Chicago to Italy – 2002

those 11 hours in the air were definitely worth it!

Arno River in FlorenceIn my wildest dreams I couldn’t have prepared myself for how amazing it feels to be in Tuscany! Seriously, it’s mind-blowing and a little overwhelming.

When I arrived in Florence, it was about 2 in the afternoon, and I was exhausted and dizzy and totally jet lagged. All I really wanted to do was lay down in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria and take a nap. In fact, I think I did zonk out for a few minutes on the marble step leading into the Loggia dei Lanzi. It was all I needed to get myself together and take in the beauty of the piazza.

FirenzeI can’t remember exactly what I did first. I just recall that my legs didn’t work very well and I only wanted to be in a seated position. But I was alert enough to realize that my first impression of Florence was a thing of beauty and I would never know that feeling again. So I tried to chill and appreciate all that I was seeing, and not to throw up.

I didn’t shoot any pictures that first day. It was difficult enough to remain in a vertical position, but I made a few more trips to Florence during my stay and took tons of shots!

I also ventured to Pisa, Viareggio and Siena. And of course I hauled my camera around Montecatini Terme and Montecatini Alto.

Hotel Capelli – Montecatini Terme, PT

During that first trip, I stayed at the Hotel Capelli in Montecatini Terme for two weeks. Of all my stays in Montecatini, this hotel was the nicest. Maybe it wasn’t the fanciest or the most extravagant, but the staff was beyond kind and it was really clean. And they had music and dancing with the old folks at night! It was operated by an older German gentleman who spoke every language imaginable.

He hooked me up with a snazzy little (tiny) single room with a balcony.CapelliHotel Capelli My room also had a bidet. Bidets should be in every home in America. I’m just saying. What a luxury!

I went to lunch at the hotel a few times, and during one of those times I had my first experience with Torta della Nonna, or Grandma Cake. Oh, Grandma Cake! How I love you!!

It’s a wonder I didn’t return to the States 20 pounds heavier!

I also realized that European yoghurt has a totally different consistency from America’s pathetic excuse for yogurt. It’s still really hard for me to buy yogurt at the grocery here and actually enjoy it.

Did I mention that the grocery store keeps their eggs out in the aisle? Super fresh stuff, here! There is no 3 week shelf life on those eggies!

When did this turn into a food blog? But really, the greatest experience of being in Italy is the pleasure derived from the fabulous foods that are in front of you everywhere you go.

I’m kinda hoping that this is what Heaven is like.

Montecatini Terme

What a great little town this is! It’s really not that small, but not as big as Florence. I loved it here. There was everything you could want to do. Tons of amazing restaurants, grand hotels (and my quaint one), spas, street markets and cinemas, and even art galleries. But I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that you can get a mean gelato here as well.montecatini terme

I learned, over the years, where all the best gelatos could be found. And I found a lot of fun short cuts to the train station.  I even had a really old fella try to whisk me away for coffee. It was hard to resist a sweet old man with a walking stick, but I held my distance.

Montecatini also has the most amazing place for cappuccino and “bombole,” or jam-filled donuts. It’s called Pellegrini, and it’s not far from the train station and morning market. I can drive there in my sleep.mmm...donuts

I was especially fond of the albicocca (apricot) and nutella filled ones. I became somewhat of a regular there. It was to the point where the barista would see me on the street and wave. I felt proud that the cappuccino guy from the Pellegrini knew me! I was there so often that I knew what time to be there if I wanted my nutella bombola. They went fast, and if you missed it then you had to wait til the next day for one.

I’m salivating just thinking of those bombole! Dear Lord…help me to resist. And just around the corner from Pellegrini is this unreal pasta shop where they make ravioli and every shape of pasta you can imagine. I loved that shop so much that I still have one of their shopping bags in the closet.

The people in Montecatini are extremely friendly. They are so good to all of the tourists visiting from America, Germany and other European countries. I couldn’t have enjoyed my time here more!

And it doesn’t hurt that they have such amazing donuts and pasta, and gelato!!

I spent much of my first trip in Montecatini, but I experienced other beautiful cities for the first time during that time, too. Next time I’ll share with you about Viareggio, Montecatini Alto and Siena. Maybe I’ll even take you to Florence.

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