We arrived into Italy by walking across the border from the Slovenian train station then made our way onto another train to Venice. Some might say we were celeb hunting as we were in time for George Clooney's wedding but we missed them all anyway! We had a couple of days exploring Venice and joined a walking tour that took us around many of the back streets, starting near the train station and ending up in a very busy San Marco square which made us appreciate even more the back streets tour. We visited the Jewish Ghetto, some lovely secluded squares and the Libreia Acqua Alta di Frizza, a book store where the books are stored in boats and baths to protect them from the high tide coming in. We saw all the high tide defensive barriers that the houses had and learnt about how the city copes when the water invades. Fortunately the tides weren't that high when we were there. We didn't enjoy the large crowds in the main parts of town so spent some time in the Dursoduo area which is cheaper and much quieter and then had an early morning visit to the square for photos without too many people around.
Onto Bologna we went to enjoy the great food and visit the oldest university in the world. Unfortunately the university is nothing to look at, but they do have some good cheap coffee places in that part of town! We had some great food though and managed to walk it off on the Italy stair master - Torre deli Asinelli. Like Pisa's tower it is leaning and the wooden staircase is also a bit of a nightmare, we don't recommend going up in jandals like we did! The views from the top were great though.
Florence was next on the list and we had 5 whole nights here to allow time to explore the city and the Tuscany region. We did a couple of tours with Italy on a Budget, a great tour company. One was to visit Siena, Monteriggoni, a vineyard producing Chianti Classico wine and finally a local farm for dinner the Italian way. Siena is a lovely medieval town with a huge main square that is used for horse races twice a year to see who is the winning region in Siena. Monteriggoni is named the crown of Italy as the fortress walled town looks like a crown sitting on the top of the hill (it also has only 50 people living there). The dinner was the highlight with Giammi's homemade wine, olive oil and home grown tomatoes for the bruschetta. He speaks no English so our guides were constantly translating and the food was amazing. We also got to try some of his grappa and limoncello (I'll stick to the wine next time). The second tour we did was a harvest tour where we went to a vineyard near San Gimignano. We picked some grapes crushed them in a barrel for a minute before the owners decided to put them in the press to do the job properly. We then tried their wines complete with lunch and schiacciata con l'uva - a sweet bread made with grapes. It was pretty tasty and a special treat at harvest time. The views from the vineyard were breathtaking and with the sun shining we wanted to stay there all day! We did do some exploring around Florence too though and visited Uffizi, Duomo (for some more Italian stair master climbing both the dome and the bell tower) walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo for great views over Florence and took the bus to a nearby town Fiesole which also offers great views and has Roman ruins including an old amphitheatre. We also enjoyed some great food and wine in Florence and put away a lot of croissants, fresh pasta, bruschetta , coffees (Darin only) and red wine.