S: Sally & Ed do Italy- Finallly!
FC: Rick Steves' Heart of Italy 9 Day Tour
1: When my husband Ed was scheduled to attend a conference in India in late July 2011, he wasn't too enthusiastic. However I convinced him that it would be an amazing adventure and a great opportunity for us and spent months researching and preparing for the trip. Then in May, due to disorganized conference planners, it all fell apart! Ed was actually relieved, but me, not so much. I immediately began looking at other travel possibilities and apparently got stuck on countries that start with the letter "I". Let's see, no India, for now, and we had already been to Iceland, Ireland, Israel, and even Istanbul, which I know is a city but it's as big as a small country. Iran, Iraq, and the Ivory Coast weren't high on our bucket list so that left Indonesia and Italy. Incredibly, we had never been to Italy and so it was finally time to rectify the situation! Next, the planning- take a tour or go ourselves? It was already mid-May and time to plan an independent trip felt too short, so a tour it was. Although we're not that young and fit, we really didn't want to tour Italy on a big bus with a bunch of people our age and older. Last year in Ireland, we ran into a Rick Steves' tour group and they looked like they were having a ball! We decided that we were up for it and selected the trip that looked to offer the widest variety of Italian experiences. Turned out to be a great choice! Finally, I decided that each evening of our trip, we'd write a blog entry about the day, attach a few pictures, and publish it on posterous.com. About 40 of our friends and relatives subscribed to the blog and "traveled" with us. Some of our days were so full, we could hardly remember everything we had done earlier in the day, so reviewing it each night for our blog was fun and useful. I ended up using our blog as the foundation of this scrapbook and hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it! Sally Shapiro
3: After uneventful overnight flights from Philadelphia through Frankfurt to Florence, we arrived at our hotel at 10:30 this morning. Our room wasn't ready yet so we dropped off our bags and made a quick dash to the synagogue. It closes early on Friday for the Sabbath so this was our best chance to see it. We only got a little lost once but actually made it there for the 11:00 tour. It's a magnificent Moorish structure- worth seeing for sure. Afterwards, jet lag hit us hard so we found a cute sidewalk cafe where we sat for an hour, drinking caffeine in various forms and eating a small lunch. We felt rejuvenated enough afterwards to go check out the Duomo, which looks amazing. We'll be seeing it on Sunday with our tour group but for now, we have an incredible view of it from our hotel room. Now it's nap time! Gonna take a few hours to relax before heading out for dinner and strolling the streets of Florence. We don't meet up with our Rick Steves' tour group until tomorrow at 3:00 so we have a chance to really ease into the trip and adjust to the time change. I think it was a great decision to arrive a day early. | 1st Blog Entry- First stop Florence
4: FLORENCE We arrived a day early to acclimate to the time difference and make sure that we didn't miss a second of our tour!
5: The synagogue was built between 1874 and 1882. The design integrated the architectural traditions of the Islamic and Italian worlds. It survived the Holocaust because the Nazis used it as a garage.
6: Before meeting up with our tour group in the afternoon, we had a few more hours on our own. We decided to check out the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens.
7: The Pitti Palace, is a vast, mainly Renaissance palace, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio. The core of the present palazzo dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti. It was later bought by the Medici family and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, are some of the first and most familiar formal 16th century Italian gardens. What fabulous views of Florence from here!!
8: The street corner signs and decorations definitely let you know that this is a Catholic country! | My favorite, by Clet Abraham- the crucified Christ indicating a dead-end street.
9: Finally, it was time to meet our guide and fellow traveling companions. Our guide, Ferdi Menghi, ran a tight ship but it was smooth sailing and an awesome ride the whole way! I was excited to meet the 21 other tour members! We ranged in age from 13 to 70 and were as diverse a group of people you could ever imagine. Every political, religious, and sexual orientation was represented. The only thing we all had in common was a desire for adventure and fun. Not once in 9 days together did I ever hear a complaint or harsh word from anyone. As a group, we then took a 2 block walk to the Accademia to see "The David", Michelangelo's masterpiece, followed by a feast, the first of many fabulous dinners together.
