A day trip to Siena

If you are spending any time in Florence, a day trip to Siena is easy-peasy.  Both buses and trains make the trip — we recommend taking the bus there because if you take the train you will have to walk up a very big hill to get to the things you are going to want to see.

The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO world heritage site.  The first thing you will want to see is the Piazza del Campo.  This large square is the location for the running of the Palio horse race — one of the most insane (and corrupt) horse races ever — twice each summer.  Ten horse/rider teams compete (representing the wards of the city).  The riders wear colorful outfits and ride bareback.  From the videos I have seen, there do not appear to be much in the way of rules other than the first horse to cross the finish line wins (regardless of whether or not that horse has a rider).  As I understand it, using your whip to hit other riders is allowed, if not encouraged.  And, paying off other jockeys is the rule, not the exception.  Sadly, we weren’t there when the Palio was running.

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Piazza del Campo in Siena.

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The best statues in Florence

If you visit Florence and you like sculpture at all (hell, even if you don’t like sculpture), you must must must see Michelangelo’s David.  It is one of the most impressive pieces of art we have ever seen.

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A full view of David.

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Day trip to Alberobello

If you are anywhere in the Puglia region of Italy, a day trip to the UNESCO world heritage site of Alberobello should be on your “must do” list.  Alberobello is known for its trulli — over 1500 white-washed conical-roofed houses that look vaguely like hobbit houses.

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A view of Alberobello from above.

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A day trip to Polignano a Mare

If you are looking for a day trip from Monopoli, you can’t go wrong with Polignano a Mare.  Located on the Adriatic Sea, and only one train stop away from Monopoli, the town is stunningly beautiful.

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Polignano a Mare.

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Five days in Monopoli

Monopoli in November?  Most people wouldn’t even consider it.  Good thing we aren’t most people, because Monopoli in November is lovely (even if many of the restaurants are closed and even if you have to avoid the rain showers).

Monopoli is a small little seaside town (population under 50K) in the region of Apulia (or Puglia in Italian) in the heel of the boot of Italy.  Although tourism has increased in recent years, the town still holds quite a bit of traditional charm.  In fact, it still pretty much shuts down in the middle of the afternoon for “riposo” so everyone can have a leisurely lunch — even the groceries close.

The city of Monopoli is probably most known for its old city, with its white buildings and narrow passageways.

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One of the narrow streets in Monopoli.  Try getting this shot in the heart of tourist season….

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The dead and dying in Naples

If you have any fascination with death whatsoever, Naples is totally the place for you.

Naples has catacombs.  In fact, there are at least three different catacombs you can visit in Naples.  We chose to visit the catacombs of San Gennaro.  These catacombs probably opened in the 2nd or 3rd century and were probably active burial sites until the 9th century or so.  There are nearly 2000 burial recesses and 500 stone coffins in the San Gennaro catacombs (and more than one body was most likely put in each recess).  Neapolitan bishops were even buried in the San Gennaro catacombs.

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San Gennaro catacombs.  Each of those rectangular holes is a burial site.  And, the rectangular things on the ground are also burial cites.

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The pizza you must eat in Naples

Note, I did not say the “best” pizza in Naples.  I would be a complete idiot to stake out that kind of ground.  Come on, pizza was supposedly invented in Naples.  There are pizzerias in Naples that are over 100 years old.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pizzerias in Naples.  And, I’m going to tell you right now that we flatly refused to wait in line at some of the pizzerias said to have the best pizza in Naples (I’m looking at you da Michele and Sorbillo).  But, even if you like us refuse to wait in line for your pizza (and “lines” here are not orderly queues but rather unruly crushes of people), you can eat some of the best pizza of your life.  So, which pizzas do you have to eat in Naples?

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Exploring Pompeii

Our second full day in Naples was devoted to exploring Pompeii, yet another UNESCO world heritage site.  After our miserable train ride to Herculaneum, we tried a different tactic to get to Pompeii.  We still took the Circumvesuviana train, because (a) we are too cheap to do anything else and (b) we absolutely hate group tours.  But, we got up WAY earlier and were at the train station before 8 am.

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The entrance to Pompeii.

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Exploring Herculaneum

Everyone has heard of Pompeii, right?  I mean, I’m pretty sure it was even discussed in Highlights magazine (remember that blast from the past?) when I was a kid.  But did you know that Mount Vesuvius destroyed another city called Herculaneum on that fateful day in 79 A.D.?  If not, no worries.  We had never even heard of Herculaneum before we started researching things to do in Naples, but once we heard about it and realized it too was a UNESCO world heritage site, a visit to Herculaneum was a must do for us.  In fact, it was how we spent our very first day in Naples.*

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A view of Herculaneum from the entrance to the site.  The modern town of Ercolano sits on top of  large portions of Herculaneum.

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Falling in love with Bordeaux

We should have known we would fall in love with Bordeaux.  Something like half of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site, and you know how we love those.  And, as it turned out, we absolutely adored Bordeaux.  Even if it was cloudy and rainy for a big part of our stay.  And, even if we both decided that Bordeaux wines aren’t even close to our favorite wines (sacrilege, I know).

Bordeaux has some amazing old architecture.  You can walk in pretty much any direction and stumble upon something pretty cool.  We both loved La Grosse Cloche (the Big Bell), one of the oldest belfries in all of France.  The building was once used as both a gateway to the city and as a prison.  The gate was constructed in the 13th century, the belfry was constructed in the 15th century, and the current bell was cast in the 18th century.

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La Grosse Cloche in Bordeaux.

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