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Guest Post: Tuscany’s Unconventional Certaldo

Editors Note: The following is a guest post. If you’re interested in writing a guest post for Heather’s Harmony you can find more information here, to see previous City Spotlights here

City Spotlight: Certaldo, discovering unconventional Tuscany

Tuscany is one of the most visited regions in the world. It is one of the symbols of Italy and dolce vita, where you can eat delicious food, taste excellent wine while looking at stunning landscapes.

And yes this is Tuscany! Unfortunately most of the visitors will never know the real taste of my beautiful region, because they don’t know that there is much more to see than Florence, Siena and Chianti. Of course these are the most important areas, but Tuscany is not just that.

If you want to experience Tuscany, to really blend with locals and get a taste of dolce vita I suggest you visit Valdelsa and its beautiful hamlets such as Certaldo, one of my favorite place down there.

Certaldo is a small medieval hamlet where time stopped by at the Middle Ages. It is located on top of a hill surrounded by round and green hills designed by vineyards and olive groves.

 

A bit of history

It dates back to Etruscan-Roman Era, but had its major splendor in the Middle Ages when it played an important role to control the area during the fights between Florence and Semifonte, and then between Florence and Siena.

It became part of the Florentine Republic in 1184 and in 1313 gave birth to one of the most famous Italian writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio, who wrote the Decameron. In 15th century Certaldo had its major splendor and chronicles reports that there was an hospital and a school, since it was the major Vicariate of the area. After the 16th century Certaldo didn’t grow any longer and started slowly to falter.

Since then the hamlet didn’t change that much and it preserves its original beauty.

 

What to see

Certaldo is the perfect destination for a day out in Tuscany. The best thing to do is to walk around; just wander, while you’re taking pictures of its streets and secrete gardens. Feel its ancient history and enjoy its daily life.

Visit Palazzo Pretorio, the old town hall where you can see the ancient jails, and Boccaccio House where the great poet was born. Inside the former Church of Santi Tommaso and Prospero look at the incredible Giustiziati tabernacle by renaissance painter Benozzo Gozzoli.


Then visit the Church of Santi Jacopo and Filippo, where there is the tomb of Bocaccio, and then the Sacred Art Museum exposing great artworks. Take a walk in via del Rivellino and look at the landscape where you can easily recognize San Gimignano into the landscape.


What to do

What I love about Certaldo, it’s the relaxing and familiar atmosphere. It’s the perfect place for a slow day and a full immersion in the Italian dolce vita where you can have delicious Tuscan food, excellent wine while looking at a stunning landscape.

If you want you can take a cooking class at the Giuseppina Cooking School where you can learn to make hand made pasta to prepare the perfect Italian dinner. Or you can have lunch at Messer Boccaccio, typical Tuscan restaurant with a panoramic terrace. Or what about taking a cappuccino at La Dolce Vita while chatting with locals?

My suggestion: blend with locals and enjoy Italian life style!

A bit more

If you want to discover more and you’re visiting Tuscany, I recommend you download for free TooMuchcertaldo, the guide of Certaldo available for iPhone and Android!

And if you want to discover more about Tuscany, come and visit my blog about unconventional Tuscany, TooMuchTuscany, where you can find information about destinations, events and other peculiarities about my lovely region.

MQ

Saturday Snapshot: Vienna’s Museums Quartier

Can you imagine getting burnt out from seeing too many cathedrals, historic monuments, museums and learning about new cultures? The idea was preposterous to me at first until traveling became more about the journey than the destination. I’ve always tried to fit in as much as possible during my 2 week vacations from my work, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult for me to relax and constantly fight the urge to push myself to see everything I possibly can… which can lead to travel burn out.

My solution was to take in 2-3 sights per day and finding a few hours each day to just be me.

Vienna, Austria was the perfect place to begin practicing slow travel, after visiting the local film festival, a beautiful park and an art museum I found myself in love with one of Vienna’s most popular hangout spots, The Museum Quartier.

 

With its central location, comfortable and modern lounge chairs and free wi-fi it was the ideal place for me to unwind and enjoy the beautiful weather complimented with Austria’s artistic crowds. My last day in Vienna was clouded by a run in with local police which put me in a rather frustrated mood so I opted to stay out of the museums and tourist traps and decided to return to my local haven, enjoy a cold beer in the middle of the day and escape into a book.

It was just what I needed to leave Vienna relaxed and replenished and ready to conquer my next city.

If you are ever in Vienna I highly recommend that you spend at least a few hours in Vienna’s museum district without spending lots of money to enter any of these said museums. On Monday I will be sharing the adventure of being reprimanded for violating Vienna’s strict rules…. stay tuned!

 

Wagen = Wagon 21 and Sitzplatz= Seat 16

Heather 1 vs. First European Train Ride 0

My venture into Hamburg alone for the first time was an intimidating experience. I was lucky enough to have my dear friend Janne offer to let me stay with her and show me around for a few days before escaping to the countryside for her brother’s wedding, I couldn’t have planned the beginning of my first solo trip better if I’d tried.

I spent the morning before my flight with friends and family before my brothers took me to the airport and before I knew it I was on a plane leaving my home of almost 20 years. Each and every moment is full of overwhelming emotion, several times I have tried to put into words what this feels like and still… I’ve got nothing. There is no possible way I can ever truly explain what it is like to be living my dreams, to work so hard for something and at times doubting that I had the strength to follow through. Surreal is a good word at times.

I am writing to you from my very first European train ride from Hamburg, Germany to Vienna, Austria I was so nervous about missing my train and my reservation ticket didn’t have any English on it so I was totally lost and confused. Fortunately I figured out how to decipher a schedule posted in the station, found my error and just barely made my train.