10: Today, the group toured the magnificent Uffizi Gallery, the Church of Santa Maria Novella, and a 600-year-old pharmacy started by Florentine monks that is now a trendy global marketer of perfumes and medieval elixirs.
12: It was time to leave Florence and head to the Cinque Terre, but first a surprise! It was a beautiful day and we'd pass near to Pisa, so Ferdi annouced a 2 hour lunch stopover there. How cool is that?
14: Ahhh, the Cinque Terre- two days of heaven! We hiked, rode the ferry, and took the train between the five beautiful towns that make up this area. Of course we ate pretty well too! Dinner one night was an incredible seafood stew and the other night, we had a pesto making demonstration followed by a white lasagna with pesto sauce, fresh fish, and tiramisu.
16: On the way to Volterra in Tuscany, we stopped in Lucca,famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls. The bus ride gave Ferdi a chance to give us an Italian language lesson.
17: In addition to it's walls, Lucca is known for it's easily defended tower houses, built in the 11th & 12th centuries, and a chickpea pizza called cecina.
18: Next on the itinerary was Volterra, a walled hill town in Tuscany with medieval and Renaissance buildings, a 1st Century Roman theater, and Etruscan sites. We had a wine tasting lesson, visited an alabaster workshop, and had some of the best food on our trip in this gem of a town!
20: Last on the itinerary, but not least, definitely not least, was Rome. The sites are unbelievable- the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Vatican were amazing and indescribable.
23: And did I mention the food, the wine, the coffee, the gelato.... Good thing we walked a lot or we wouldn't have fit in our clothes by the end of the trip!
24: The Vatican
25: The Pieta (1498–1499), a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo
26: Barbara & Darryl, Michelle & Robert | Robert & Steven, and the Ryan's-Cheryl, Scott, Meghan & Michelle
27: Marcos & Bill, Carla & Kate, & Nancy | The McCleary's- M.K., Roger, Andrew, Lauren, Ryan & Rachel
28: Our last night together was a blast. Music, dancing, feasting, and unfortunately, saying our goodbyes. We'll probably take another Rick Steves' tour someday- maybe next summer! Wonder where we should go? We've pretty much exhausted the countries that start with "I".
29: Luckily, we had one more day in Rome before flying home. We visited the Great Synagogue, Jewish Museum, the Jewish Ghetto and the Church of St. Peter in Chains to see Michaelangelo's "Moses".
30: In the 16th century, when Pope Paul IV forced the Jews to reside within a walled ghetto, the center of its four-square-block area was this synagogue. When Italy became unified in 1870, the ghetto was essentially demolished. The Jews were initially offered better real estate for their synagogue, but chose instead to rebuild on the original site by the frequently flooded Tiber River. This new "Synagogue of Emancipation" was built in a remarkable three years and was completed 1904. This is where Pope John Paul II made his historic visit in 1986.
31: The Moses (c. 1513–1515) a sculpture by Michelangelo is housed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli. Commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb, it depicts the Biblical figure Moses with horns on his head, One of the biblical translations of "rays of light" became "horns" in Italian, and this mistranslation led to Moses being commonly portrayed with horns.
32: After 11 days in Italy, it was time to pack up and head home. During the long flight, we reflected on our incredible trip. Our initial fears of being too old and too achy to keep up with our the group never materialized. There was always an opportunity for a brief rest and, with all of the walking and stair climbing, our legs actually got stronger each day. Every hotel was perfectly located, providing lovely breakfasts, air-conditioning, elevators, wireless in the rooms, and nice, private bathrooms. We'd stay in each one of them again. | Finally, we loved the combination of organized tour time and free time, having dinner together as a group at least half of the time, and especially, the composition of our group. Of the 23 of us, 8 were between the ages of 13 and 22. Honestly, each and every one of them was a joy to be with. They were considerate, polite, and added an extra dimension of fun to all of our activities. Thanks guys!!!!