Tuscany

Tuscany

Ryan couldn’t wait for today and our tour through Chianti wine country. His favorite wine’s of all are Chianti Classicos which are from the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany and have black roosters on the label to signify that they are made with the right formula of Sangiovese grapes.

Chianti region in Italy

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we walked to a little pastry shop to carbo-load on croissants and doughnuts before making our way to the train station to meet our Walkabout Florence tour group. Our tour guide, Lavi, was energetic and ready to go. She led us through the station and down to our smaller sized tour bus. There were about 15 people on our bus and it was the perfect size for a tour. Unlike some of our tours in Phuket, Thailand, we did not encounter any other tour groups during the rest of our day on this tour, making it very intimate and unique.

The drive to our first winery was about 50 minutes but it went by quickly as Lavi told us all about the history of Chianti wines. Apparently, in the days of the Romans, wine was terrible tasting. The Romans used any grapes they could find, didn’t prepare the wine well, and diluted it with 2 parts water. Because it tasted so bad, the Romans would add spices and other things to it to mask the taste and mainly drank wine for health reasons (it was safer than water in most cases). Over the years, people discovered that the way you grow the grapes, the size of the bunch, the altitude of the grapes, the soil, amount of skin used, and the aging process are all critical components to making a decent tasting wine. Harsher growing conditions and smaller grape yields typically give the best tasting wines. Not what you would typically think, right?

To grow a Chianti Classico, there are rules the govern all aspects of the wine making process so that the wine quality maintains the Classico standards. For example, the vines have to be planted close together so that they compete with one another for water and minerals. The wine makers do not water the plants so the vines have to drive their roots deep into the soil to find water. The vines have to be planted between a certain altitudes and on a slope because water is harder for them to get. Most importantly, all of the wines have to be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. There are a slew of interesting rules that go into makings such amazing wines.

Our first winery was Villa Li Corti which sits on top of a hill on the 617 acre estate. We toured the vineyard and the olive groves before going inside to see the wine making process.

We took a tour of the barrel rooms…

And we got to see how olive oil is made. Apparently, “extra virgin” for olive oil means it came from the first press of the olives in the machine (below) after picking. Buyers be ware, the new and trendy “extra extra” virgin oil is just a marketing gimmick and the closest thing to “extra extra” would be eating raw olives.

We went up to the tasting room and sat at a 4 top table with bread and meats for us to try. We started talking to the other couple across from us and learned that they also got married on September 16th as well and were also on their honeymoon! Small world. We had a good conversation about all things wedding, living in Brooklyn, and other miscellaneous topics while drinking some delicious wines and eating the meats.

After tasting #1, it was off to our lunch location – La Cantinetta di Rignana. We bounced and swerved our way on the bus, deep into the heart of Tuscany, to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was just as special as the restaurant we went to in Hvar and apparently, it was so good that George Clooney and his wife went their twice in the same week! The view was amazing and we were treated to an insanely good meal. George has good taste in food…

Up first were 4 different types of bruschetta: tomato and olive oil, chicken liver, “lardo” which is cured ham fat (like on prosciutto), and mushroom. My favorite two were the lardo and chicken liver – sounds gross but it was so good!

After that, we had two types of pasta: boar rigatoni and truffle ravioli. The shavings of truffle were huge and I am now addicted to everything truffle. It was family style so I had to share the ravioli, but I did not want to!

After lunch, Ryan and I walked through the vineyard and tried a grape that had fallen from the vine. IT was so good.

We hopped back on the bus and off to the third winery. The roads were very bumpy, windy, and narrow and we almost had some “too close to the edge of the cliff” moments… but we eventually made it to the Montemaggio estate. The manager gave us a tour of the vineyard and the gardens.

They were actually harvesting the grapes while we were there, so we got to see the grapes getting crushed and pushed into one of the big tanks. It was quite a treat to get to see all parts of the wine making process in action.

