Eurotrip 2011, Part 2: Under The Tuscan Sun

This installment of my travel journal covers Days 2–4 of my 2011 trip to Europe…

Picking up where we left off in Part 1, we finally arrived at our villa in the hills of Tuscany, which would serve as our base of operations for the next two weeks.  There were 15-20 people sharing the sprawling villa, though we would separate into smaller groups for our excursions around Italy.  Most of the rooms had already been claimed but I was able to secure a nice room on the far end of the villa with decent view.

View of a Tuscan sunset from my bedroom window

View of a Tuscan sunset from my bedroom window

That night we all walked up to the only restaurant in the area for dinner, which also served as a meet and greet session since I had not previously met most of my villa mates.   They were all very nice; it was a good group.  Dinner was delicious, a spicy bacon pasta dish.  I also had my first taste of Italian prosciutto that night, and it was amazing, nothing like the overly salty prosciutto we have in America.  I ate a ton of it during our two weeks in Italy.

The restaurant/bus stop where we spent a lot of time

The restaurant/bus stop where we spent a lot of time

I left the restaurant early by myself to go to bed since I had been awake for a good 28 hours by this point.  It was cold and windy during the walk back to the villa and I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by not packing a heavier jacket, but those worries would prove unfounded as the majority of the weather we experienced during the trip was beautiful, even into November.  I got back to the villa grounds, which was surrounded by a wall with a gate that could only be opened by an electronic key.  I had a key, but could not figure out where to use it because it was pitch black, so I wound up having to press the call button to the caretakers, an old couple who spoke no English.  After a few minutes of back and forth talking and not understanding each other, they finally let me in and I went upstairs and collapsed in my bed.

I woke up the next morning at 3:45am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to catch a Tuscan sunrise.

Tuscany at dawn looking toward Florence in the distance

Later that morning we took a small, rickety bus down the hill into Florence, where we spent the entire day visiting the historic center and the area along the Arno river.  The highlight of the day was our long climb to the top of Giottio’s Tower, affording us views like this:

View from the top of Giotto's Campanile

View from the top of Giotto’s Campanile

Another view from the top of the tower

Another view from the top of the tower

After the tower we walked along the Arno river, had lunch, and crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge with shops built along it.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

After that we did some grocery shopping and headed back home for a dinner cooked by one of our villa mates.  The next day we hopped on a train (the first of many during our stay) for Lucca, a walled, medieval city.

Lucca city wall

Lucca city wall

It took us a while to find the historic center, but we eventually did, and climbed a tower for some amazing views.

View from the top of the tower we climbed in Lucca

View from the top of the tower we climbed in Lucca

We visited a few cathedrals, including one where I gave money to a man who I thought was collecting for entry to the church only to realize later that he was just a beggar.  Oh well, you live and learn.  For dinner we made our way to the circular main plaza at the center of the city where I had a tasty lasagna dish, topping it off with a stop for gelato (we rarely went a day without getting gelato from somewhere).

Panorama of main plaza in Lucca

Panorama of main plaza in Lucca

That evening we returned to Florence too late to catch the bus so we had to take a cab (the last bus for the hills leaves around 6pm, so if you want to stay out later, you’re screwed).  Once again, our driver had no idea how to get to our villa and got lost, so my uncle showed him a picture of the bus stop closest to our villa on his camera, which did the trick.  Unfortunately, the driver forgot to return the camera and my uncle was unable to retrieve it from the cab company after numerous calls.  Fortunately, he had his iPad to tide him over for taking pictures until he could purchase a new camera.

We eventually made it back to the villa and, after some socializing, I began packing for our three-day trip to Rome, which will be covered in Part 3.  In the meantime, you can follow the links below for more pictures from this part of my trip.

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Writer, traveler, photographer, hiker, film/TV addict, amateur chef, casual gamer, and occasional tennis & saxophone player . . . in real life I do web design.

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Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

Another prairie dog shot, this one in the iconic standing pose. Not as sharp as I would have liked, but not too bad for handheld at a 250 mm focal length.

#animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

There is a giant field beneath Devils Tower that is entirely covered with prairie dogs. I was so mesmerized by the little critters with their cute screeching noises that I almost forgot I was there to visit the tower.

#animals #devilstower #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica #Photography #prairiedogs #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #wildlife #Wyoming Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

This shot only features the top of Devils Tower, but I liked the variety of colors in the landscape.

