday dinner that evening at the lovely Hotel Porto Roca which is perched on a hillside with a spectacular view of the harbor.

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On Wednesday I hiked with part of our group from Monterosso al Mare to Vernazza along a spectacular trail. It was a strenuous hike for me with lots of uphill climbs and narrow ledges but I made it. The trail winds through 3 miles of scenic vineyards, with beautiful views of the Ligurian Sea.

Cinque Terre Trail    Cinque Terre Trail

From there I journeyed along with Anne and Charlie from Vernazza to Riomaggiore, visiting each of the 5 small remote fishing villages. We did one more short hike between Riomaggiore and Manarola, called "Lovers Walk", ate lunch in the quaint village of Manarola, then took the train back to Monterosso al Mare. Here is a video of Lovers Walk.

Cinque Terre

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After Cinque Terre, we ventured on to the peaceful walled city of Lucca. Along the way we drove through the Lingurian Hills to the Fattoria Colle Verde, a winery and olive oil producer where we sampled the virgin pressed olive oil. More pictures of the winery.

At the winery we had a lesson in pasta making.

After finishing our pasta, it was cooked for us to enjoy the results of our efforts. We had the most lovely lunch complete with our freshly made pasta and wine from the winery. After lunch we took a walk among the vinyards. We made our way to the Royal Villa of Marlia, also known as Villa Reale. Some pictures of the vinyards and Villa Reale.

That evening in Lucca we saw and heard 6 arias, several by Puccini. The acoustics in the church were just fabulous. This was a real high point for me. Lucca is also the birth place of Puccini, which is why they perform these arias once a week. The city is very flat, with no traffic due to the wall surrounding it, so the perfect way to get around is by bike which many people did.

Bicycle    Lucca Bike Riding

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I spent my last day in Italy wandering around the narrow streets, drinking café latte at outside cafes, shopping for leather goods and just generally enjoying myself and hoping to come back one day. Pictures from my wandering.

We had a lovely farewell dinner outside Lucca with a gorgeous view of the Tuscan countryside and vineyards. Here are some of the scenes.

What made the Tauck tour even more speial were the lovely people in our group and Birgit, our tour guide. She was very familiar with the area, language and culture, sharing much of her knowledge of the area with us which included a language lesson in Italian, a taste test of the 3 different types of gelato as well as lots of information about the art and culture. At the end of a long day she knew just were to send us to relax and enjoy yet another fabulous meal and more great wine.


Kathy Jones
email: KathyJones510 "at" yahoo.com
updated June 18th, 2011