Grape sorting at the Montemaggio vineyard in Tuscany, Italy

We were led through the villa and up to the tasting terrace. There were cheese pairings with our wine and we must have tried 6 different, delicious varieties. The lady next to me was making very strange, monotone noises while our host was speaking, and Ryan was imitating her in a way that almost made me lose my wine a few times. Between his silliness and the wine, we had a blast!

After the last wine, it was back on the bus and to a little square for some shopping. There was an amazing butchery there that smelt heavenly, so we bought some meat and cheese to take back to the States.

After about a 50 minute bus ride back, it was time to say goodbye to our tour group, drop the wine and goodies we bought back at the hotel, and walk over to Il Latini for dinner. Like the night before when we first stumbled upon the restaurant, there were 30 people already there waiting for the doors to open. At least there was a line this time, instead of a massive, unorganized crowd. Thankfully, we had reservations and went to the front of the line to get in pretty easily once the doors opened.

The place was family style so everyone sat close together and it was a very social setting. There was a pre-fixed menu for $55 euro a person, but we were not that hungry, so we ordered a few things off of the menu instead and stuck with the table wine that was only 10 euro a bottle. Little did we know, our “small order” got us enough food for 10 people.

We got the 3 salami plate and did not realize that the “selection of 3 pastas” was actually 3 full servings of various pasta dishes!

After that, was the massive steak and two different, complementary desserts. Thank gosh we did not go for the tasting menu!

As it turns out, the couple next to us who did get the tasting menu didn’t get that much more food than us but they paid double! They got one additional entrée, but we were also given the same desert and a free bottle of desert wine! We started chatting with them about the sheer amount of food and what tasted the best. The couple was in town from California and were pretty fascinating. One was an artist and the other was in the energy business and we had a good convo about American politics for about 45 minutes until all of the wine finally disappeared. Overall, the dinner was very enjoyable and we would recommend Il Latini to anyone in Florence that is anywhere on the scale of very hungry to starving. You will get a delicious meal for a great price.

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Rome, Day 2

Rome, Day 2

Another day, another train! After an early wake-up and quick breakfast, we were off to the train station under the Spanish Steps to hop the Metro over to the Vatican City for our tour. We met our guides on some stairs by the main entrance to the Vatican with about 30 other people. Thankfully, they divided all of us up into a few groups, so our group was only around 15 people. While we waited for the tour to start, all of these very insistent guys were trying to sell us scarves, selfie sticks, and other doodads – they were everywhere! You have to ignore them and avoid all eye contact so they don’t get one spark of hope that you may be willing to buy something.

Our guides handed out headsets and we were off to enter the Vatican. Because we bought the Rome Combo: Skip the Line Vatican, St. Peter’s Square, and Colosseum walking tour, we got to cut in front of the hundreds of people in line waiting to get in. Our guide said that the line was actually shorter than usual since the Pope was giving Mass and everyone was in St. Peter’s Square. That was hard to fathom given the line that went from the entrance around the entire square!

Our guide was very knowledgeable and funny. She kept making jokes about the status of guys she would have dated if she lived back when they were alive. She talked about the status of the guy she loved most and sighed at how he would never loved her back because he was in love with another. She then dramatically pointed to a statue across the room – of another man! Talk about the drama of it all!

We went into the Pine Cone Square and some people in our group were missing. There were two women in particular that kept losing each other and causing issues with the group. They were pretty clueless as to what was going on so it was comical, especially considering our guide would try and page them over all of our head sets when they went missing. It was like a game of Marco Polo.

We made our way through the Vatican museum, past hundreds of sculptures, each more grand than the other. I was just astonished at the size and scale of these statues. Some of the big toes on the statues were the size of my fist – can you imagine just how big they where?

Everywhere you looked there was another amazement. The Gallery Of Maps  was probably my favorite room with giant maps of each part of the country all down the walls and the most decadent ceiling.