Wagen = Wagon 21 and Sitzplatz= Seat 16

It was so noisy in the train station I couldn’t understand where on the platform I should wait to board the right wagon (cart) and ended up on the completely wrong end and had to walk through the entire train while trying not to hit too many people with my backpack (much more of a task than it sounds)!

But alas, here I am safe and sound in my designated seat as the German countryside confirms all my suspicions that riding during the day would pay off rather than sleeping through its beaming crop fields, deep green tree covered hills, quaint brick infused villages and bright blue sky.

I am traveling intuitively, which means that I have no plans and can very easily change locations whenever I feel like it however, there is a downside to traveling this way. Europe is beautiful and idyllic and every turn so deciding where to go is a overwhelming! I was waiting for a sign of where I should go next and nothing really spoke to me so I asked my facebook fans what they thought and the first response was Vienna so I booked my train ticket, found a couchsurfing friend to stay with and viola!

I’m ready to discover Vienna, Austria!

 

Passion Profile: Medivac Helicopter Pilot

Editors Note: The following is a guest post by Lorena blogs about flying and living in Alaska at BigStateBigLife.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and @bigstatebiglife.
I’m a 37-year-old female medivac helicopter pilot. Most of my industry coworkers are military trained pilots. Many of them flew in Vietnam. Sometimes I feel a bit like a zebra in Iceland. So, why helicopters then? Passion.
I was born and raised in Alaska, a place that has have six times as many pilots per capita and 16 times as many aircraft per capita when compared to the rest of the United States. My Dad had an airplane and I spent much of my childhood in the back seat exploring Alaska. I always knew I would fly but I never really thought of it as a job. The only job I imagined was piloting a large commercial airplane. Sitting in a seat for hours babysitting the controls? No, thanks. Flying was a hobby.

It wasn’t until I took a ride in a helicopter that my passion for flight was truly awakened.
Flying helicopters is a zen experience. To be a good pilot you must be completely relaxed and totally focused all at the same time. The precision and concentration needed to fly well, coupled with an awe-inspiring view of Alaska, makes my job perfect. Now that I’m working in the EMS industry, it is even more rewarding.
Flying helicopters is extremely expensive and isn’t something most could afford as a hobby. To pursue my dream, it required a career change. Two years and an ungodly sum of money later (ultimately I sold my home to pay for training) I had my first flying job.  This isn’t to say that flying helicopters is for everyone. Many, many sacrifices are required to meet the high cost of training and the often-transient lifestyle of a helicopter pilot. Worth it? Definitely. Doing something you are passionate about is always worth it.
Flying helicopters has led me to platforms many miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, above scores of migrating caribou along Alaska’s Arctic Coastal Plain, touch down on the Taku Glacier near Juneau, swoop amid the peaks of the Alaska Range, and over the salmon-rich Kenai River. The view from my “corner office” is one of the best in the world. It all started by following my passion.

 Where has your passion taken you lately?

 To learn more about writing a guest post for Heathers Harmony go here

No Women Allowed

Innocence is No Where to be Found After a Visit to Germany’s Red Light District

What happens when a girl raised in the conservative thresholds of the Mormon church encounters one of the most risqué districts in all of Germany.

All innocence is lost.

My friend warns me as we begin to approach Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (Red Light District) that all women wearing fanny packs are in fact prostitutes and to my surprise there are dozens of young women sporting the out of date 80’s staple. I am surprised at how many there are and they don’t just make cat calls to the men on the sidewalk and across the street in German but also in English “Ooooo, don’t be so shy, come here baby!”  Most men glance in their direction but give no real attention to their calls for company that evening.

No Women Allowed

Soon we approach an ally way which I am informed is only for men of age, women and children are not allowed and even though it is a public street if you dared to pass through these red doors you can expect name calling and buckets of water to be thrown your way. Past these doors are women, clothed or unclothed I’ll never know, dancing in windows with what I can only presume are decorated in notorious red colored lights. Being from a country where prostitution isn’t legal (except for a few counties in Nevada) I wonder how many of these men really pursue physical affections from these women and what benefits are to be had from its availability. It feels odd not to be acknowledged by the men or the women, not that I make it a habit of wishing for such attentions but it is noteworthy that unless you are selling or buying physical affection you need only continue on your way, so we did.

My friend informs me that no trip is complete without 1: a shot called the “Mexican” a delicious shot similar to that of a bloody mary from what appears to be a complete and total dive bar by the name of Lucky Star.

2: A trip to a sex shop. Yep, little did I know that during my first week in Europe and as an expat I’d be visiting a sex shop!

We make our way to the more classy appearing shops known as the “Erotica Boutique Bizarre” and bizarre it was! I won’t go into details but let’s just say that I learned a lot about peoples varying sexual desires and I pride myself on not having a single clue to what some of the items were. I made a half hazard comment to my friend about what a terrible marketing and sales department this store had because I needed a picture or instruction manual for at least half of what we saw and none were available. I suppose I really owe them a thank you for that!

It is also worthy to note that just as I stepped back to take a photo of the boutique that claimed my innocence a couple (easily old enough to be my parents) walked up to the window, started discussing in a language I didn’t know and then promptly walked inside.

 

Will Hamburg’s Reeperbahn make it on your list of places to visit?

 

I am currently backpacking through Europe without an itinerary or schedule for optimized flexibility, to keep up to date on where I am right now be sure to join the travels on facebook & twitter and as always if you’re in the area and interested in meeting up or have any questions about traveling or expat life leave them in the comments or give me a shout!