VIDEO | Getting There – Part No. 3

And here’s Part No. 3 – and it’s the first motorcycle one, so you can imagine I’m a little extra excited about this one. This is the BMW F800GS (named “Sophia,” if you remember) that we rented while in Florence (for those photos and stories, click here).

So this video takes us through the Tuscan countryside from Florence, through Siena, Asciano, Monte Oliveto, to Buonconvento, where we turned around, headed back over that amazing pass back to Asciano, then headed east, looping back to Florence as the sun set.

I wish I could describe what it felt like. This will have to do:

Watch the other videos on our home page by scrolling down to that section. Or click here.

 

Trivia: “Hate the Taste” is dedicated to the Radicchio Risotto that Allison ordered in Siena. It really was the worst. Heh. “But I’d do it all again . . . .” (and, of course, the chorus speaks for itself).

Here’s the route we took:

 


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VIDEO | Getting There – Part No. 2

Here’s another compilation of some of our favorite moments in Italy. This one starts where Part No. 1 leaves off, in Rome, and follows us north to Florence. It also includes some of our all time favorite moments of the trip, including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and – most especially – when we watched our sweet friend Almas, the street artist, paint us a black and white watercolor of the Duomo and Giotto’s bell tower.

We’re excited to share this. We’ve been busy with work (hooray!) so personal video projects like this one have had to wait. But its important to us to have these; partially so we have our own video journal of some of our cherished memories, and partially so we can share our adventures with our family and friends. When you watch these, I hope you can feel even the tiniest bit of what we did.

 

Watch the other videos on our home page by scrolling down to that section. Or click here.

 

You’ll have to wait until next time for the motorbike footage from all over Tuscany. I can’t wait for that one.

 

Part VIII : Rome by Night

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It was a beautiful last few hours that we had in Florence before our return trip to Rome.

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We took the long way to return the motorcycle so that we could have a last look at our favorite city. Jeff was thrilled to be riding again. He was in his element, maneuvering the motorbike between lanes of traffic, across the bridges that span the Arno river, down the narrow alleys. Lane splitting is the norm here, which Jeff loves. Although there was one too-close-for-comfort moment when we narrowly missed nailing a nice Mercedes with the hard baggage on the left side of our bike. Jeff is sure he had it all under control. I’m not convinced.

When we ride through towns, I usually navigate while Jeff focuses on keeping us upright. “Shiny-side up, rubber-side down,” is what motorcycle aficionados grimly remind each other. I wish I wouldn’t have been so worried about getting lost and could have taken my eyes away from the map more and out to the lovely sites of the city. At one point, I lost track of where we were exactly on my map. We were close enough to the parts of town where Jeff was oriented and could navigate “by ear” so he was still cruising along happily. I was still fixed on the challenge of matching up the street signs at intersections with where I thought we were on the map. I told him I wasn’t sure where we were. Over the sound of the engine, he enthusiastically yelled back to me, “Don’t worry it, look at where we are!

A very effective metaphor for how differently we operate.

He took us back past Santa Maria Novella, and dropped me off with our bags at the train station. He left to drop off the motorbike at the rental shop nearby, and returned on foot.

 

We rode the high speed train back to Rome, and made it back to our favorite bed and breakfast (where we stayed before). They had graciously allowed us to leave our suitcases there when we left for Florence. When we walked in, our bags were waiting for us in our new room just off the kitchen.

Hello, cake and milk. Remember me?

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We made arrangements for a car to take us to the airport later, as there were no public transport options available that early in the morning. We had to be ready to leave at 3:30 AM, so we decided that we would take a small nap before heading out to explore more of Rome, and just stay awake until our car came.

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There was no question that we’d be eating dinner again at Gli Amici’s. It was even better than before, even if we hadn’t each gotten our own dessert.  And it was much more enjoyable since we weren’t cold and soaking wet like we were the first time. It’s one of our favorite places ever.

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After dinner, we walked the winding cobbled streets of Trastevere until we made our way to the Tiber (Tevere) river.

Walking along the banks of the river was one of my favorite memories. The flavors of pecorino and pavlova still fresh in my mind. The glistening lights on the water. Hand in hand with my love.

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We walked until we came to Castel Sant’Angelo. It was as if all my Roman Holiday fantasies had come to life. Thankfully I found someone even more wonderful and dashing than Gregory Peck.

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Somewhere along the way, we crossed an invisible line into Vatican City. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Guards? A gate?

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We spent a long time gazing at St. Peter’s Basilica. It was lovely to see it at night in the glow from the streetlights. As I looked around I was reminded of the pictures I’d seen of the lines of people waiting for hours in this square, and part of me was relieved we’d missed out on that.

