Sept 3rd We flew Delta from JFK to Pisa. The flight arrived over an hour early, and Pisa was about the easiest, and most efficient, airport we have flown to from the US. We cleared customs, collected our luggage, and were on our way in a rental car in less than 30 minutes.
Sept 4th We decided to start our time in Tuscany in San Gimignana. This location is less hectic than Siena, or other larger cities, but very convenient to them. We arrived at our hotel at about 3:00 PM and promptly took a nap and then had dinner at a restaurant within easy walking distance.
Sept 5th The hotel we stayed at is actually in Castel S. Gimignano, about a 10 minute drive from the walled city famous for its 14 towers which can be seen from the surrounding countryside. We got an early start and arrived before most of the other tourists and had a pleasant morning in San Gimignano. We drove to the coast in the afternoon, but it was difficult to get close to the water. On the way we drove through several of the famous Tuscany Hilltop Villages.
Sept 6th We got an early start on Sunday, and this time headed for Siena. The Cathedral in the city is truly magnificent, but in general we thought that S. Gimignano and some of the other smaller villages were more fun to explore. We did not find the terrain in this part of Tuscany very scenic, but it was late in the season and not much was in bloom - spring might have been a better time to visit in this regard. Much of the area appeared to be very arid and many of the fields had been plowed under. We could not have asked for nicer weather - blue skies and daytime temperatures in the low 80's.
Sept 7th Our next destination was the Villa Le Marchere north of Florence in the Mugello region of Tuscany for three nights. After checking in we drove to the quaint mountain village of Firenzuola, where we enjoyed visiting the town square, and I had lots of photo opportunities. We found this area of Tuscany to be more of what we had expected.
Sept 8th We enjoyed a leisurely day of driving through the countryside to the villages of Palazzuolo sul Senio and Marradi. The roads are windy and mountainous, but very easily driven with not much traffic. The villages are quaint and remote. We had a difficulty finding a restaurant that was open for lunch.
Sept 9th Our destination was the nearby village of Viccho which was very picturesque and great for photography.
Sept 10th We drove to Venice were we stayed for several days prior to a two week cruise on the Seabourn Spirit. I have added several photos to my Venice Gallery. We love the place!
Sept 26th Upon concluding of our cruise we picked up a rental car and drove to Varenna on the shores of Lake Como.
Sept 26th to 29th We stayed in Varrena which is in the "mid lake" region within an easy ferry boat ride to the other cities bordering the lake. On our first full day we bought a day pass for the mid lake ferry and visited places that we have always heard about, the most famous being Bellagio. On the following day we took the "slow" ferry to the city of Como and after lunch returned to Varenna on the slow ferry. Hydrofoils are about an hour faster each way, but we wanted to sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of the area.
To give you an idea of the affluence of the area, we had heard much about the fabulous villa the actor George Clooney owns on the lake. Well, we missed seeing it on the way to Como. After consulting with the boat captain on the return trip we did pick it out - but it was not particularly impressive compared to all the other incredible villas bordering the lake front.
We both felt that the physical beauty of Lake Como far exceeded our expectations and I have lots of photos to make the point. We were also pleased with our choice to stay in Varenna at the Hotel du Lac and have no reservations recommending it as a convenient location. Varenna has a wonderful walkway to the ferries and restaurants right along the lake front and is much more relaxed than the better known Bellagio. Como was not particularly exciting. We saw the famous (and extremely expensive) Villa d'Este which is often rated as the best hotel in the world. See my photo of the hotel and decide for yourself. I'm sure the service is outstanding, but it would not be our choice.
Sept 29th to Oct 3rd Our next and last destination was the walled city of Lucca, Italy, about a 20 minute drive from the more famous Pisa and its Leaning Tower.
After all of the incredible places we have been during the past month, Lucca was a bit of a disappointment. It is a walled city with lots of good restaurants and good shops, but it lacks in physical beauty of the Dalmatian Coast and the Mediterranean Coast of Italy. It was, however a good place for us to unwind and prepare for our flight back home. Lucca is the home of Puccini and our first night we happened upon a free concert in one of the squares honoring him and his music.
Our visit to the "Campo dei Miracoli" (Field of Miracles) and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the other hand, exceeded our expectations and we are glad we took the time to visit this famous monument. In fact, the Leaning Tower was so impressive Robi got another chance to escape my back pack for a photo - his third in Italy.
We drove along the coast to the north of Pisa on Friday and were surprised to find a beautiful beach and many hotels and restaurants along the way. We drove as far as La Spezia which is just to the south of the Cinque Terre which has become a very highly rated tourist attraction in Italy.