We then went into four rooms painted by Raphel and our guide pointed out fun facts about various features in the most important of the paintings. Eventually, we got to the modern art museum in the Vatican that also houses thousands of pieces of donated work. It was pretty amazing.

At that point, we gave our headsets to the guide and she pointed us to the Sistine Chapel. Since the Pope was speaking, St. Peter’s Basilica was closed until he was finished, so we decided to get some sandwiches for lunch in the café before entering the Chapel and onto the Basilica.

Since it is such a holy place, you are not supposed to take photos or talk in the Chapel. Ryan read one of the signs wrong and was convinced we could’nt even hold hands, but after seeing the same sign, we discovered it was really talking about clothing restrictions, not hand holding! Anyways, we were in awe of the Chapel once we entered. Just the scale of the paintings and how significant they were was inspiring. We spent a good 20 minutes just admiring the various frescos and pointing out the areas our guide mentioned within each painting.

Eventually, we moved down to the Basilica and entered it’s doors. That place is just so shockingly massive that you feel like the size of an ant, it is detailed down to the last paint stroke, stunningly opulent and inspiring how much care was involved over its 120 years of construction. You need all of the adjectives in the book to describe it. We saw quite a few bride and groom couples walking through the Basilica as well. Apparently, over the summer the Pope will bless marriages within 2 months of getting married, so couples come in their wedding attire to Mass to be blessed, and then take pictures all over the city. Considering we were on our honeymoon, I loved seeing all of the happy couples and checking out all of the wedding dresses.

We had about 1.5 hours to make our way over to the Colosseum for our next tour at 3 PM. Being the public transport pros we’ve become this trip, it was back on the Metro to meet our next guide. Quite a few people from our Vatican tour were also on our Colosseum tour as well – it was a long day for all of us.

We got another headset for this tour to listen to our guide. I really liked the headsets because the guide doesn’t have to yell to the group, it makes hearing the guide super easy, and you can go look at something without losing the group and missing out on information.

The Colosseum wasn’t too crowded and we were in under 5 minutes. While this was my second time at the Colosseum, I was still in awe. I am fascinated by the gladiators and have watched all of the shows and movies that come out around the subject. I find ancient Rome, its politics, mythology, and history so interesting.

One of the main themes of both of our tours was the Pope’s influence on things. Over the years,  the Popes destroyed much of the Colosseum to reuse the marble and statues for other buildings like the Vatican. Since they took a lot of the metal frame work within the walls of the Colosseum, there was not enough to support the walls during a large earth quake and much of the northern wall fell as a result. The Colosseum was basically used as a mine to get materials until 1749 when Pope Benedict XIV decided to preserve it. It would have been such a spectacle to see back in 87 AD in its glory days.

Much of the other sites we saw that day had the same story as the Colosseum. They were huge, intricate buildings that were made with opulence and then destroyed for material use. Those buildings that did remain intact were only so because the Church deemed them important and kept them up to date. Thankfully now, all of those ruins are preserved.

We walked up the Palatine Hill and learned about a massive palace that was once there. We walked through it’s gardens and grounds and again, were astonished by the sheer size of it.

There were also some amazing vista points looking over the Forum from the Hill.

We then went down into the Forum and walked the ancient roads of Rome. It was interesting how Rome was built on different levels as people would just build on top of older buildings. Because of the various levels, city planning for Rome is difficult because builder’s never know what they will find once they break ground.

We were pretty exhausted after our tour, but Ryan was still willing to walk over to the Trastevere area where our Biking guide from the day prior said the best restaurants were. We walked for about 20 minutes before happening upon a row of really cute places with great menus. We looked at all of their menus and saw some of the food people were eating, and opted to eat at Ditta Trinchetti. What a great idea that was! The kitchen was right behind us and we could see the chefs making our food. We had some delicious olive bread to start, and then I had the most amazing carbonara of my life. Ryan had a lasagna that was mouth-watering as well and I would have eaten there the rest of the trip if I could.

