A Travellerspoint blog

Agriturismo Val della Pieve


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Upon leaving Florence, we made our way to the agriturismo. An agriturismo is a working farm that doubles as a bed and breakfast. It is a way for small farms to receive a source of income in addition to the money they make farming. They have them all throughout Italy, although the majority of them are in the Tuscany area. One could easily imagine that people searching for a relaxing vacation would like to go where wine is abundant, the scenery is amazing and there are plenty of activities.

We were originally trying to stay at this other agristurismo, but scheduling didn't work out. We went with Val della Pieve instead. However, we may have remembered the town we were going to stay, but we forgot which farm. We had the first farm in our minds up until just a couple days before we had to head out there. This only makes a difference, because we had in our minds all of the activities we could do through the first agristurismo that the second didn't have. We planned on riding bikes, doing wine tasting and going for various hikes. However, we only went on one hike. Most of the agriturismi (plural) offer different rooming options when booking. There is a room only option, a bed and breakfast option, a half-board (breakfast and dinner provided), and a full-board option (all meals provided). The first agriturismo would have been half-board with homemade meals which was the one we were remembering. It turned out that we got an apartment at this second agriturismo -- meaning no meals provided. If we had remembered which place we actually booked, the experience would have probably matched more closely to our expectations. As it was, it was a bit different.

We stayed in Anghiari. Anghiari is a small, Tuscan town from medieval times and is most remembered for an important battle fought there in the 15th century. It is truly a picturesque Tuscan hill town.

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(I chose a professional photo so you could get the best idea of just how perfect it is.)

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It was such a beautiful place. The view from our apartment was amazing.

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So we did all of our own cooking except for the last night when we really wanted to go get pizza. Which, by the way, happened to be one of the best pizzas Madi has had. We did pretty good with food. We went and bought fresh food close to every day. It was fun to try to cook our own food Italian-style -- not just the type of food, but in the feeling and culture of Italy, and the food wasn't half-bad.

We mostly used this time to rest and relax. We had planned on our time at the monastery as being the opportunity to rest, but with the hard beds and early morning bells, we didn't get much. This past week turned out to be the time when we "caught up on sleep." One of the days there we hiked to a nearby castle. It was about 2 miles along the road. However, the sun was right overhead and there was no shade. It was hot. We decided to find a path off the road for the rest of the way there. Colin pulled up his map downloaded on his phone and found a path. After we found it and started to follow it, we realized that this was going to take a while. It basically took us way off the road, there still wasn't shade, and we ended up walking close to an extra mile. It was only when we were leaving the castle that Madi learned that we were probably only a hundred yards or so from the castle when we turned off the road. Colin's response to Madi's revelation? "Oh, yeah, I knew, but you wanted to walk along the path." Oy! Yup, Madi definitely wanted to walk an extra mile in the hot sun. At least the walk was pretty. Anyway, we had a picnic near the castle and then went to check it out. It was pretty and old. It was apparently a castle, but it sure didn't look like one.

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Another day we spent wandering the town. We went to the museum honoring the town and its famous battle. The museum was small but interesting. It focused on the development of the area starting with prehistoric times to the 1800s. Colin found the rooms about the battle the most interesting. Afterwards, we continued to wander the town.

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Overall this part of the trip was nice, and we were able to gear ourselves up for working on the farm at our next stop in Castegneto Carducci.

We ended up with some twists in our plans for the WWOOF site, but we'll get to that later. :-) And as always - there are more photos in the gallery!

Posted by colin.cushman 10:59 Archived in Italy Tagged anghiari Comments (1)

Firenze! (And the stop-over at Lucca)


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The Florence portion of our trip was quite the whirlwind. Colin learned that maybe there is such a thing as too many museums in a day, and Madi learned that it isn't quite so bad to walk up the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo (especially if there are a ton of tourists making it a very, very slow walk). Thankfully our next stop is the agriturismo, so we actually have the time to write and share with you everything we got to do packed into the 3 days. However, we started with a very ambitious itinerary. We actually cut out one museum and three churches and rearranged our schedule as we went, because our bodies were much more tired from walking and standing and reading plaques and...and... than we thought we would be. This doesn't mean that we didn't get a ton done, though.

