Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Our trip to Northern Tuscany

Well I haven't had much to say lately as there has been way too much going on for me to put it out here haha. But I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted us to get away for my birthday. It was perfect timing. The husband had a weekend off and would be going from days to nights so it gave us an extra 12 hours. I did tons of research and found lots of places but only a few I was willing to drop the money on. I can justify say Venice in Peak tourist season when I saw the difference in prices between Peek and off season. And Venice was my first choice. I lucked up and found a house that had a special for 30% off on bookings in July as they had had a cancellation. So I shot off an email inquiring about the house. It was available for the dates we were looking for and would be a total of less than $210 for 4 nights and that is Dollars not Euros! I snatched it up and told the hubs we were going. Did a little research of that part of Tuscany. And off we went.... with a few snags of course, it isn't the Navy life without something going wrong ha!

Thursday night the hubs gets home from work and off we go on what is supposed to be just under a 6 hour drive. GPS's can be your friend and they can be your enemy, Lola was our enemy that day. She took us into some town just north east of the Support Site. After adding 8 hours to our trip time we found our way out, no thanks to her. Finally on the A1 we were up to 6.5 hours of drive time. So instead of arriving just after 1am we are up to 130. We had about 500KM to go on the A1 so we were set. We stopped for gas twice since the Gas coupons are only good for AGIP and ESSO, not all take them, so we figured we were best getting it on the main highway. We learned that we have no clue what the speed limit is on the A1. Here around Naples it is posted to be 100. But the further North you go the less signs you see. At a couple of places we found out that there are speed cameras and they are set for different speeds. One is set for 130 and the other is at 110. And these 2 cameras are about 10sec apart if you are running 110. Still scratching my head on that one. The only reason I know it is at least 110 further north is because we hit construction and it said to slow down to 110 lol. So if you have driven the A1 often and know the real speed can you fill me in? I would really like to know.

Any way back to the trip, we paid our tolls and headed for the mountains. Following Lola again, wrong move, we should have followed the google map directions we printed off. She took us up a mountain and into a little town that only had alley ways like those of downtown Naples. We follow her directions and come to the end of the Alley way to find out we can't go any further. Thankfully we are in our "Naples Beater" and not the van, as it would have never made it down the alley let alone made the 20 point turn at 2am. We have no clue why we wound up in that little town as it wasn't the town we were staying in. So back down the mountain we go and I try to figure out where we are and where we need to go by the google directions, pretty hard when they take you in different directions lol. Along the way we almost hit a boar and porcupine (never seen one of those in the wild before). But we figured it out and wound up in the car park for Casabasciana at exactly 3am. We all jumped as the car stops and the husbands alarm on his cell phone goes off to tell him it is time to get up on a "working" day. Now we had to find the house. That was fun in the dark lol. We got everything inside and assigned beds to the kids and dog. We slepted until 1030. Got up and ready and headed out around noon. The google directions didn't print the names of the places I had researched so I just picked on and said I have no clue what we are going to see but we are going to see something. Off we went down the mountain, around more mountains and we wound up at Grotto Del Vento, The Wind Cave. It is a a beautiful system of caves and grottoes that wind underneath the Pania Secca. We took the one hour tour as we weren't sure if we would really enjoy it and with the language barrier, didn't really know the difference between the 1 hour, 2 hour and 3 hour tours other than you went deeper into the cave the longer the tour. It was pretty cool and the kids had fun. I do have pics but I haven't gotten to those yet. Sommer picked out a teal mineral rock and Codey picked out some sort of green rock as their souvenirs. Austin decided he would wait and see if he found something later. From there we headed back down to a little town that we had seen on the way up, got a few pictures of a little bridge and dam/waterfall. Heading back towards our house we stopped at another bridge. The name is not coming to me at the moment but I will post it when I get to those pictures. After walking around there for a bit, we try to find Devils Bridge, Lola can't find it. So we decide to head back and find some where to eat. We were in between opening times for most places, so we decided to try Villa Aurora, it was close to Casabasciana up in the mountains. We stood at the chalk board menu for a few minutes trying to figure out what it said with our Italian dictionary. That was interesting to say the least. We did figure out that there was trout of some sort, wild boar and some sort of kebab. We were seated outside on the patio, perfect weather. Luckily Aurora spoke a little bit of English and we speak a little bit of Italian, between the 2 we could get our points across. And the Menu was translated into vague English. Here we had our first real Italian meal since getting to Italy. We have had Italian food but never the full courses. We each ordered our pastas which were very good. I ordered the Large prawns, the hubs got the trout (head and all :D) Sommer ordered steak, Austin ordered a lemon pork lion and Codey ordered pork shops for our meats. We all had gelato for dessert, mine with fruits, hubs with a shot of Cafe, Codey and Sommer ordered something with chocolate and Austin got lemon gelato. Sorry no pictures as we were hungry and the first course was gone before I even thought about pics. That meal was 121Euros, or basically 200 dollars. It was good but for the price there could have been more food.