Right before we tabbed out, the power went out for the entire restaurant! It took them a few minutes to get back up and running, but then the credit card machines didn’t want to connect! Our waitress gave us some delicious lemon cookies to munch on while we waited and, after about 7 attempts to process our card, we finally paid for our meal. We had about a 30 minute walk back to the hotel, so we grabbed some gelato for the way back, and admired the Castel Sant’Angelo and other sites we came across along our moon lit stroll back to the hotel.

Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

I woke up this morning with a little wine-induced fuzzyness from our romantic evening prior. I was pretty proud that I set my alarm, charged my devices, and even pre-packed a little! I felt great though and it was time for another fantastic breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel. I didn’t eat apple pie for breakfast again this morning, instead opting for croissants, some prosciutto and cheese, and yogurt. Ryan ordered the “best pancakes of his life” which were more like crapes with a fantastic berry compote. He also got a ham and cheese omelette and I tried the Diocletian omelette made of prosecco and honey which, unfortunately, was brown/ greyish, looked pretty gross, and didn’t have much flavor.

After breakfast, we packed our room up, checked out of the hotel, and left our bags at the front desk. We had a minor panic when the front desk tried to give us our rental car keys back from the day before – the hotel was supposed to call the rental car company the night prior so they could pickup the car! Somehow, that didn’t happen and the hotel wanted to charge us for parking and who knows what the charge would have been from the rental company! Thankfully, the hotel comped our parking charge and got things sorted with the car company so the crisis was averted.

We decided to do a little shopping before our 1:30 ride to the airport. It was sprinkling a bit but that didn’t stop the businesses of the city! First, we stopped at Jupiter’s temple in the palace. Apparently, the tickets we bought to the bell tower two days prior included Jupiter’s Temple, so the guy at the front entrance just asked to see pictures of us at the bell tower as proof we bought the tickets – pretty smart move huh?

The temple was slightly underwhelming, consisting of one statue and 3 caskets, but seeing stone caskets from 10 AD was pretty surreal.

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After the temple, we walked to the green market and it was bustling! I wish we had a market like that in Texas! The smells of the flowers, herbs, meat, and cheese were intoxicating and even made my overly full stomach rumble. We bought some freshly shaved prosciutto, honey, lavender, and olive oils for our families and didn’t want to leave.

 

Eventually, the time came for us to head to the hotel. I had left over cheese, bread, and meat from dinner the night before, so that was my “light lunch” before we took off to the airport. Our cab driver was quite talkative and pointed out all of the historical sites along our 30 minute ride. He also told us the state of the country and how governmental corruption has made it impossible for foreign investors to invest in Croatia, how there are only jobs during summer tourist season and that, during winter, there are not enough jobs to go around. How the pay is not enough for young people to start family’s so more Croatians live outside of Croatia and in Croatia because there are more job opportunities. It was quite a sad but interesting point of view.

The Split airport only has 8 terminals and is super small. Checking in for our flight took about 30 minutes and we had 1.5 hours to kill before takeoff. The airport was so small that, once we did need to board, we walked the tarmac to the airplane and walked up a short flight of stairs onto the craft. There wasn’t even room for carry on bags! Fortunately, the tiny plane had no issues taking us to Rome, though it was too small for a gate and we took a bus from our landing pad into the Rome airport.

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It was about a 65 euro taxi / Uber ride from the airport to our hotel in Rome so we decided to take the train for 14 euros instead. The train was relatively easy to find as the airport is so well signed, and we were on a direct train to Rome quickly. The travel time taking the train vs. a cab was actually very similar too – so no time lost!

