Because we were spending 6 days in Florence we decided to try some tours. I recommend that you research/reserve your tours ahead of time to make sure you get to do what you want and on the days you want. We didn't know what we wanted to do, but we found a brochure at our hotel that advertised "Walking Tours of Florence." They had some celebrity recommendations (Michael Palin said it was great, and who am I to doubt the genius that is Monty Python). They had an office in Florence so we decided to show up early the next morning and see what we could get. Unfortunately, we showed up an hour early because we forgot about Daylight Savings Time. We weren't the only ones; a group of art students studying in Rome did too. It would turn out later that they were on exchange from Iowa State University and most of them were actually from Minnesota. "I'm from White Bear Lake!" "I'm from Minnetonka!" Go figure.
The one tour we wanted to do was full so we joined the girls and another couple from London on a tour called, "A perfect morning in Tuscany." Our guide was Stefan, who was from Germany, and an incredibly fun, smart, and entertaining guide. I highly recommend to book a tour with this outfit. We started by taking a bus up to Fiesole and then finished hiking up a mountain (more like a giantic hill than mountain) and got some incredible views of Florence. This area was kind of like the Beverly Hills of Florence, the rich live up on the hills, and when you get up there you can see why. It helped that we had perfect sunny warm weather and some of the leaves were at the peak of fall colors so it was quite something. I could understand why many people around the world dream about living in this area.
We walked about an hour and Stefan pointed out the top of the hill where Da Vinci supposedly tested out his flying machines. Stefan said that Da Vinci was smart enough to have other people test them and he would observe the results. Good Thinking, Da Vinci. Then we passed an area that was an old marble quarry, and said this was the area where Michelangelo grew up before he was adopted into the Medici family. I never realized that all Michelangelo's sculptures and paintings depict severely muscled bound, brawny men with bulging thighs and biceps. Stefan said it was probably due to the fact the young Michelangelo grew up around men who were quarry workers and back in the day you had to be quite a he-man to do the job. It also was implied that Michelangelo, how do you say, probably "batted for the other team." He never married, nor was he even interested in women, and the few women he did sculpt stayed quite mannish looking. Michelangelo surrounded himself with and was obsessed with men and the male form. So that was interesting and makes sense when you look at his artwork. We eventually made our way down to a villa, the same one they filmed "Room with a View" at and we took a little tour. I was the only one in our group who saw the movie, and I did because I knew it was set in Florence. Needless to say I knew all the trivia about George Emerson and Lucy Honeychurch cavorting around the Italian countryside.
After the villa we walked down the road to an "agritourismo". I'm sure I spelled that wrong. I was like an inn, they had rooms, and a restaurant, and it was also a place that produced olive oil. We learned a lot about olive oil; such as, it can only be called "extra-virgin" if it has less than 1% acidity. People with small groves would bring their olives in to be pressed after harvest. Harvesting olives is a time-consuming and delicate process, and it's all done by hand, because machines could damage the trees and/or kill them.
Matt tried to eat an olive off the tree and spit it out. "Terrible! Yuck!" He was practically gagging. I didn't try it; took his word for it. So I don't understand how they could figure out to make delicious oil out of it.
By this time another group had joined us and we were ready for lunch. Oh boy, the lunch. This was the highlight. They kept bringing out food! There were bottles of wine on the table and pretty soon they were gone. I was sad because it had been good wine. But then more bottles came out! More food! More bottles! Everyone was glowing with happiness; and probably intoxication.
The moral of the story here? You don't have to die to go to heaven, you just have to go to Italy.
We concluded our tour by walking back down the hill to Florence. It was late afternoon and everything had that wonderful autumn gold look. I can see why people come to Florence to paint; the light is different here, it is hard to describe it and it sounds like a dumb cliche but it is still true. I tried to take as many pictures as I could but of course that day was when our battery died so we don't have pictures of that walk down the hill. We took so many pictures and videos that we filled up our memory card with 5 days still left on our vacation, so we had to delete stuff. The Best Buy salesman assured us that it would be impossible to fill it up... Lies!
The next edition will be about our trip to the winery and include all kinds of nerdy wine info about Chiantis and SuperTuscans for all the wine geeks.