August 1, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Europe

When your family insists that you hop on a two-hour flight to meet them in Florence, Italy, you say “yes.”

Oops, at first I said “no,” but I quickly came to my senses. After all, the two-day trip to Tuscany would be filled with a bike ride through wine country, and enough good food to cancel out every last calorie burnt on said excursion. So – clearly – off I went to my favorite Italian city to meet up with my aunt, uncle and two cousins. Would you like to come along for the (virtual) ride?

Like any good trip to Italy, my latest began with pizza. That is, soft pillowy dough covered in melty disks of mozzarella, a smattering of pesto and slathered in chuggable tomato sauce. Served with a side of wine, my trip could have ended right there with that meal and have been well worth the journey.

Fortunately, though, that was just my first taste. After devouring every last bite, we digested our carb-tastic meal by taking a short trek down the street, where the sun had just dropped below the horizon, casting an ethereal glow on the Ponte Vecchio (photo above). Gelato may have also been involved in this picture of Florentine perfection, but the truth is that I scarfed it down so fast that there just wasn’t time for photos.

The next morning, we set off for Tuscany, piling into vans for a 45-minute drive into the countryside. But not before kick-starting our systems Italian-style with my beloved caffe shakerato — espresso, ice and sugar, all martini-shaken and served in a fancy glass. Honestly, any day that starts with this, is sure to be a good one, don’t you think?

A twisty and turny drive later and we were almost ready to go – almost. But first, we toured a 12th century castle, followed by a sip-and-nosh fest on wine and olive-oil-topped bread. OK, now we were ready to go.

So over the vineyard- and orchard-covered hills we went, zipping through the thick and sticky near 100-degree air. Single file, we shifted gears, grinding up inclines and coasting down into valleys, savoring the momentary and much-needed breeze. Tuscany was as picture-perfect as ever, but perhaps not at its finest for hitting the asphalt by bike.

And then we were done, returning to Florence to finish our weekend of biking, wine, caffe shakeratos and pasta just as perfectly as it had begun. From atop the Piazzale Michelangelo, we took in a panoramic view of the Arno River, twinkling with reflections as it crept under the Ponte Vecchio and across town, with the Duomo lit up in the background like a giant centuries-old Fabergé egg. Not too shabby for an impromptu weekend away with the family.

September 6, 2009 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Europe

When an email showed up in my inbox a few weeks ago from Robin asking if I’d be interested in meeting up in Italy, my answer was an emphatic “YES!” Jacob and I originally had plans to head to Northern Spain, but when the opportunity came up to go on an international double date with one of my best friends, that was just too good to pass up.

So we got online and pretty quickly settled on Florence. While I’d been before, I had told myself when I went years ago that I must return as I never had the chance to visit the famous Uffizi museum the first time around. Jacob had never been before, so he was of course on board.

We headed out to Florence almost immediately after Iris’s departure. We were exhausted, but eager to have three days of pasta, wine and relaxation. We arrived in Florence Sunday afternoon and met up with Robin and her boyfriend Karthik for dinner. Walking through the city, I found it to be even more charming than I had remembered. It’s like Rome but more quaint and less intimidating.

Dinner was of course amazing – each of us enjoying our different pasta dishes. What I continue to enjoy about Italy is how both the Italian and Spanish languages are doable – Jacob spent the dinner speaking to the waiter in Spanish, and the waiter in Italian, and as usual, all was understood (even by me….I’m thinking Italian might be my next language, especially with my extensive vocabulary of Italian food items, and now swear words – thanks Guido!).

The next day we met up with Robin and Karthik at their hotel at 10AM in order to be chauffeured through the Tuscan wine country. Little did we know the highlight of this journey would be our amazing driver Luigi – a charming, humorous man who made the most phenomenal tour guide.

Our first stop was the incredibly sweet little town of San Gimignano, followed by a stop in another little town for lunch (its name escapes me 🙁 ). After this we stopped in the city of Siena where we learned about the famous horse racing that happens in the main city plaza – the plaza was constructed such that the races could take place within the city walls. We also visited the cathedral in Siena as well.

And finally it was time for the wine tasting. We first stopped at small little tasting room along the side of a winding little road. There we tasted several different wines, from roses, to chiantis, to cabernet and sangiovese. All very good, but I have to admit, I prefer Spanish wines. I just don’t find the Italian wines to be quite as balanced. But hey, the world can keep on loving the Italian wines….I’m fine with prices of Spanish wines remaining nice and low.

This was followed by another stop at the Antinori winery, a wine that I’ve actually had in the States in Napa, ironically. We tasted three wines, all good of course, but still not quite Spanish :).

For dinner we went to a restaurant recommended to us by good ol’ Luigi, called Pandehohio, and oh my heaven! The pasta was stupidly, ridiculously, amazingly good, and all topped off by a darling “mama” who was constantly showering us with kisses and cute little comments like, “if you don’t like, you don’t eat it, I eat it!” If anyone heads to Florence, this place is a must.

The following day we made the long awaited trip to the Uffizi. It was a nice museum with lots and lots of Jesus paintings (which honestly, for me, grows quite old after a handful of them), but what I really wanted to see, what I always wanted to see since my high school Humanities class, were a couple of the paintings by Boticelli – The Primavera and The Birth of Venus. They totally didn’t disappoint. Both were so refreshing and beautiful. They were incredibly large, such that I could just stare at them forever, picking out all the details of each painting.

Later that day, Jacob and I headed to the Academia, to see the famous “David.” I had seen him the first time I came to Florence and remembered clearly that I had been blown away that first time I saw him. This time was no different – he was still breathtaking. To better explain, let’s take the Mona Lisa for example – you see it in books your whole life, to the point that she is actually larger than life….then you go to the Louvre, and the painting is like the size of a dictionary (I’m exaggerating), in a dark room, with people swarming around it. The David on the other hand, while you see him your whole life, I think we naturally assume he’s human-sized. But he’s not – nothing even close to the size of a human. He’s massive, and perfect, housed under spotlights at the end of a dimly lit, airy hallway, such that when you turn the corner, you see him at the end like some sort of god. You might think that I’m overstating it, but I’m not. Long story short, it was worth 10 euros to see the first time and the second as well, and I really hope I’ll have the opportunity again.

That night we headed out for our final dinner at a “steakhouse” recommended by a friend of Robin. This wasn’t any Outback though, but rather a small, kitchen-like restaurant, with casual communal tables. We ended up a table where English, Italian, French and Spanish were all be spoken. We ordered a mixture of pasta, veggies and steak. All delicious of course.

And so was our trip to Florence. Somehow those last minute trips are always the best. We truly had a spectacular time. It was a nice little preview for our trip to Venice coming up in October for my birthday :).

Next stop for me will be SF at the end of September. Can’t wait!