We were in a bit of a hurry at this point since we had a 8 PM reservation at Il Pagliaccio.  Translated as “The Clown”, Il Pagilaccio is a two Michelin Star winning Italian restaurant in the middle of Rome run by chef Anthony Genovese. Since there aren’t any Michelin Star places in Texas, we wanted to try one out as a honeymoon treat! We arrived at our hotel at 7 PM and the restaurant was about a 15 minute drive, so we needed to change quickly – the only problem was the guy at reception had trouble finding our reservation. I got about 4 emails over the past three days from Expedia telling me our stay at the Dharma Hotel was approaching and I had my confirmation sheet printed, so I was so confused. I handed him my sheet and he directed my attention to the date of our stay, September 30th, and reminded me it was only September 25th! I accidentally brought us to the hotel we are staying in before we head back to Texas! Ryan was not happy and the time was ticking!

The front desk guy called us a cab and we rushed to the new hotel, he dropped us off on a side street and we finally found the Spagna Royal Suites and rang the bell. The guy who answered said we were, yet again at the wrong place, and we needed to go to the other Spagna hotel down the street – seriously? Ryan was laughing at me and it was already 7:40 so when we arrived, huffing and panicked at the Spagna, they quickly tried to calm us down. The two reception guys called the restaurant to bump back our reservation to 8:30 and walked us through the amazing concept hotel. They brought us down to level two, where our room was, and walked us through the amenities, including a sauna in our room! There were even a bunch of fish tanks spanning the entire wall adjacent to our room with jelly fish and other sea creatures. How cool!

Jelly fish tanks at the Spagna Royal Suites in Rome, Italy

We quickly freshened up and were off in another adventurous cab ride, squeezing narrowly through alleyways packed with people and cars. We didn’t think we were going to make it a few times but successfully got to Il Pagliaccio in good time.

The staff at Il Pagliaccio was so polished, with white gloves and perfect timing, and I loved the ambiance of the restaurant. We were seated in a corner table and I couldn’t help but eaves drop on some of the interesting conversations at tables near us, spanning from the hedged-fund class dating scene in NYC, to tips on how to write thrilling, non-fiction novels. It was quite a scene.

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We choose to do the 8 course “surprise” tasting menu and started with a glass of Pinot Grigio before transitioning to a nice, 2012 Chianti Classico (Ryan’s favorite) to go with it.

The dinner started with 3 amuse bouche dishes, ranging from 36 month old parmesan cheese, dry yeast and venison waffle with salad, lentils and blue cheese, chickpea foam with anchovies and crunch bread, and a “surprise” mushroom dish.

The main courses began with a chilled mushroom soup and oyster in green, burrata and tapioca. The chilled soup was an amazing start to the night. To be honest, when the oyster arrived on our table, I was slightly hesitant, but I do love oysters. It ended up being a surprisingly delicious course with interesting texture bold flavors.

As a pasta lover, when the tagliolino came out with a savory sauce and freshly made noodles, all of my senses were sent to heaven! The first pasta course was followed with veal tortellini and carrots, and I was finally, again, reunited with truly Italian pasta. While my taste buds wished that the dishes were twice their size, my stomach was already starting to fill up – oh no!

We enjoyed some delicious bread variations with the main courses. One of the breads was a fantastical crispy and fluffy salted focaccia. It was by far my favorite. I finally flagged down the waitress to get a second portion of the carby goodness but, before I could take a bite, another waiter came and delivered our white fish and peas course and stealthily took my bread! I think that moment was the saddest I have ever been in relation to food. Like, envision your favorite piece of food ever, and then, as you are about to enjoy a miraculous bite, someone swoops in and takes it from you, never to ever be had again! And now you feel my ciabatta sorrow…

Do you know what the best way to cure bread-induced depression? Desert! After we finished our final entre, the desert train started down the tracks.. and was 5 carts long! It all started with milk ice cream, goat cheese, caramelized rice and pear compote in an amazingly complex dish. My favorite part was the bits of cereal under the ice cream which gave some crunch to the otherwise soft compilation.

Milk ice cream, goat cheese, caramelized rice and pear compote.

Next was a lemon cake topped with mint and berry, a sorbet, assortment of truffles and other little pastries.

We were stuffed beyond reason. Thankfully, I came prepared in a flowy dress, and we had a long walk back through the streets of Rome to our hotel. We even got a sneak night-peak at the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon before arriving at the hotel.

