Where am I again? - Actually I know that right now I'm in the Cinque Terre. It's an absolutely beautiful area.
Let's catch up to what I had put in last and work backward to today. In Florence we went to see the Bargello - a museum full of sculpture. The top floor also had ceramics and some "guys" exhibits - armor, crossbows, swords, etc. That museum was lovely. We got there early (around 9:30) so there was no crowd. I then went back to the hotel to meet Tonya (our tourguide) so we could go shopping for leathergoods. We went to the main marketplace (I'll fill in the proper name later). It was like a big flea market, except with moderate quality goods. The vendors carts sometimes acted as a teaser for what was actually in their stores. Tonya had bought a leather coat the last time she was in Florence, so she took me back to see the same person that had sold her hers. His name was Abed (he was kinda cute too).
Abed took us upstairs where I tried on 3 or 4 different styles (lapels/no lapels/mandarin collar/regular collar, etc). They didn't have the style I wanted in my size, so he said I should come back later in the evening. He called the person who makes the coats, and she could have it ready by 7:00. We agreed to come back then. Then Tonya and I went shopping thru the market for stuff for her friends and family.
We then went into the main produce market. We ordered a boiled beef sandwich there. It was wonderful - boiled beef on a wonderful roll (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside). The sandwich was dipped in a broth and had some crushed red pepper on it. Deliciosa! She had to go back for something, so I wandered through the market looking at things.
Downstairs was a meat market. No, really... there was every kind of meat you can imagine (veal, beef, pork, chicken, squab, duck, etc.). Much of it was stuff that you would never normally see in the supermarket at home - tripe, whole pig heads, fowl with the feet still on, etc. I wish I had gotten a pictured downstairs, but I got turned around and couldn't get back to the place that had the coolest meats. There were also vendors with cheeses and lots of cool stuff. Upstairs were the fruits and vegetables. It smelled wonderful. I bought some dried fruits and nuts to snack on later.
From there I walked back to the Uffizi gallery where we had an appointment to go in as a group. That is probably my 2nd favorite museum (next to the one in Paris - not the Louvre). We saw so much great art. And our guide gave us "whisper systems" (little things you wear around your neck with a speaker for your ear), so she was able to tell us more about the stuff we were looking at - it brought everything to life. It was really really cool to see the Botticellis and the Leonardo and lots of other cool stuff. (I am still tired from the last trip of religious art, but at least the renaisance art is a bit more interesting and fun).
From there we went back to the place for my coat. It fits wonderfully (it's black, zips up the front, hip length, has a little collar and simple slash pockets). Now I just need to wear it to a nice dinner/dancing in San Francisco when I get home (hint to the universe).
Ran straight from there to dinner on the other side of town. (I've been getting more exersize...) Had a wonderful dinner with other members of the tour. We had to try to local specialty - bistecca fiorentina (beefsteak Florentine). They serve it to you in HUGE cuts off the bone. They char it over a very hot fire so the outside is cooked, but the inside is rare, and they serve it with lemons. Heaven! The group also shared salmon carpaccio, risotto, gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, and a lovely wine. From the restaurant we walked back out to Piazza Signori (under the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi) and had gelato and a passegiata (stroll around the square and through the streets) for dessert.
Just to reiterate - Florence is my favorite place I've been to so far. If you don't stay near the train station and stay near the city center, everything is completely walkable. But I have to say that I have much more respect now for what Terry and I saw 2 years ago - we walked EVERYWHERE. I had seen much more of the town than any of the folks on the tour got to see.
From Florence we went to Pisa. We saw the leaning tower. (Apparently we could have climbed it - it's open again after some repairs to keep the tower from falling over. While I've been doing a lot of stair climbing, I didn't think I was ready for that...) That was actually pretty cool. And in the Campo dei Miracoli we also saw the duomo there. From the last tour I was pretty burnt out on cathedrals, but since we had some time to kill I actually went into this one (I think it's the first one I went into on this trip). It was actually quite beautiful. Not as dark and scary as some of the other ones, and it had beautiful frescos all over the church. I may have also liked this one more because someone played the pipe organ for a couple of minutes. That really brought the place alive to me.
We then went into Levanto. From Levanto we caught the train into the little Cinque Terre town I'm staying in - Monterosso al Mare. Cinque Terre is 5 little towns perched on the hills above the Ligurean (sp?) sea. We had dinner in town last night. The owner (or maybe the mom of the owner) of the 2 hotels our group stayed in gave us a demonstration of how to make homemade pesto (with a mortar/pestle, not a food processor). Then we had the BEST pesto lasagna - made with a bechamel sauce and a dollop of fresh pesto over the top - it was amazing. For dessert we had a wonderful dessert wine (schiachetra - when you say it it sounds a little bit like Chaka Khan, so we were singing that all night). I wish I'd had more, but as it is it feels like all we do on this trip is eat and drink! The food and wines we've had have been a great sampling of all the regional cooking, and make me want to get in the kitchen and try to recreate some of this stuff.
Today was wonderful. Got up late (relatively speaking 8:30) and went down to breakfast in the hotel. Met up with Emily/Angie and we decided to take the ferry to the southernmost town (we're in the northernmost) and from there to hike to the middle town (Corniglia). The ferry to Riomaggiore was fun - the day is beautiful and partly sunny/partly cloudy, but the sea is calm. We got off the ferry and walked up (it's a hillside town) into town and wandered around. Hiked from that town to Manorola (an easy, flat walk above the sea). The area reminded me of home - lots of plant life like at home, and in one particular spot there was a bit that looked like Monterey and 17 Mile Drive (without the actual cars). From there the trail got a bit rougher (but not very steep) up to Corniglia. Then we made the brilliant move of following the advice in the book and taking the bus into the actual town. It was brilliant because otherwise it would have been up over 400 stairs to get to the town. We had lunch in a little outdoor cafe (fresh anchovies for appetizer, insalata misto and trennete al pesto). We hiked down to the train station and caught the train to the next town. There we had gelato. (We seem to need those almost daily... it's strange that Italy has that effect on you - you feel compelled to try EVERY flavor of gelato that you can find.)
Too many things I've been seeing and learning to write about all of them, especially as this is the most uninterupted time I've had at a computer. I'm also way behind on my postcards, so don't be surprised if you either don't get one, or don't get one for a LONG while. I'll write again when/if I can. I hope everyone at home is doing well, and as for me, I couldn't be happier. Now I know what they mean when they talk about la dolce vita (the sweet life).