June 06, 2011

Dinner in Tuscany

It was our second day in Florence on Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy. The morning coffee on tour has been very good. And the coffee machine in the ornate breakfast room at the Boscolo Astoria was designed to dispense any number of variations on the standard cup of java - espresso, latte, cappuccino. It resembled a Las Vegas slot machine with its many lights and buttons.

Ceiling of the Boscolo  Astoria Breakfast Room

The hotel's location was very convenient for shopping. It was only a short walk to both the San Lorenzo Market and the Mercato Centrale. With a full day ahead of us, we started at the Mercato Centrale to buy olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Then we browsed the many stalls of the San Lorenzo Market for leather goods and scarves.

San Lorenzo Market, Florence

We had an 11:15 booking at the Accademia for our visit with Michelangelo's David. The tour guide, booked online through viator.com, did an excellent job of guiding us through the gallery displays. When we entered the alcove where the renowned sculpture resides, David did not disappoint. Though his proportions are distorted, originally designed to be viewed on high and at a distance, he remains a symbol of Renaissance perfection.

We then made the difficult decision to forfeit our afternoon reservation at the Uffizi, where I 'd been looking forward to seeing The Birth of Venus and other Botticelli masterpieces, in favour of joining the rest of our group on the optional excursion into Tuscany (89 euros).

We departed by motorcoach to Pisa, and entered the Field of Miracles where the Baptistery, Cathedral and Leaning Tower awaited us. Our tour guide "Bob" was a natural comedian.

Entrance to the Field of Miracles, Pisa

Baptistery, Pisa

Cathedral, Pisa

Giovanni Pisano's Pulpit, Pisa Cathedral

While showing us around the Cathedral, Bob pointed out the ceiling lamp that Galileo used for his experiments with pendulums. Galileo also conducted experiments on falling objects from the top of Pisa's famous tower.

Lamp of Galileo, Cathedral of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

We then headed into the countryside to Fattoria Il Poggio, where we would tour the working farm and have an authentic Tuscan dinner with the farm's own wine and olive oil.

Fattoria il Poggio

We saw an olive press, and learned about the process for making olive oil.

Olive Press

In the vineyard, new grapes were beginning to appear on the vines.

Vineyard in Tuscany

Young Grapes on the Vine

We were seated at long tables in the farm's cantina for dinner. First, platters of bruschetta, sundried tomatoes and prosciutto appeared, along with olives, bread and olive oil, plus generous quantities of red and white wine.

Wine Kegs


This was followed by a bean soup, pasta, chicken, ribs and roasted potatoes, salad and limoncello. The food was delicious and plentiful, and we were entertained by a singer performing Italian classics like O Sole Mio.

Montecarlo Wine

The party carried on with more music and dancing, and we learned a new toast from our Asian friends: "Yam sing". But eventually the fun had to end, and we boarded the bus for our return to Florence.

Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio

Back at the Boscolo Astoria, a group of us gathered on the hotel rooftop. Unfortunately the terrace was not yet open due to the cool weather, but it offered a spectacular view of the Duomo and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, both illuminated against the black night sky. We looked out over the beautiful city below us and discussed the Renaissance treasures we had seen during our brief time in Florence. While I was sorry to have missed the Uffizi, I was glad that I hadn't missed the fun in Tuscany.

And in the morning we would be boarding our last train for our journey to the Eternal City,  Rome.

Next:  Grand Tour Rome

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