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It made for a quite a romantic night with only a few other couples out for a late stroll. Still, we were a little sad that we didn’t have the chance to go in, but in retrospect, I’m glad we will have lots to do the next time we go. And I have little doubt that there will be a next time.

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As we walked back home, we had mixed feelings at the end of this part of our trip. Sad to leave Italy, but very excited to go to Greece.

We showered and packed for the last few hours.

When it was time, we took bags and backpacks down the tiny elevator to the street where our airport transfer was already waiting. I was expecting something much less luxurious. A well-groomed man in a dark suit stood beside a shiny black Mercedes, greeting us and helping with our bags. I felt like a foreign dignitary as I slid into the huge back seat of the luxury sedan. I very easily could have fit a small ottoman back there to rest my feet on.

Knowing the claustrophobic atmosphere that awaited us on board our RyanAir flight, we stretched out and took advantage of all the space.

Driving through the dark, vacant streets of Rome at that time of night was somber and special.

 

Taking all precautions to avoid a typical RyanAir disaster like we did in London, we were the first in line for check-in. We were even there before they opened the doors. We had spent hours strategically planning and weighing our bags, fully prepared for bad service and hassle. We were surprised when the experience was normal – even pleasant – when the friendly man at the check-in counter offered to check our carry-on bags for free as well.

It was short lived, as RyanAir employees quickly reminded us that we were cattle by starting the boarding process and making everyone stand out on the tarmac in the cold for nearly 40 minutes.

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But they couldn’t dampen our spirits, because we were just a few, short hours away from what would become our new home for the next few months, Athens.

 


 

Stay tuned for our next update: Welcome to Athens

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

VIDEO | Getting There – Part No. 1

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been gone for two months.

Allison is about to post about our last day in Rome, and soon we’ll get you more caught up with the next chapter of our travels here in Athens, Greece.

But before we get to that, it’s time for me to post the first of several videos that I’ve been promising. I’m compiling the clips we’ve taken on various cameras and mobile devices. The video quality is a little rough, but the memories are priceless.

 

 


 

Find more of my stuff on VAGABONDORIGINAL.COM or find me:      

Part VII : Tuscany on a Motorbike

UPDATE: See video to accompany this post here.

 

Since leaving his corporate job to pursue a creative, entrepreneurial lifestyle, Jeff has been smitten with the prospect of having the freedom to be his own boss, to travel, and to ride motorcycles. This freelance life isn’t as glamorous as that makes it sound. The financial strain, the instability, the pressure, and the late nights are commonplace for us now. In fact as I write this, right now it’s way past 3 a.m., and he’s still hard at work making improvements and additions to our business website, Vagabond Original.

But the good far outweighs those negatives. The day that we traveled through Tuscany on a motorbike was the realization of all those dreams beginning to come to fruition.

The morning started out overcast, gloomy, and with the promise of showers, but we were hopeful that it would soon clear up.

Jeff did a lot of research before we left to plan our route through the Tuscan countryside. The guy who got us set up with the motorbike rental was a kind, slightly-rough looking 40-something. His name was Ricardo. Before we left the rental shop, Jeff asked the guy to take a look at our route and see if he had any recommendations on other good routes we should know about.

Motorcycle guys all have the same look in their eyes when you ask that question. As he drew an alternate plan on our map, he highlighted a long stretch of road and said, “This? This is the Jewel of Tuscany.” With a knowing smile, he described it as only a motorcyclist would. We would be fools to miss it.

We’d head south from Florence, through vineyard country, and down to Siena. Then across the green hills from Asciano to Buonconvento and back again.

Before we headed out of town, we double checked out directions and then set up the GoPro on the bike. Speaking of the bike, meet Sophia.

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The day before, Jeff and I were in a shop near the Ponte Vecchio when he said, “This looks like you,” pointing to a curvy brunette on a vintage postcard.

“You think I look like Sophia Loren?

Aren’t I a lucky girl? Anyway, I always help Jeff continue his tradition of naming his motorcycles. I commemorated that self-esteem-boosting moment by naming this bike Sophia.

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The ride to Siena was a little rainy, but the sunshine finally broke through and it was a lovely day for a ride.

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When we pulled off the main road and headed toward the center of Siena, we were met with an amazing view.

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Since it was still early Spring and with the late-ish opening time of the rental shop, we were worried about the early sunset and that we wouldn’t be able to see all that we had planned. We decided just to have lunch in Siena instead of walking all around the beautiful town.

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We chose a restaurant close to the nearby basilica where we parked. Jeff got his usual lasagna and I ordered the risotto.

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I’d never had risotto before, but I’d seen someone order it earlier in the week and thought it looked like creamy rice, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, mine was made with radicchio (also called Italian chicory), a leafy vegetable that looks very much like a red cabbage. And apparently tastes just like hairspray.