Back at our house we settled in early as we were still tired apparently from the long ride up. Saturday morning we got up at 6 and headed for Pisa. Didn't get there as early as I would have liked but not too bad. We were able to park just out side of the main entry. We got there about 830, and was able to purchase tickets for the tower for 1030. We also purchased tickets to go in the Catherdral, Baptistry, and the Monumental Cemetery. The tour alone was 15E each. For the 4 buildings we spent 115E or basically 185 dollars! That was almost as much as dinner! You only get 30 mins in the tower and that includes your climb up and down those 297 steps. The steps are worn and make you vear the way the tower is leaning. The climb if you are not in shape will kick your butt, it did mine :D. But it was totally worth it once you got to the top and saw the view. We took a few pictures up there and just looked around. We were able to spot the mountain that we came down to get to Pisa, which had a wonderful view over looking the city below. After the tour we visited the Cathedral and Baptistry, very pretty and touching. Sommer and I even got to hear the echo testing in the Baptistry while we were in there. 4 hours later and we head for the mountains. We found a few "brown" signs with things that looked interesting and took side trips on our way back, some of them we found, some were closed and some we haven't located yet lol. Sunday we had no clue where we were going we just got up and started to ride, found Devil's Bridge and took some photos of it. Then we headed towards the water. Once we got to Viareggio we decided the water was not a good idea as there was no parking any where in site. We found a few things that were one of the guide books from the house. But most of it we couldn't find in the GPS. Luckily they also had an Atlas. For the most part we just looked for the brown signs and tried to follow them. Still haven't found one Castle but we found another, toured it until we were kicked out because it was closed Ooops lol. Saw some gorgeous views of the ocean as we climbed the other side of the Apuan Alps. We saw a sign for a cave and decided we would check it out, that lead us to the Marble mountains and quarry. There we found another bridge that we had seen in the guide book. Also looked at the little museum there. We didn't do a tour this time as we had Snoopy with us and it was too warm to leave her in the car. We stopped at a little shop there and purchased a few things for us and a couple of gifts. There was some BEAUTIFUL items there for purchase. They helped us find a our way to Luni a Roman amphitheater form the 1st century I believe. It didn't look like the photo we had seen in the book but interesting none the less. The kids were free here, but it was only 2E PP any way. They are still excavating it so there are roofs over some of it. They have pulled out lots of things and are trying to put columns and such back together. After about an hour we headed for the house as there were major dark clouds heading towards us from the mountains. We got everything together for the trip back on Monday. And hit the road around 645am. Unfortunately the hubs listened to the GPS instead of me (typical lol) and it took us over an hour to get out of the winding mountain roads. By the time we got on the A56 we had added 20 minutes to the drive. Dang you Lola! We looked for gas stations and couldn't find any, we wound up getting off the freeway and headed for an Esso, they were closed. A little further down we found one that was open, but they didn't take the gas coupons. So I whip out 10E, that is about $15 for 1.75 gallons of gas! Back on the freeway we went keeping our eyes peeled for AGIPs, as we had passed several on the trip up. We found several on the wrong side of the road lol. We finally stopped at an Shell station, they didn't take the coupons either, 20E more later we are on the road again. We came to an AGIP some where way down the road. We filled up with 40liters the most we have ever gotten in the car and the light wasn't on. Makes me wonder just how much we can get in that little car lol. Any way we finally made it back to Naples at 2pm just in time for the hubs to go to work. It was a long trip but we enjoyed it just the same. And at this point it was a good thing the van is messed up as it would never have made the trip on some of those roads. So if we get it fixed we will have to save it for trips to Germany and beyond.....

This is the Baptistry in Pisa.

Cathedral with Tower in background.

The leaning tower of Pisa.

The Cathedral again but from the Baptistry.

 The view of the mountains from the town we stayed in. I took this photo. It was beautiful seeing the clouds so low in the mountains. Reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains.

View from the mountians while hunting the "cave" over Carrara. The husband took this one while we stopped in the middle of the highway. True Italian style!

The cobblestone stairs in the town we stayed in. They say the people live to be atleast 100 that live here. I am positive I wouldn't be as fat as I am if I lived there lol. I took this photo with the Canon P&S.
The photos not specified were taken by the kids. I think I have some photographers on my hands. Gotta go ahead and teach them right. I will post more later and some that I took. Internet isn't cooperating and doesn't want to load the images here.
Hope you enjoy!

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