Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Vacation Photos: Italy // The Sights

Now into the latter part of October, it's been a solid month since returning home from our 2 week stay in Italy and life has been just as busy as ever. Upon returning, we shared a roundup of photos from the farmhouse and orchard we called home base — and today we're excited to share a recap of the sights, both big and small from our travels throughout Italy if you care to see...

First up, an obligatory photo from the Richmond airport — we were so ready (and a little astonished) to take 2 solid weeks to spend together. Our layover was through JFK airport, so that smirk you see on my face was excitement to scout out the Shake Shack I know and love from terminal 4. It's the little things.

Upon landing in Rome, we rented a car and drove two and half hours North through Umbria to Assisi, where we called home for the majority of our stay. One of the best tips we picked up from this trip was spending the money to rent a daily mifi. Not only did it allow us to use our own navigation system on our phones, but gave us constant wireless access wherever we were, which helped us avoid roaming charges and generally made us feel more connected/secure while abroad.

< < < < < <  Assisi  > > > > > >

Assisi was the small, historic town located within 10 minutes of the farmhouse and hilltop where we stayed; it's most notably known to the home of Saint Francis (of Assisi). We'd venture down to town for conveniences like groceries or a meal out, but also relished in the rich history, winding stone streets, souvenir shops and artful architecture surrounding us:

"Ruffin" is a family name from my mom's side, so we couldn't help but grab a shot in the Piazza at the front of Cathedral San Rufino. There isn't a familial connection, but for those that know Assisi, it had also been quite the climb to even get there, so this was in part proof we'd hoofed it successfully, ha!

One spot to mention — Ristorante Pizzeria I Monaci. Tim had been on the hunt for a classic Italian pizza while in Italy. We happened upon this spot located about halfway up the town hill in Assisi and ended up going back twice it was so good — there were wood-oven fired pizzas and gnocchi dishes the size of golf balls:

Speaking of food, we also loved the chance to stop in on the local food truck event happening at the foot of the hills in Assisi over the course of a weekend during our stay — from retro trailers to ice cream trucks, they had it all.

We now have a special place in our hearts for Assisi since it's the view we looked out upon during our stay. We ended up purchasing two linocut prints from a local studio that provide a couple different views of the city — we'll look forward to framing these and finding a few nooks in our house to display them as daily reminders.

< < < < < <  Arezzo  > > > > > >

Early during our stay we made a day trip to Arezzo, about a 40 minute drive from where we were based in Umbria. We'd read about a local flea & farmers' market that falls on the first Sunday of each month so we couldn't wait to check it out.

The farmers' market was lined along the streets and bursting with fresh local produce. My favorites were the ready-to-plant trees. In Virginia it's common to see fruit trees for sale, like apples, peaches and pears, but in Arezzo it was olives and pomegranates.

The flea market was fun to walk through, though didn't quite match our expectations of being unique or include any vintage vendors as advertised — but I did leave with a new Italian leather tote so it wasn't a total bust.

< < < < < <  Fonti del Clitunno  > > > > > >

Another smaller excursion was Fonti del Clitunno. Located in Umbria, this small park houses a spring with some of the clearest waters we've ever seen, and legend has it they're known to embody medicinal qualities. We enjoyed the peaceful break, admiring the many swans and discovering curiosities, like fig trees growing horizontally out from the stone walls:

We also took the time to indulge in the gelato at the park convenience shop. We were celebrating my mother's birthday this day, and all enjoyed the excuse to order a double scoop:

< < < < < <  Florence  > > > > > >

Outside of the smaller car outings, we also made a few bigger trips — like taking the train into Florence for the day. Riding the local train was a fun and relaxing way to get a peek at the Italian landscape, watching it change from the rural mountains to the suburban and city areas.

Mom had planned for us to tour the Uffizi Gallery, where paintings from legendary artists are on display. I can't quite describe what it was like seeing the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci under one roof. All artists that were in my group of Art History study back in college, hearing the recounted history and seeing these works in person was surely "a moment" of mine from this trip:

After the tour we enjoyed walking and wandering the streets of Florence, ducking in and out of shops, generally sight-seeing and grabbing a bite to eat while resting our feet:

Two anecdotes:

1. One of my favorite things to do abroad is stop into a local pharmacy and/or grocery store. Something about the familiarity, though foreign product offerings is a rush. Call me weird.
2. For those wondering, the above shot captures what it's like to be married to and dine with a food photographer. Never a dull moment.

OK! In our never-ending quest to uncover a photo-booth, I was beyond thrilled to happen upon this Foto Automatica nestled on the streets of Florence. It made for a truly personalized souvenir from our trip and another strip to add to our growing collection:

Before heading back to the train station, we grabbed a seat outside for a gelato and espresso, taking in the day and reminding ourselves to just be in the moment. Florence was certainly one for the memory books.

< < < < < <  Arnold Caprai Winery  > > > > > >

One of our favorite highlights from the entire trip was the chance to visit Arnold Caprai winery. Several years back Tim first tasted a bottle of red made from this winery's famous Sagrantino grapes at Babbo. Ever since, it's been one of those wines he's looked for and was a must-see destination on the list when we first made plans to visit Italy.

We ended up making a date day out of visiting the winery, which turned out to be about a 40 minute drive from the farmhouse. The entrance was lined in olive trees that overlook vast hills and rows of cultivated grapevines.

