|Wednesday, 26 September 2012
The trip on the night train was a little rough. Doug and I were both coming down with some sort of illness (congestion & low grade fever) and neither of us really slept. We got into Florence around 6am and found the bus station to catch the bus to Siena. In my sickie fog, I had to ask a local (in Italian) where the station was because I couldn’t quite remember. We found it, caught the bus without a problem, and made it to Siena around 7:30 or so. It was still REALLY early, so we figured we’d find the hotel and leave our luggage until it was official check in time. Well, between when I booked and when we arrived, the hotel had changed addresses, and we had no idea. We stood outside, feverish and bewildered, until someone passing by saw us with our backpacks (and thank goodness I still remember enough Italian) and communicated that the hotel had moved, it was up the street. It was still MUCH too early anyway, so we took up a spot in the Piazza del Campo and alternated taking naps on the sun-warmed bricks. After we finally checked into the hotel, we found a pharmacy and some cold meds and then went back for a long nap since we were both pretty well beat. It ended up being a very off day, but we needed the rest pretty badly. We did manage to get up for a walk and dinner later in the evening and then it was back to the hotel for sleep.
|Thursday, 27 September 2012
We had booked a tour with a local company, so we got up and met our guide, Gianni, at the entrance to our hotel. It may have been much more expensive than renting a car and driving around ourselves, but not having to drive and having the knowledge that Gianni had was really worth it. Gianni took us to some little known places, knew the best wineries to tour and sample, and taught us about the wineries and how they worked. We visited during peak harvest season, so most of the operations were in full swing and really neat to see at that level. We stopped at the Borgo San Felice which was once a town, but had been completely bought up by a hotel company. The whole thing, except for one house, was a resort. As Gianni explained, people slowly moved away, closer to Florence and Siena, and this little town out in the country was getting emptier and emptier. It’s happened a few times, apparently, and all sorts of celebrities will rent out the town for a weekend for events. We made two stops at wineries for wine tastings, had an incredible lunch at a small, family-run restaurant, and wandered through little Tuscan towns all day long. We got back to Siena around 5pm, wandered around for a while, and found an amazing dinner – wild boar was ‘in season’ and pici was on the menu, so we had our fill of some very regional and typical Sienese food.
|Friday, 28 September 2012
We got up early, found breakfast (espresso and a pastry) and got a taxi to the train station for the train to Rome and then out to Ostia. There was a snafu with the hotel that I was pretty pissed about. We booked the hotel four months in advance, but somehow they were overbooked and we got bumped to a ‘sister’ hotel that was further away and probably the most gaudy and tacky hotel I’ve ever seen. Think Caribbean (palm trees, etc) meets Rome, meets China, with a military museum, ALL AT ONCE. The room we were brought to was clean enough, but we couldn’t walk anywhere which was one of the benefits of the hotel I had originally booked at. The plan for the day, since Rome was really a stop over for our flight to Brussels, was to go to Ostia Antica nearby. It’s basically like Pompeii without the volcanic activity. Really, IMHO, better than Pompeii, because you don’t have to go through Naples and it feels SO much bigger. We spent the afternoon wandering through the ruins, and then went off to find dinner. Well, the restaurants didn’t open till 7:30 or 8pm, and were pretty firm about that time, so we walked around and had a glass of wine at a cafe to waste time. We ended up at a really wonderful little place that even gave us a complimentary cordial to finish the incredible dinner. We got our pickup back to the hotel and prepared for the flight the following day. By this point we were both feeling better and not hitting the cold medicine as much!
|Saturday, 29 September 2012
The hotel had a shuttle service to the airport which was nearby in Fiumicino, so that was thankfully an easy transfer. Our flight was pretty short and we arrived in Brussels in the early afternoon. A short train ride later and we were brought practically to the front door of our hotel. Not bad! The hotel was a B&B based out of an artist’s studio and the retired couple who ran the whole operation were really sweet. The rooms were SPACIOUS and each had a different theme and color scheme. Really neat – it felt so comfortable and like home. Breakfast consisted of bread brought up in the morning with a layout of spreads (jam, nutella, etc) and coffee/tea, all do-it-yourself in the kitchen on your floor. I really loved this setup and how well it worked. We had been in Brussels the year prior, so we had a pretty good handle of where we were and where we wanted to go. First stop was the Cantillon Brewery, my personal favorite brewery, ever. They still make beer in the old fashion, using wild yeast, and have such a limited production that we can’t get it at home, so we brought a few bottles home. Then it was off to Moeder Lambic for a few more beers before dinner. The beer tends to be not as strong (ABV 5% or so), so it’s easy to sit around and enjoy a beer or three and not get totally sloshed. We walked around the area around our hotel for a while, saw the Manneken Pis and the usual crowd gathered around him, had dinner, and made it back to the hotel.
|Sunday, 30 September 2012
We figured not much would be open on Sunday, so we decided to head back to the Military History Museum since we knew we missed a section of it the last time, plus, it’s free to enter! We did sleep in a little though and took our time getting going in the morning. On the walk there, we wandered through a flea market and oogled all the things on display, mostly antiques. Turned out that we didn’t miss nearly as much as we thought we did at the museum, but we did get to go to the roof top and see a full panorama of Brussels which was pretty neat. The musuem also had a special exhibit on the day-to-day items of soldiers during World War I and II which was pretty fascinating. The things they brought with them, the things they were issued, things they made themselves. After the museum, we went to find Wafels and Frites, as you do in Brussels. We made a few stops for food and beer as the day went on, lingering for a while here and there, having a taste of some AMAZING Chimay 150th anniversary beer. There was of course, Delirium, and another stop at Moeder Lambic before dinner which was Doug’s favorite, Waterzooi, and I had the Flemish Rabbit. Brussels, I love you, and would love to spend more time seeing the rest of Belgium!
The following day, which I don’t need to make a whole entry about, was our flight home, involving a 7 hour layover in Washington, DC. Ick. The joys of frequent flyer miles flights.
Overall, the trip was incredible – from the crowded and crazy fun time at Oktoberfest, and then to the more relaxed trip through Italy and Brussels, it was really an awesome vacation. If you’d like to see more photos, I’ve got the full set uploaded to flickr, here.