I tried. Really I did. But it was inedible. It was the first time I’ve ever sent anything back to the kitchen – well technically it was Jeff that kindly told the waiter that I wasn’t enjoying it. He as very understanding and accommodating. In a few minutes more, our waiter brought me a plate of spaghetti and bland marinara that I smothered in Parmesan. Even though I left a bit hungry and disappointed in our lunch, I was reminded how grateful I was for the amazing food and deserts we’d had so far on our trip. And even if I had to have Risotto al a Aqua Net, at least I was eating it with this vista in the background.

And imagine if I never ordered the risotto, but went straight for the boring spaghetti. I would have always wondered, and that would have been worse than the taste of the radicchio.

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The ride to Asciano was lovely. The landscape was speckled with white blossoms on the trees and we’ve never seen anything in nature so vividly green.

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For miles and miles, we rode through the vibrant green hills dotted with olive and cypress trees. There were villas, vineyards, and farms with sheep grazing the hilly pastures.

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We don’t actually have a ton of photographs from this day. That was partly because we wanted to be present in what we were experiencing, not just seeing it all through a viewfinder. Still, we made an effort to balance that with having some valuable video memories to help us share and look back on this adventure. So when we did use the camera, it was mostly for video. Jeff is working on editing the hours and hours of footage, and he assures me he’ll have the video uploaded soon. In the meantime, we took a few screen captures.

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Ricardo wasn’t kidding when he said, “The Jewel of Tuscany.” The views from Asciano to Buonconvento were breathtaking. Jeff and I yelled our praises at each other above the sound of the engine and the wind.

I don’t know if I could ever pick just one place that would top my list as the most beautiful. The volcanic mountains and rain forests in Rwanda, the Alpine Loop in Utah, Victoria Falls in Zambia, the city scapes of Paris, the green hills of Tuscany? I’m glad I don’t have to choose and that I’ve had the great privilege to visit such amazing places around the world.

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One of my favorite things about this route is that the road runs along the top of the hills, not in the valleys or along the rivers. It makes it so you can see huge, sweeping vistas instead of just what’s close around you.

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Just a few hours before sunset, we rounded a corner and caught site of a beautiful abbey across a ravine.

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You know when your pictures don’t do any justice to how you actually experienced a moment? This photo would be a good example of that.

Founded in 1313, the Abbey of Monte Oliveto is a large Benedictine monastery with expansive grounds. The chiming bells and red brick buildings nestled in the trees made it one of my favorite stop along our ride.

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Another one of my favorite parts of this trip has been collecting small mementos. The idea was inspired by my sister when I asked what she wanted me to bring back for her. She told me that she and her boys collect rocks or pressed leaves to remind them of the time they went on a trip.

I like to document the finding of my mementos for the nephews. This one is Jeff’s favorite.

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The ride back to Florence was just as beautiful. We stopped in front of this huge estate. I googled it later. Borgo Beccanella, once a tiny borough outside of Asciano, that has been converted into a destination of lavish apartments and suites. It’s beautiful, but I could do without the €710/night price tag.

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Soon the bright blues and greens shifted to golden orange as the sun neared the horizon.

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The setting sun brought back the clouds and a few minutes of cold showers. We were losing light, and the already-cool day was getting downright cold at these speeds. Rather than risk being cold and lost in the dark, we opted to get home faster by looping to the main highway (a painful decision for motorcycle enthusiasts, who have a somehow religious/romantic relationship with country roads).

Even though the scenery wasn’t as charming and our teeth were chattering, we still ended the day with cotton candy colored clouds and caught glimpses of an incredible sunset as the sunbeams burst through the clouds.

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In order to beat the rain and the setting sun, we rode a little too long without breaks. We were rather cold and sore when we got back to the hotel. Luckily we got back with just enough time to head down to relax in the warm whirlpool.

A perfect end to a perfect day.

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Stay tuned for our next update: Rome by Night

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

 

 

Part VI : Florence, Day No. 3

There were a few things on our to-do list left undone on this trip. Some of those were hiking to the top of the Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower. With such limited time, we had to be strategic about our priorities, and conceded that our time was better spent exploring and not waiting in hours-long cues. Next time.

We took one last stroll around the cathedral and basked in its sunlit glory.

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Our ticket also included the Baptistry, located just opposite the front of the cathedral. As luck would have it, the outside of the building was undergoing renovations, so it was wrapped in a plastic shell that vaguely had the semblance of the real design and architecture printed on it. We didn’t even think to take a picture of the outside of it.

But the inside was magnificent. It was oddly very cool inside. It’s difficult to tell from the photos, but the yellow colors you see in the ceiling mosaics, are actually quite golden and glittery. And its effect is quite impressive. I was amazed how well-preserved the intricate and ornate mosaics are as it is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Florence.