Continue reading this adventure…

Split, Day 2

Split, Day 2

My breakfast this morning consisted of Apple Pie! Apple pie, freshly shaven prosciutto, delicious cheese, fruit filled warm croissants, almost a fried fish, and an assortment of other amazingly scrumptious things. The breakfast at the Coronaro Hotel is probably one of the best I’ve ever had, only rivaling that in the SoSofitel Hotel in Thailand.

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After totally stuffing ourselves, we grabbed our travel bag and met the rental car guy in the lobby to get our car for today’s adventure – Krka Falls. I basically signed my life and life’s savings away for the car and the deposit, so I was pretty terrified to drive it. After successfully navigating outside of the tiny car park at the hotel, we were on the road and my driving confidence slowly came back.

It was about a 50 minute, super scenic drive through the mountains, tunnels, and towns to get to Krka. The little car we had had some trouble getting up to the speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour, so it was pedal-to-the-metal to keep up with the other cars. It was only on the way back that Ryan told me to use cruise control! That made things so much easier!

We pulled up at the parking lot of the Park, bought our tickets, and searched for sun screen. Let me tell you, Ryan and I are convinced that Croatians do not believe in sun screen. I scoured all of the markets / pharmacies in the Split the day before, checked with the hotel, and even went to the shops around the falls, but all of the shop attendants looked at us funny when we asked it they sold sun screen. We brought some with us, but one of our bottles disappeared, so we were totally out of luck! I highly recommend bringing as much as you can from the US if you visit Croatia because its like a treasure hunt for the stuff when you get here. When we did find it, it was around $20 for a 3 oz. bottle!

We opted to walk off our huge breakfast by journeying the 15 minute hike down the gravel path to the falls instead of taking the bus. The walk was beautiful and you could hear the falls as we got closer and closer! They were huge and there were so many! ‘

There is a wooden bridge-way that goes through the forest on-top of the falls / waterways (see map above). You literally walk over all of the streams and can watch fish swim under you and down the falls. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The walk around to falls takes about an hour and is so worth it! There were so many views and it was so relaxing to be out in such a beautiful place.

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We were a little peckish by the time we got to the base of the falls and Ryan couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw a hot dog stand. I swear, the man loves hot dogs more than anything else in this world. His eyes light up like an anime kids eyes do in cartoons when they see candy! While he was enjoying his hot dog, this lady walked up behind him and took a photo. She then offered me money for the photo. It was a very strange encounter but I have to imagine that photo is hanging in a great place of honor in her household now?

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After making Ryan’s dreams come true by buying a hot dog and turning down the cash from the little lady, I got some pistachio gelato and we sat by the falls, people watching and taking it all in.

Unlike the Plitvice Lakes National Park outside of Zagreb, you can swim at the base of one of the waterfalls in Krka. I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in the perfect temperature water.

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After relaxing by the falls for a while, we had to hike back up. We stopped by the 2nd hydroelectric plant ever made in the world which happens to be located at he base of the falls. The first plant was made in Niagara Falls and opened only 2 days before the one at Krka.

Ryan was getting annoyed at me because I stopped at every vista point, but I just love waterfalls apparently!

We took a quick hike to the boat area that takes motors to a few other waterfalls, an island, and some caves. The boat ride was 4 hours long and we needed to get back to Split to drop the car off, so we passed on the excursion. After that, it was back to the car. We had to walk back up the massive hill that we easily hiked down. It was so steep and we couldn’t stop walking for fear that we couldn’t start back up again!

Huffing and puffing, we got back to our car and it was on the road again back to Split. We had to get some gas to fill up the rental before heading to the hotel and was shocked that the cost to half-way fill-up our little rental car was the same cost as a full tank for my Toyota Yaris! So crazy!

