Tour of Tuscany – wonky buildings, white sand beaches, good food, good wine and an unexpected encounter with a Princess from Mona Lisa’s family

Before moving to Europe, when I though of Italy, I imagined people riding their brightly coloured Vespas through the narrow cobblestone lanes, infused with the smell of coffee and balconies overflowing with flowers. Most of Tuscany was everything quintessential Italy from those dreams!

Streets of Siena

After the big city madness of Naples, Siena was a great way to start our tour of Tuscany. We took a train from Naples to Florence and bought another ticket to Siena, before arriving at our centrally located Hotel Chuisarelli. The reception staff was extremely friendly, the location could not have been better and the breakfast spread was impressive for a £45 a night hotel.

After dropping out bags and cooling off, we went on a self-guided tour of this beautiful town. There’s not a lot to see here and the main activity seems to be hanging out in the main Piazza, but that’s exactly what makes Siena so special. There are lot of young families, with young kids in toe, walking around through the winding, beautiful, sun-soaked streets that are peacefully shared by motorists and pedestrians alike.

Chillin' in Siena
Chillin’ in Siena

While we love Italian food, after being in Croatia and Italy for over two weeks, we were ready for a change, which took us to Via Pantaneto. We are convinced this street was Siena’s Chinatown, even if it’s not labeled as one. We got some takeaway and settled in with a bottle of wine in the square for dinner on one of the balmy nights.

For a more authentic Sienese cuisine, we looked up a couple of places and were well impressed. There included:

  • Osteria la Chiacchera – The price is affordable, the menu is hand-written and the spread is limited to ensure everything on the menu is made with love. Additionally, you can’t beat the €4 half-litre house wines.
  • Osteria da Trombicche – This place is amazing for focaccia, beer and wine (not necessarily in that order but that’s what we did). The staff is extremely helpful and the focaccia was delectable.

Siena for us was a great introduction to the Tuscan lifestyle and we were ready to get to our next destination – Firenze.

Florence (Firenze in Italian)

Rather than take the train, we decided to get on the bus instead because the bus stop was right outside our hotel. The bus we had planned on catching didn’t show up and the next one was not for another hour, which was really stressing a girl who had 12 hours to get to Verona. I still don’t understand why she was panicking but each to their own.

After a quick hour and thirty bus ride, helping an old lady find an Indian restaurant and 15 min walk  to our Airbnb apartment, we were reunited with our Canadian travel buddies who went to Rome while we were in Siena.

Florentine Sunset
Florentine Sunset

Florence needs no introduction or praise. The place is stunningly beautiful. The skyline dominated by the Duomo is breathtaking and for the best view, we went to Piazzale Michaelangelo during sunset to appreciate the city’s stunning skyline in all its glory.

The biggest square near the Ufizzi feels like a museum with stunning sculptures everywhere. I really wanted to go see the original of Michaelangelo’s David but our free walking tour revealed that the replica in this square is an exact depiction with the original positioning, so I decided to save the money and spend it on more food, wine, beers and grappa!

Finally, if you need a good Chinese meal fix after devouring the endless varieties of pizza and pasta, go visit a restaurant called Impressione Chongqing. It may be hard to believe, but it was truly the best Chinese food I have ever had since the beginning of time, in the history of everything, ever!

Road trip just to take a picture in Pisa and the White Beach

Since we were in such close proximity, it’ll be criminal not to go and take the idiotic picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Being one of the seven wonders of the world, Mrs FOMOist and I have been discussing the best pose for the occassion.

It's leaning
It’s leaning

While Mrs FOMOist is an expert at taking pictures, I am equally as bad (if not worst). We spent over an hour trying to take the best picture, but ended up with a very hot and epically pissed off me, and a stock standard shot of Mrs FOMOist. Sorry I let you down, but I still think I did a good job.

To cool ourselves (and my hot head), we made our way to Vada, Livorno to the White Beach. The sand was powdery white and soft with the water refreshingly cool. The water was blue and Mrs FOMOist and I were friends again!

Sunday in Bologna

The next day-trip destination was Bologna. One of our friends from London had recently been and was full of recommendations. The only issue was, it was a Sunday and most of the shops were closed and streets deserted. It is another beautiful town, but I think it would have been a lot better with more people around.

Tuscan Sunsets are the best!
Tuscan Sunsets are the best!

In saying that, we did enjoy our craft beer, local wines and super expensive snacks at Mercato di Mezzo, Bologna’s answer to Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel.

Wine tasting in San Gimignano

Even though we’re traveling with kids, our plan was to distract the kids with the blue skies and open vineyards while getting stuck into the local tipple.

Rather than booking in advance, the plan was to just drive to a vineyard and hope for the best. At our first stop, we were advised that the tour won’t be on for another 4 hours, but the lady at the reception kindly suggested to go check out Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi if we didn’t want to wait.

You see grapes, I see wine
You see grapes, I see wine

Tenute Guicciardini Strozzi is a family-run estate, with one of the oldest cellars in the area dating back to 994. When we pulled up to the driveway, the big gates were closed and we thought we will be turned away again. I called the office intercom and a girl called Irina answered and asked us to come in.

Once we were inside, Irina got straight into an exclusive private tour of the estate and the cellar. She took us around the ancient cellars, showed us the first bottling machines used to fill up the traditional Chianti wine bottles and then she started telling us about her family. We didn’t realise the girl who was showing us around was part of the family business and a real-life, oxygen breathing princess – Princess Irina Strozzi. She told us how her family were the arch nemesis of the famous Medici family of Florence. Then she went on to mention that she is the fifth generation of living family member of Mona Lisa. This is the point where all of our interests piqued. This would possibly be the only time where I would be more interested in anything else but wine in the middle of a vineyard. This is also the only time where I have ever met a person who has an official family plaque and “Princess” as a title.

With Princess Irina Strozzi
With Princess Irina Strozzi

Not only did Irina spent a couple of hours showing us around, while offering tasters of the exquisite wine from the estate, she even introduced us to her mother! I have to admit, when I think of such wealthy people, my first assumption is – snobs with more money than sense. However, in your travels sometimes you meet people like Princess Irina who really get you to question your presumptions. It’s a humbling experience when you meet someone who has everything anyone could ever wish for, yet they are even more grounded and humble than you are. It was a truly remarkable experience that will stay with us forever.

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