We started this part of the trip by taking a "layover" at Lucca. Lucca has walls 40 feet high and 60 feet wide and about 2 and a half miles long surrounding the city. The first walls were built around 200 CE and rebuilt various times with the current walls dating to about the late 16th century. The top of the walls were made into a promenade lined with trees. Now people use it to walk and bike around the city, tourists and locals alike. There are bike rental places near all of the ramps onto the walls. We decided that for our ride we wanted to get a tandem bike. Neither of us had ever used a tandem bike, so we thought it could be fun for the hour rental. Well, it was, and it was a lot more difficult than we expected it to be! Madi took the back seat so she could shoot pictures as we went around and Colin steered up front. Who knew that steering would be so difficult and not being able to steer would be so stressful? Madi made an interesting discovery during that experience however. In order to successfully pedal and steer the bike, there needs to be an incredible amount of communication between riders - especially from the front. She had the thought that riding a tandem bike could be a fun way to practice communication skills between partners. Anyway, Madi also got a chance up front with Colin in back. She got to experience the extreme difficulty in steering and he got to experience the fear of not being able to. We learned though, that these bikes are definitely made with a male-female partnership in mind (and if we're being kind, the taller person up front with the shorter person in back). Madi could not only barely touch the ground, but she had a hard time even getting onto the front seat while Colin was squished in the back...it would have been pretty awesome to have a picture of that...Anyway, it was a fun experience. After we rode along the wall, we went into town to explore some of the churches and get lunch. It was a beautiful town and a perfect start to our Florence adventure.

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When we arrived in Firenze, we just walked around and explored a little. We got tickets to climb up the infamous Duomo and popped into Orsanmichele church, and then we ended our exhausting day with a gorgeous sunset over the Arno river. We had planned on climbing the Duomo on that first day, but even climbing up the stairs in Orsanmichele (which, to our credit, was a very tall church) was taxing. Apparently all of the hills and hiking from the Cinque Terre got the better of us.

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The next day we got up bright and early for our reservations at the Uffizi Gallery. So much art and so many statues. No, it was beautiful. We got to see Botticcelli's Birth of Venus.

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Among other fantastic paintings and statues.

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Once we finished with the Uffizi, we went next door to the Galileo museum. Now, this is one of the museums Colin probably could have lived without, but Madi really wanted to do this one. There were all sorts of telescopes, globes, machines to observe physics, early medical equipment, etc. It seemed the entire walk through the museum Madi kept thinking how this is the museum that her dad could just live in. She is certain that he would love it there, so she took so many pictures. Although Madi did nearly nothing else but take pictures of the cool stuff she saw, there are only the especially neat ones here.

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Our first stop after lunch was the Accademia museum which houses the famous David.

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It was mostly statues there, but there were also some slightly different interesting objects like Dante's work.

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That late afternoon we finally decided to tackle the Duomo -- meaning, of course, that Madi finally said that it was time; Colin was ready the entire time. The first 1/3 or so was just straight up going around and around and around the little staircase. We came to a landing and Madi needed a break to use her inhaler. Ironically enough, as soon as they started the next section of stairs we hit a line. We suddenly came to a stop and went up a stair or two at a time - basically the rest of the way up. Maybe one of the only times Madi was thinking, "thank God for tourists." Colin was, shall we say, less happy about the slow climb. Part of the climb led us to the base of the dome via a walkway overlooking the chapel.

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We then entered into the "dome within a dome" part.

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And we were finally to the top!! Overlooking Florence in all its beauty and glory - with Madi backed up against the wall as they walked around the circumference of the dome. She did venture out near the edge for one picture though.

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The Santa Maria Novella church and famous pharmacy are right near the train station, but it wasn't until that afternoon that we went and saw the huge church. Madi was apparently tired of taking pictures, because we don't have any of the church. It was beautiful and extravagant all the same. Seeing the old pharmacy run by the sisters was pretty neat too.

We finished the day off with some gelato and watching the sunset.

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For our last morning in Florence, we visited Pitti Palace. The palace is the grand estate in which the Medici family lived during their influence over Florence. Now it is a museum housing the family's collection of art as well as examples of their lifestyles.

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After our walk through the palace, we headed off to the agriturismo to relax and explore the Tuscan hillsides.

Posted by colin.cushman 04:47 Archived in Italy Tagged firenze lucca Comments (1)

At the Cinque Terre


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The Cinque Terre are 5 towns along the north western coast of Italy along the Mediterranean. The towns are full of charm and character. From north to south there is Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. We made Manarola our home base which we now regard as a blessed choice as it is the smallest, friendliest, least touristy and most beautiful of them all. The room we got was apparently an apartment with a terrace - giving a breathtaking view.

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The first day in the 5 Terre we explored Manarola by way of trying to find the apartment. If we haven't mentioned already, the 5 Terre has a ton of hills - again, a ton of hills, so carrying all of our stuff up and down the hills was a bit exhausting and a great taste of what the next couple days would look like. However, the walking was rewarded a thousand times over with the views. As already mentioned, the view from our place was breath-taking, and that was only the beginning. We started by relaxing on our terrace with some fruit and wine and ended the first evening with a fabulous dinner at a famous place literally less than a minute walk door to door from our place. The region of the 5 Terre invented pesto, so naturally we ate a lot of pesto. In Madi's opinion, the pesto that first night was the best of all of the four or five times we ate it.

