The villa we stayed at in Italy was amazing. Our family took up an entire section with a big kitchen and dining room. We also had a volleyball net, ping-pong table, and pool (which came in very handy since there was a heat wave). For our first full day in Italy we went to one of my favorite places in the entire world: Florence. Our first stop was the covered market where I got my favorite cheese in the whole world, some beautiful fresh fruit and a loaf of bread. The rest of the party can’t live on bread and cheese for days somehow, so they got fresh pasta (OK, I shared with them a little). I’ve been to Florence a handful of times before and it was so cool to be there again with my favorite people. I even remembered a bit about how to navigate the city! After pausing to admire the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) in the Piazza del Duomo, we wandered by the Basilica di Santa Croce (another spectacular church), the Piazza della Signoria (the original site of Michelangelo’s David and home to numerous other historically significant sculptures), and then to the Ponte Vecchio. Then I convinced my family to go to the Medici Chapel, one of the creepiest places I know of. It’s also way underrated so it doesn’t get nearly as busy as the rest of the city.
The next day we were all meant to go to Florence for a cooking class, which as it turned out was scheduled for the day before. Luckily we’re a quick thinking group and re-planned our day. This required us to buy fifteen (the total number of people in our group) Florence museum passes. Once that was sorted we all went to the Uffizi Gallery, and then to the Florence Baptistery. Unfortunately a cardinal had died a day or two before so the only part of the Florence Cathedral that was open was the Campanile (bell tower), so we walked up the 400+ stairs to the top. Of course the view was gorgeous. From there we walked to the Galleria dell’Accademiea to see Michelangelo’s David, which is one of those things that is more amazing to see in person than you could’ve imagined.
Wednesday was probably my favorite day of the entire trip. We drove to Siena, a walled city about ninety minutes away. Although parking was a bit stressful, we all managed to find spots. After a picnic lunch we walked into town with gelato on our minds. We were able to find a good gelateria in the Piazza del Campo, then walked on to the Siena Cathedral. After Siena, we drove to a couple of wineries as we made our way back to the villa. The first was at an old castle. The second was much smaller and more laid back. A wine tasting came with seven wines, and since we were such a big group the owner recommended that we just buy the seven bottles of wine, you know, to save money. After the best wine tasting ever, a few of us stopped at the grocery store to pick up dinner supplies for the traditional cousins dinner (where all of us from the younger generation make dinner). Over the years we’ve really perfected our teamwork and managed to put together a seriously delicious meal.
Michael and I flew out of Rome on Thursday night, so we decided to spend that day exploring Rome. We saw the Spanish Steps (which were undergoing some kind of construction/restoration so we couldn’t actually step on them), the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Navona, the Capital Building, and, of course, the Colosseum. We also randomly wandered into a church the Basilica of Sant Andrea della Valle. From the outside, I never would have looked at it twice with all the other amazing buildings around, but the inside was magnificent. All too soon the day was over and we were at the airport. Even though our first flight was just under three hours long, we were served dinner and the most delicious Turkish delight (on Turkish Airlines). We had a layover in Istanbul, then on to Hong Kong. We were really lucky with this because just ten hours later the Istanbul airport was closed because of the attempted coup. After another eleven-hour flight, we were home in Auckland on Saturday morning. We spent that day trying not to sleep, then woke up early the next morning anyway so we went to Denny’s for breakfast.
On Sunday I had my first class at the new studio I’m teaching at, and Michael started volunteering for the New Zealand International Film Festival.