We got back to the hotel in Split, showered off, and decided to walk the town. It was only 4 PM but, with such a light lunch, we decided to grab an early dinner. All I really wanted was a good charcuterie board and we heard that Bokeria was the place to go for such fare. A waiter came and gave us menus but never came back to our table. Even though the restaurant was not busy, we sat for a good 25 minutes with no attention or waters, so we decided to leave. With such rave reviews, I was OK with waiting a little longer, but Ryan’s hanger wouldn’t stand for it!

We walked through a few squares before coming across another place that had a big picture of a charcuterie board in front of it and decent prices, so we grabbed a table. We ordered the meat and cheese board and a pizza for us to share and, even though we said we weren’t going to drink, the $3 house wine ended up on our table.

The meat and cheese board arrived but it only had cheese and bread on it. I alerted the waiter, who replied “Nema problema!”, and came out with a huge second board of delicious prosciutto. We definitely did not need that much but it was so yummy. Another round of heavily poured wine later, our pizza came out and it was cheese overload, but that is never a bad thing. I swear I am going to gain 20 pounds on this trip…

After dinner, we gallivanted through the streets and “accidentally” bought some more gelato. We wondered back to the hotel and grabbed one of the bottles of wine we bought in Hvar. The plan was to drink it on the rooftop patio / bar at the hotel, but one of the bartenders in the elevator up to the top informed us we could not bring it upstairs. At this point, we were quite tipsy, and we decided to be rebels and finish ½ our wine in the lobby of the hotel and then sneak the rest up to the top patio. The sunset view of the port from the roof of the hotel was amazing and we decided to top off the night with a glass of desert wine.

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The bartender didn’t have any port upstairs but he ran down to grab some from the restaurant for us. That should have been my first indication that it was going to be a pricy glass of wine, however, it was delicious and the rooftop was so romantic I didn’t care to ask and we eventually just bought the bottle….

All of a sudden, a Rat Pack song came on and Ryan and I danced. He spun me a few times and, when we finished, a group at the end of the patio gave us a round of applause. They eventually came up to us to chat and we realized that one couple’s kids live up the street from us! Small world, huh?

Once we were done with our wine, our elevator friend / waiter told us that we could use one of the rooftop hot tubs for free. The hotel opened their spa 3 weeks before our stay at and installed 3 private hot tubs on the rooftop that overlooked the palace and the harbor. Typically, you have to reserve and pay to use the hot tubs, but I guess our waiter decided to give us a treat!  We ran to our room to change and the spa was the perfect temperature by the time we got back. Talk about a romantic night! We enjoyed every second and I honestly didn’t want the night to end.

Hvar, Day 2

Hvar, Day 2

Today was a relaxing day. After 10.5 hours of sleep and a 9 AM wake up, we got some croissants (my favorite pastries in the world) and breakfast with a view at the hotel. Who cared about some of the missing amenities at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort when you have a pool like the below, including a water slide!

Our view at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

 

After breakfast, we grabbed some sun chairs by the pool. The pool had an endless edge which made our view amazing. At one point, they even turned on the water slide which I couldn’t resist! It took us a few attempts to get the slide technique down right for max speed. The pool was absolutely freezing as well but there were some other people enjoying it so, if they could do it, we could suck it up too!

Ryan got quite a few glasses of wine and read while I looked at Instagram memes and tried to relax. Around 1, we decided to get lunch. Ryan ordered pizza and focaccia and I changed mind mind at the last second from a smoothie to homemade spaghetti carbonara – we were not expecting the massive food portions (made to feed a village!) or we would have shared.

My massive lunch of carbonara at the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort in Croatia

After lunch, we soaked up the sun for another hour before getting ready for our wine tour.

We met Mario, our tour driver, in the lobby around 3. He was a boisterous Croatian with a family history on the island of Hvar dating back over 600 years! Mario was our guide to two wineries around the island and then to a scenic dinner in an abandoned village. All along the drive, he told us fun facts, let us enjoy the look-out points, and showed us how to rub the natively grown rosemary in our hands for an amazing smell.