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking #colors Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A closeup shot of climbers scaling Devils Tower.

Pretty soon, climbing will no longer be necessary because, according to a sign I saw at the site, they are apparently installing an elevator to the top. Although it would be neat to see the top of the tower, I think it’s unfortunate that they are going to ruin its appearance with an elevator apparatus. I’m glad that I was able to see Devils Tower in all its natural glory before this happens.

#buttes #devilstower #hiking #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica
#Photography  #roadtrips #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #climbing Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A view of Devils Tower from my hike around the base. This is the opposite side of the tower from the shot I posted yesterday. The black dots in the sky are birds.

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #travel #buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica #RoadTrips #hiking Devils Tower, Wyoming - August, 2017

A lifelong dream sparked by 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was finally realized when I visited Devils Tower last August--40 years (and many plates of sculpted mashed potatoes) after I first saw the tower on film. I had no idea as I hiked around Devils Tower that just two days later there would be a 40th anniversary screening of the film at the tower itself. Just missed it!

#DevilsTower #Wyoming #NationalMonuments #CloseEncounters #travel
#buttes #landscapes #photography #UnitedStates #NorthAmerica
#RoadTrips Deadwood, South Dakota - August, 2017

I chose to stay in Deadwood during my three nights in South Dakota because I was a huge fan of the HBO show and have always been fascinated with the Wild West. I thought it would be cool to walk in the footsteps of Deadwood’s famous residents.

The drive in to town was interesting, as I steadily climbed the Black Hills while passing “Bighorn Sheep Crossing” signs. I only had time to explore the main strip because I spent most of my visit taking day trips out of town, so it’s not really fair to render a judgment without having taken the time to fully check out everything Deadwood had to offer. Still, I found it to be kind of a disappointment, mostly just your average casino town, which isn’t really my cup of tea.

Nevertheless, I saw several points of interest during my walks around town, such as the spots where Wild Bill was shot and where his assassin was caught, the Bullock Hotel that was built by Seth Bullock after the events of the show, and a few establishments named after notable people and places such as Charlie Utter and the Gem Theater. The recreated “gunfights” in the middle of town were also neat.

#deadwood #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #SouthDakota #Travel #UnitedStates #wildwest #historictowns #blackhills #oldwest Mount Rushmore, South Dakota - September, 2017

This is a zoomed-in view of Mount Rushmore from a lookout point a couple of miles away on Iron Mountain Road, a scenic mountain drive that I highly recommend taking before heading to the monument. If you go south to north, you will drive through a tunnel that perfectly frames Mount Rushmore; makes for a memorable photo. This shot may not look like a panorama due to its more squarish shape, but it was stitched together from two different photos.

#IronMountainRoad #MountRushmore #nationalmonuments #NorthAmerica
#panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #SouthDakota #Travel
#UnitedStates #mountains Portland, Oregon - August, 2017

The view from my apartment during my stay in Portland last summer.

#NorthAmerica #Oregon #panoramas #Photography #Portland #Travel #UnitedStates Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America.

#yellowstonelake #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #lakes #water Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

The Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Yellowstone's most stunning features, is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It's difficult for a ground-level photo to do it justice, but if you climb the hill visible in the background of this shot, you can get a nice bird's-eye view of its beauty.

#GrandPrismaticSpring #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #hotsprings #MidwayGeyserBasin Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

Vertical panorama of the Dragon's Mouth Spring in the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone. Pictures don't do justice to this remarkable thermal feature, but you can see how it got its name as smoke appears to shoot out of a gaping mouth.

#dragonsmouthspring #nationalparks #NorthAmerica #panoramas
#Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming
#YellowstoneNationalPark #yellowstone #hotsprings Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

This is a portion of Hayden Valley featuring rolling hills. Hayden Valley is one of the two prime locations for spotting wildlife in the park (the other being Lamar Valley), and one of the most popular destinations in the entire park.

#nationalparks #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #YellowstoneNationalPark #haydenvalley #panoramas #hills Yellowstone National Park - August, 2017

This is Lamar Valley, one of the two prime locations for spotting wildlife in the park. The other is Hayden Valley. I saw wildlife in both locations, though Hayden Valley had much more.

#nationalparks #NorthAmerica #Photography #roadtrips #Scenic #Travel #UnitedStates #Wyoming #YellowstoneNationalPark #lamarvalley #panoramas
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