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Surprisingly, in the 45 minutes we were in there, of the hundreds and hundreds of people clamoring to get into the Duomo, there were only about 25 people who came in and out of the Baptistery. It was nice to feel like we had the place to ourselves.

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As we exited the Baptistry, we headed south toward the last of the sites on my must-see list. In just a few blocks we arrived at Piazza della Repubblica.

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We watched the children on the carousel for a few minutes and then continued our walk. But we were quickly interrupted by the discovery of a store that I’ve always wanted to visit, Zara. And it did not disappoint. I walked out with not one, but two new most-favorites.

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As we continued down the street, we came upon some incredible chalk artists. Their work was worth far more than the few coins left in their collection plates.

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One of my favorite parts of walking through Florence was peering down side streets and alleyways, catching a glimpse of what life is like here. Laundry on the balcony hung out to dry. Hunched old women beating the carpets or shooing the pigeons. Life seems very picturesque beyond those green shutters.

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Before long, we could begin to see the tower of Palazzo Vecchio peeking through the alleyways and above buildings.

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The fortressed palace makes up one side of the Piazza della Signoria. Out from its side, the Vasari Corridor floats high above. Built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari, the enclosed passageway was constructed to keep the peasants away from the Medicis as they walked from home to work. For nearly a kilometer, it cuts through existing buildings and snakes across the Arno River to Pitti Palace.

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Beneath the corridor are the curved arches of the Loggia dei Lanzi. Once a raised terrace from which the Medicis could watch ceremonies in the piazza, it is now home to a dozen beautiful sculptures.

One of the Medici lions, and the counterpart to the David we saw earlier in London.

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Pio Fedi’s Rape of Polyxena. While it makes me a little nervous posting images of abduction and nudity (sorry, Momma), I have such an appreciation for the level of creativity and artistry that went into creating these masterpieces. This was one of the highlights for me, and I didn’t want to censor it.

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As you may have gathered from my previous post about the David, I have a great love for sculpture. I love the details. Look at the way his fingers press into her side. Amazing. It’s hard to fathom how something so life-like was chisled from a chunk of marble so long ago.

But my favorite is Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. This striking work was made from the largest block of marble ever transported to Florence. Giambologna was the first to create a multi-figure composition with the figura serpentina, an upward, snakelike, spiral movement without a dominant viewpoint.  It can be equally admired from all sides.

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Again, the details. Just stunning.

It was difficult to draw myself away, but the allure of the Ponte Vecchio urged us on southward through more of Florence’s lovely neighborhoods.

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As we came to the banks of the Arno, we rested near the great sundial outside the Museo Galileo.

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This spot near the museum is a great vantage point to see the sites along the river. Remember the church with the great views we went to our first night? It’s the small white church up on the hill.

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In the other direction, you see the buildings propped up to avoid crumbling into the river, and the goldsmith shops along the Ponte Vecchio.

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It was also a really great backdrop for portraits. Jeff and I had made plans to update our business website, Vagabond Original, once we arrived in Athens, and this seemed a fitting setting for some photos to include in the “We Are Vagabond” section. The website revamp is now complete and you should check it out if you haven’t in a while.

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We were almost to the bridge when Jeff noticed a charming, little shop and suggested we go in. I noticed all the calligraphy supplies and could have easily walked away with the entire store, but settled on a very handsome Art Deco pen holder. Here it is in action from last week’s post when I used it to create an Easter printable.

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I’ve been planning my eventual trip to visit the Ponte Vecchio ever since I was little. I’m not sure why I’ve always had such a fascination with this colorful bridge. It probably started upon seeing it in a piece from my National Geographic collection.

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Along the Ponte Vecchio, there are many padlocks affixed in various places, and most especially to the railing around the statue of goldsmith and sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini. It’s become a recent and popular tradition for couples. By locking the padlock and then throwing the key into the river, the lovers become eternally bonded.

As romantic as that idea is, the heavy weight of all the padlocks has frequently damaged the centuries-old bridge and have to be removed frequently.

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The bridge was quite crowded, but for a few minutes, we had an unobstructed view and took advantage of the moment to capture the beautiful views from the center of the bridge.

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We made our way across, and headed to the next bridge just down the river for another view of the Ponte Vecchio.

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We had been walking all day and decided to take a much-needed break in the Oltrarno, ‘the other side of the river.’

As the sun began to set, we made our way back to our shuttle bus stop. It was a little bittersweet as we knew this was the last time we’d stroll the streets of a city we’d come to love so much, but also excited for our motorcycle trip through Tuscany the following day.

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Stay tuned for our next update: Tuscany on a Motorbike

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram