La Dolce Vita: Wineries and San Gimignano

Thursday morning we had the free wine tour that came with booking our house on AirBnB. Truthfully I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. I was tired from traveling the day before, and since we were taking the kids I had doubts on how much I’d enjoy a tasting while entertaining them. To my surprise, we had the BEST morning at Villa Calcinaia with Vincenzo, our trusty tour guide/property manager/fixer. I say fixer because anytime we texted Vincenzo during our stay, he did more than just give us a basic reply, he would send multiple texts to ensure our questions were answered. When we asked him if we could buy diapers at the Coop, he first texted yes, then texted the location in the store, and then sent a picture of the diapers in the store, just in case. Can’t beat that level of service!

We met at 10:30 and enjoyed learning more about the history of the winery and a tour of the grounds. According to Vincenzo they have been making wine there for over 30 generations and we learned that the main house even held American soldiers at some point during WWII. I also thought it was awesome that they had a few random soccer balls in the main yard which kept the kids busy. It was cool to see our rental house, and the others they maintain, from the estate. When it was time to head inside, rather than taking the main entrance, he let Abby knock and enter through the old wooden door so she could fulfill some more princess dreams.

Inside, after learning a bit more about the aging and bottling process, it was time for our tasting. Wow. I can’t say enough about the wines he shared with us, or the fantastic spread of their own olive oil and local cheese and meats from Fornica. I won’t say how many glasses I “tasted” but when he asked if we wanted to buy a case to ship home I responded a bit too enthusiastically. JR was left to shake his head and contemplate our credit card balance while I selected which bottles we just had to have. Since we were uncertain if the bottles could be shipped to Georgia, we had the case shipped to my mom’s in Orrville to be included in our next consumables shipment (which we are now counting down the days until it arrives!)

Not content with just one stop, we dropped the kids and grandparents back at the house and then went into town to check out Enoteca Falorni. Reviews said this place was underneath the Coop grocery store and you could sample over 100 wines. What’s so interesting is that they had it set up as a completely self service wine tasting. Wines were organized together by type around the huge room, and placed in these automatic dispensers. You gave the cashier your credit card and she handed you a card back that you placed inside the dispenser, then you pick your wine, then you pick your size – a tasting, half a glass, or full glass. It automatically puts that amount on your card, and you return to do it all over again after you finish your first selection. Genius! While convenient and new-fangled, it lacked the personal service touch we’d received at every other stop during our trip.

Friday morning we drove to San Gimignano. It was about an hour, which was pretty much the max amount of time I was willing to travel with the kids during the trip. While we loved our trip to Scotland last year, we spent a lot of time on the road and I didn’t want to repeat that. San Gimignano is another “must-see” for its city walls, medieval towers and churches. We had a lovely afternoon exploring the town, chasing the kids around, and yes, more fantastic gelato.

  

That night JR and I enjoyed our last date night in Greve, first stopping at Santa Margherita winery for a tasting. We had the best server, Isaac, who picked perfect samples for each of us. It turns out Isaac is from Michigan but married an Italian girl and ended up in Tuscany. The appetizer he brought out was way too crazy for me – dried squid ink with an anchovy on top and then a dollop of cream of pea sauce, no thanks! I was worried about weight and how much we were allowed to pack in our suitcases so we only purchased two bottles, but there were several kinds I wanted. We had reservations at Gallo Nero for dinner where I ate the best steak of my life. It was so good. JR ordered tortellini which he said was perfectly fine, but he gave me sad puppy dog eyes every time I took a bite of my amazing steak.

Saturday was our last full day in Italy. I can’t remember what did that morning. After lunch, my mom stayed with the kids while we returned to two previous spots so JR could enjoy them –  Castello Verrazanno and Vicchio Maggio. We even convinced JR’s dad to take a sip of wine!

It only made sense to have our final meal at La Cantina back in Greve. It was bitter sweet – we were all ready to go home and return to normal routines, but you also never want a vacation to end.

I don’t want to do a whole separate post about our travel home, so just a couple quick things. The Florence Airport is the actual WORST. It’s very tiny, which okay, whatever, we knew that going in, so we ate before passing through security at the only real restaurant available. We had over 3 hours to wait, far too long for an airport of this size, but we would have paid a hefty fee to turn in our rental car late so we tried to make due. My biggest complaint is the complete lack of facilities for changing diapers. No where, in the entire airport, do they have either a changing table or a bathroom counter with space to change a baby. COME ON MAN. I was so heated about the whole thing that I wanted to change William’s dirty diaper in front of everyone, but I realized that wouldn’t really address the problem. What I need to do is write a strongly worded letter to their management, have it translated into Italian, and take the time to follow up. It’s not going to happen so I’ll just vent here instead.

The flight to Munich was a breeze, and we find Munich to be very manageable because there are plenty of food options and multiple play spaces. Munich is less maneagable when the airline forgets/misplaces, for the UMPTEENTH time, your gate-checked stroller. Apparently this happens regularly (and not only to us!) so the Lufthansa rep directed us to a service area where they had a loaner stroller we could use during the layover. Good to know for when that inevitably happens again.

We’ve been home for a few weeks now and jumped right back into work, school events and endless discussions with friends about children’s sleep patterns and attitude issues. Not quite as fun as Italy, but close.

Finally, a few of my very favorite pictures from this amazing trip.

 

 

La Dolce Vita

Alternate title: 10 days of wine and gelato.

We just returned from a pretty amazing trip to Italy. JR’s Dad visited us in Tbilisi for 5 days beforehand, and we enjoyed showing him our favorite spots around town. JR also took him on an overnight trip to Kazbegi and a quick trip to Gori.

For the full Tbilisi experience, he had the pleasure of a 2:45 am airport pick up with us. A giant 16-person mini bus picked us up (the only available vehicle that could accommodate us and all of our stuff) and dropped us at the airport. As we shuffled to the Lufthansa check-in, I realized we were missing one car seat. JR quickly called the driver, who kindly returned to the airport to drop it off. Major crisis narrowly averted.

Our flight to Munich was uneventful. We were scheduled to have a layover of just under 5 hours, but it turned into more than 6. That’s a little long for my taste. I went back and forth over which stroller to take on this trip and even though my Britax B Agile Double is like a best friend to me, I was worried about trunk space and narrow Italian streets, so we took our City Mini Single GT. We still wanted William to be in his car seat on the flight, and it’s a giant beast of a seat so we borrowed our friend’s car seat cart for the airport transits. This thing is amazing! It was very easy to wheel around, even with Abby riding in it.  Best of all, she fell asleep in it for HOURS at the airport. We propped her up at an angle near the gate and let her sleep. Since we don’t take a car seat on the plane for her anymore, we checked her car seat in this great new travel bag I bought (I actually also just bought her a new car seat all together. I’m really keeping this industry in business – and JR displeased.) Highly recommend both of those items if you travel frequently!

 

My mom met us in Munich which was a surprise for Abby. We loved the new play area near Gate K9, it was perfect for both kids and had seating for adults. After getting as much energy out as we could, it was finally time to board the flight to Florence. It was delightfully short, and the airport is super tiny so we were on our way to our rental car in no time. My mom stayed back at the airport to wait for my sister to arrive and that’s when things started to derail.

JR’s Dad stayed with the kids while we picked up our car and tried to install both car seats. Car seat installation is the bane of my existence. Once that travesty ended, I drew the short stick and got to sit in the middle seat between the two car seats. Sit is not entirely accurate, as I was more wedged in between them and couldn’t put my shoulders back. Oh well, it was only going to be a 45 minute drive to our rental. Or so we thought.

Neither of us had a data plan for Italy, so we were relying completely on my Google Maps print out. Mistake! All it took was one missed exit and we were totally off track. It was super difficult to turn around and make our way back to the original mistake, so we kept getting further and further mixed up. That’s when Abby started complaining about her stomach, and did I mention William had already been crying the whole time? The kids were hungry and cranky. I thought William might have needed a diaper change, so JR pulled off on a side road and literally changed him on the hood of the car. #parentsoftheyear

After TWO HOURS of driving, we finally arrived at our rental in Greve in Chianti. It was a little more rustic than I expected, although to be fair the pictures we saw were accurate. It was also super super cold outside the day, and possibly colder inside this house. And I saw death traps everywhere for the kids. I rushed JR and his dad back out the door to find the closest grocery store so we could make dinner. And then I was alone with two hungry, cranky kids for the longest 45 minutes ever.

Eventually they came back, my mom and my sister arrived in their own rental car, and we all sat down for dinner and a glass of wine. We toasted to our arrival and the excitement of being together in Italy, and all was well.

To be continued.