We arrived in Jesla, a little down on the other side of the island that was home to both of the wineries we were visiting. We walked quite a ways through the town to the little converted garage that served as the wine tasting room for Teo Huljic’s wine. Teo makes about 6-7,00 bottles of Hvar grown wine per year for the local people and restaurants. He also owns one of the best eateries in down called Konoba Huljic. Our wine guide was very knowledgeable about the grapes grown on Hvar, spoke over 5 languages, and provided some delicious olive tapenade, breads, and spreads to go with the wines.

All of our glasses were solid 5 oz pour, making for an excellent tasting! The owner, Teo, even joined us towards the end and showed me how to cork the bottles we bought.

We eventually walked back through the town to our next winery, Dubokovic. Since it was the end of tourist season, the town was totally empty, making it very romantic.

 

We finally arrived at our second winery and were led down to the basement barrel room. Again, talk about romantic! Our table was among the barrels of wine and it had red candles, wine, cheese, and an assortment of olive oil all made in Hvar for us to taste.

We were in for yet another treat when the winery owner himself lead our tasting, walking us through the various grapes and their personalities over the years. He even went above and beyond and let us try 9 different wines! All of them were very tasty, though Ryan and I had very different opinions on our favorite wine and olive oil – so we had to buy a bunch of them different ones to take home.

Eventually, we smelled, swirled, and sipped through all of our wines and were on toward our final stop, Stori Komin in Malo Grablje. To pass the time, our guide Mario challenged me to a singing competition. Little did we know, Mario was the Croatian equivalent to Josh Groban and sang in an acapella group. He sang traditional Croatia songs to us for about twenty minutes until we pulled up to the ruins of Malo Grablje!

Malo Grablje was abandoned many years ago and only one family remains. That family has a small, 8 table restaurant, Stori Komin, that looks over the valley. If you go to Hvar, you HAVE to visit Stori Komin. We walked through the abandoned homes on a dusk hike up to the restaurant, and Mario pointed out his great, great grandfather’s house among the dilapidated buildings.

Again, we had yet another stunning view from our table at the restaurant. We could also see our food cooking on the fire pit – talk about rustic!

We sat down at one of the tables and quickly started chatting with the only other couple at the restaurant, some very nice South Africans. We ended up talking to them our entire dinner, only pausing to thank our waitress for each dish she brought out. We started with some scrumptious anchovies in olive oil with capers from the area, fresh cheese, tomatoes, and prosciutto.

I ordered one glass of wine and they brought out a large pitcher instead! About halfway through, a bug flew into my pitcher and they brought out another brand new and full one! Talk about A) good service and B) a very lively wine induced dinner! Our main course was this insanely good lamb chop bake with potatoes and carrots. The smell of the lamb cooking on the stove throughout our dinner was so good and the finished product did not disappoint! All of that food was followed with desert of candied almonds, dried dates, and a yummy desert wine. We were stuffed!

The restaurant also had a dog named Cesar running around. He was so cute and reminded us of our puppy back home. Apparently, the family found him almost starved to death, stuck in a ditch in a grave yard, and they brought him back, fed him some food, and he never left. He was so cute and really enjoyed some of our left overs!

After about two hours of delicious food, wine, and great conversation, it was time to hop back in the car with Mario and drive to the hotel. On route, Mario stopped under the castle at the top of the mountain overlooking the harbor and told us how it used to be a disco. Him and his friends would climb into the tower window of the castle (below) to enter the night club and that was how he met his second wife. Mario was full of personality and some great stories!

We got back to our hotel around 10 PM and I fell into bed. We had an early morning for our boat ride to Split and Ryan told me I needed to pack before bed. I responded, with full conviction, that I was already packed and that I was going to sleep in as late as possible. Of course, in the morning, I awoke to the real situation – a suitcase that look like it exploded in the middle of the night with clothes strewn everywhere.. Note to self, wine-brain lies to you about your packing status!

Continue on our journey through Croatia…