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The region also invented foccacia which is sold all over the place. We ate plain foccacia, foccacia with onions, foccacia with pesto and tomatoes, foccacia with ham and cheese baked in the middle, and foccacia with cheese baked in. Madi also got plenty of use out of her allergy card considering we were right on the Mediterranean, and consequently, there is shellfish at every restaurant, bar or cafe. (Sidenote-a bar in Italy is not what we Americans think of as a bar. It is a counter at which you order and drink coffee and eat small pastries.) The last night (Sunday night) we ate at a restaurant "al Castello" in honor of Colin's birthday. We had decided previously that considering we were so close to leaving for Europe when we celebrated Colin's birthday that we decided to have his birthday dinner at the 5 Terre. We had a gorgeous view of the harbor in Vernazza and watched the sun set.

The first whole day we hiked. Colin did about 2 times as much hiking as Madi did thanks to a well-placed shuttle and the options of taking the bus or train to the next town. Granted, it was still a significant walk. While Madi took the shuttle, Colin walked up to Volastra which lies above and between Manarola and Corniglia. They offer a shuttle because of the incredibly steep hike up there.

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Colin met Madi in Volastra, and we hiked between Volastra and Corniglia on a path high above the coast winding through vineyards. It was gorgeous, but man was it a steep drop on one side.

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We had lunch in Corniglia, and Colin hiked the next stretch between Corniglia and Vernazza while Madi took the train.

We spent the next hour and a half relaxing and dipping their feet in the cool Mediterranean water.

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For a different experience, we took a boat to Monterosso where we walked around and had dinner.

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The day was capped off with an incredible sunset which we watched from the terrace of their apartment.

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The next day, Madi relaxed around Manarola while Colin hiked the first and last stretches of the 5 Terre route (between Riomaggiore and Manarola, and between Monterosso and Vernazza).

We finished the day back in Vernazza for Colin's birthday dinner. We packed up and left first thing in the morning on Monday headed to Florence. See you soon! and Remember to check the other photos in our gallery. Love to all!!

Posted by colin.cushman 13:17 Archived in Italy Tagged cinque_terre manarola Comments (3)

Heading out from Bose to the Cinque Terre

semi-overcast 68 °F
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We have our last night tonight at the monastery and head out first thing in the morning - which was going to be about 6:40 until we got an offer to drive us to the train stations from another guest here at the monastery! Yay! We have 3 less transfers to do tomorrow now. Thank goodness! Our time here has been relaxing, rejuvenating and somewhat restless. There are 3 half-hour long prayer services per day, of which we consistently went to 2. Haha...the first was at 6 in the morning after a 5:30 wake up call via bell tower. We always woke up; we didn't always go. The grounds are lovely, and we get an incredible view of the alps when we walk out of our room.

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The food was incredible. It was simple, but absolutely delicious. For breakfasts we had a typical bread and jam with coffee. Then for "dinner" and "supper" (in that order) we had that amazing food. Dinner always started with some sort of pasta or risotto, moved on to protein and veggies and ended with a small desert which was always fruit from their own gardens. Madi's favorite (no surprise) were the strawberries picked fresh that morning. Supper always began with soup. Now...all of these soups were divine. Just for the soups alone, Madi wishes Bose sold a cookbook. There would then be salad and meat of some sort following the soup. And, of course, there was bread at all the meals.

We did various activities in between services. We read, Madi crocheted, went for walks and a few hikes. It is such a strange and glorious feeling to be able to read for leisure again! The hikes were enjoyable. We saw many a church and walked through 2 neighboring towns - Magnano and Zimone. I'll let the pictures speak for me as to the beauty.

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Check our our photo gallery for more photos. :-)

We're off to the coast!

Posted by colin.cushman 11:31 Archived in Italy Tagged monastery bose Comments (3)

At Bose Monastery

Hello all! We have arrived at the monastery. Surprisingly, they have wi-fi. Now, we don't want to spend much time online so that we can truly experience this place of rest, but we'll let you know what we're up to.

We landed in Milan the day before yesterday and spent the afternoon in Varena at Lake Como. It was a beautiful town and lake, but we were so tired. We thought we would go somewhere where we could walk around to stay awake until evening (fight off that jet lag), but we didn't think through the getting there. We spent so much time on trains and we're threatening to fall asleep that we nearly missed our stop! There was this older Italian man just watching us trying desperately to keep our eyes open, and I truly think he was laughing at us the whole time.

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The town was so quaint, and there was this incredible 13th century church in the middle of the town square. I loved visiting it, and it was the perfect amount of time there. We also got a little local flavor at dinner when we ordered fish from the lake.

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We weren't expecting them to be whole...haha...

Then we headed back to Milan to finally go to sleep. The next morning we walked around Milan focusing our time on the duomo.

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We stopped in the galleria,

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and headed over to another church - from the 4th century: la Basilica di San'Ambrosia.

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From there we headed out to the monastery. Pictures of our adventures there will be forthcoming. We will likely not post anything until our next stop, so we will be quiet until around Thursday. Love to all of you!

Posted by colin.cushman 07:00 Comments (3)

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