We toured the grounds and the production and aging facilities before re-grouping inside to taste the breadth of wine offerings from the vineyard.

During the tasting, we shared the story of how we opened a bottle of Arnold Caprai to serve at our Rehearsal Dinner, which sparked a hilarious conversation with our tasting director and nearby tasters about American wedding traditions. Evidently a Rehearsal Dinner is only an American thing, which was quite curious to everyone else.

After the tasting we purchased a few bottles of red and a couple cans of olive oil to enjoy back home as memories from the day, then walked the vineyard on our own, taking in the picturesque scenery and reminiscing on the fun we've had over the course of the past (12!) years together.

And since it was a date day, we drove up the winding streets into the small nearby town of Montefalco for lunch:

It was here that we learned what a "slow lunch" is, with several courses in between. We weren't familiar with the cadence of the Italian course menu, so just ordered a bunch of things here and there, expecting them to come out together to graze on. We tried traditional foods like eggs with truffles, melted cheese with truffles and handmade pasta (with lots of cheese, but no truffles) — which all came out at different points over the course of about 2 hours.

< < < < < <  Tenuta Castelbuono Winery  > > > > > >

Later in the week we visited another local winery as a full group, Tenuta Castelbuono — home of the "carapace" and other modern sculptures. "Carapace" translates to turtle shell, which the cellar was constructed to resemble. This winery is known for its modern sculptural structure, and was a recommendation from our host as an alternative spot to visit as compared with the more traditional wineries.

The entire vineyard was orchestrated using grafts, which originated from the oldest vines on the property, pictured above. We were able to tour the grounds and facility before returning inside to taste the wines, laughing at how the majority of our pics from the trip would probably involve holding a glass of vino.

This winery had an outdoor seating area overlooking the grapevines and extending land. It was a great place to just take it all in, capture photos and collectively wonder how we'd ever go back to the hustle and bustle back home.

We ended up bring a couple totes of wine back to enjoy during the remainder of our stay. Interestingly, buying directly from the source was consistently more budget-friendly in an already inexpensive wine area.

< < < < < <  Bevagne  > > > > > >

Just outside the Carapace winery was the small town of Bevagne. We dined at a quaint restaurant called La Bottega Di Assu with 3 outdoor tables — indoors was comprised of a mixed book, wine and pottery shop. At this small spot we enjoyed one of the most memorable meals from the trip — a combination of panzanella, pasta with truffle and a potato dish topped with melted brie and wrapped in bacon.

This. potato. dish.

Tim and I are debating on whether or not to try and recreate this at home. It was like nothing we'd ever tried and it fully delivered.

While in Bevagne, we came across two additional favorite spots from the trip — a cookie shop and a local Marcelleria (Italian for butchery). Mom, Vera and I lingered in the cookie shop, bringing home all sorts of confections to sample and savor while Tim ordered up his first slices of traditional porchetta at the butcher shop. The porchetta was sandwiched between two slices of fresh rustic bread just before being dusted with salt. He said if we were staying closer to Bevagne that he'd make the trip for one of these sandwiches every day.

< < < < < <  Rome  > > > > > >
Finally, since we'd be flying out of Rome, we decided to round out the vacation with a day-trip into the city with an overnight as a way to pack in one final destination before traveling back home to Virginia.

While most every monument and must-see (building) is within walking distance in Rome's city center, I was most interested in getting a glimpse of the Trevi Fountain. On our way to the fountain we meandered through the cobbled streets, looking up at the historic architecture and ducking in and out of the small speciality and souvenir shops — trying to soak every last ounce in.

To say that the city of Rome is packed with tourists is an understatement. To say it is beautiful and totally worth tolerating the crowds is also fair. In my head, the Trevi Fountain would be an open, airy water-filled historic sight — the stuff from myths and paintings. In reality, it was completely drained, surrounded by a scuffed up plastic barrier wall with a large LCD monitor screening images of what it looks like when not under maintenance — all to the tune of elbow to elbow crowds with cameras, smartphones and selfie sticks. I released a single sigh of disenchantment before realizing the humor in the situation, then just as eagerly snapped our own photo of the Trevi Fountain in all of it's "authentically-under-maintenance" glory.

Mom pulled one of the remaining coins we had from her pocket and told us to make a wish. Tim and I immediately agreed on a silent wish before tossing the coin over the PVC wall into the empty fountain, happy as ever. By the way, the wish came true.

To close out our day in Rome we took a seat along one of the tourist-lined streets to sip a final glass of wine and munch on a variety of antipasto eats while watching the hustle and bustle of the city pass us by.

From there, we spent the night in a Hilton with red halls and prepared for what would be the long 11 hour flight via Atlanta to Richmond the next day.

Eager for smooth travel and the comforts of home, but bittersweet for the end such an incredible trip — we've found ourselves hunkering back into our regular routine since being back over the past few weeks and re-inspired from our trip abroad. As always, we thank you for taking the time to check in on us and share in the photos and personal memories from our most recent adventure.

We'd love to know — have you been to Italy? Which were your favorite spots, eats and memories? Anything we need to add to the list for next time — because there will definitely be a next time!

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  1. I haven't done any travelling, yet! But Italy looks amazing!

    1. Thanks Cole for the kind words and for taking a look!

      Best, Tim and Mary

  2. Love it! I miss that country and all it's food heaven-ness. It looks and reads like it was an amazing trip for you guys. Maybe a fishing trip to Alaska is next? :)