Italy Day 4: Florence

I remember the first time I went to Florence…it was summer 2004, and my friends and I were in the middle of a 6-week study abroad course in London. We took a four day weekend trip to Italy, flying into Rome, doing the whole stay in hostels thing (which looking back now, GAH-ROSS). We were taking a train to Florence, then to Milan, but once we got to the train station in Rome, we couldn’t find Florence on the schedules. We searched and searched, and panicked because the last train heading out to any city starting with an “F” was about to leave. We said eff it, let’s just get on this train and hope it ends up in Florence. We ended up in…

Firenze. Which is Italian for Florence. Oh, and we were idiots.

We got there, immediately boarded a bus to who knows where, forties of Heineken in our hands (yes, we were those Americans), and got off at our stop, in the middle of nowhere. No street lamps, pure darkness. We linked hands and attempted to walk up the hill to our hostel but completely chickened out. So we hightailed back into town, dropped big bucks on a Holiday Inn, and packed ourselves into our wonderfully comfortable hotel room.

The breakfast was pretty yummy too.

But this time was a 180 degree experience. First of all, I knew which train to take this time, so a million bonus points to me. And we got there around 10 AM and made a day of it. We only went to to the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia at the perfect times with light tourist traffic (and I bought tickets online for the Uffizi so we didn’t have to wait in the line, which was still ridiculous in October), so we spent the rest of the day walking. And walking. And walking some more.

Florence isn’t my favorite city in Italy. It’s really tourist-dense, even at the end of October (worse in summer), and very English-speaking, which takes away some of the magic of being in Italy. It’s still unbelievably gorgeous and history-rich, so I can’t hate on Firenze too much. It really is worth it to visit.

Tip: there was a crazy line waiting to climb to the top of the Duomo at 10 AM on a Tuesday in October. Imagine it in summer. We took the tip from our guidebook to climb to the top of the Campanile instead as there’s a way shorter line and pretty much the same view. I think the Duomo is 467 steps, the Campanile is 414 steps. Pretty even. It’s 10 euros, and you need stamina. We were huffing it up, and I think my legs almost gave out about 4 times, but it was completely worth it.

I attempted to take some food recommendations into account, but because October was insane, I added the recs (to the itinerary I posted earlier) but printed out an earlier version that didn’t have those recs on them. Good job Victoria.

We did take a recommendation from our Fodor’s Italy guide book and ate at La Casalinga in the Santo Spirito area. It ended up being the meal that lasted us into the following morning because we’re American and we totally went overboard. Even our waiter’s eyes bulged as we kept rattling off menu items to order.

I think the best and only way to see a city is to wander through it. I made sure that as we wandered, we would stumble upon the major sites. But people watching, taking our time, connecting with each other and the city, it’s an amazing feeling. Enjoy the pictures.

While at the Galleria dell’Academie, wandering around and around the David statue, we accidentally stumbled upon the greatest Long Island stereotypes ever. Two couples had hired a tour guide to take them around Florence, and as they were viewing the David, one of the women said, “I can’t believe it’s still standing after all (think awl) this time. I can’t believe it hasn’t fallen (think fawlen) over!” Her husband replied, “Babe, it’s physics, see the stump, it balances it so that it doesn’t fall (think fawl) over.”

So that was amusing obviously because accents are great. However, the best part was them viewing a painting where the main figure was holding a picture of Moses. But they misheard the guide and thought the painting was of Moses. This is the conversation that ensued:

Man (imagine with thick accent and spoken fast): “So uh, that’s not Moses?”

Tour guide: “No, no, see, he’s holding a picture of Moses.”

Man: “So that’s not Moses saying, ‘Uh hey, let my people go’?”

No sir, considering Moses wasn’t riding a horse while he gave that speech and wasn’t alive during the 1400s.

But even better was the other couple’s reactions to pre-Renaissance art. He said, “Yea, I like Renaissance art better. They painted a lot better then.”

Yes, that’s why it’s called the Renaissance sir. Americans always come through when you need them to.

The last two days were probably my favorite days ever so stay tuned.

♥, VB

Italy Day 3: Reggio Emilia and Modena

When I originally planned out our trip, I had cities to visit every single day. Once we landed, the fatigue from flying, the semester, my certification program, everything, came crashing down on me so I asked Timmy if Friday, would he rather wake up a bit later, tour our village, maybe go to Siena, and in general, really relax? Of course his answer was yes.

So that changed our other traveling days a little bit. The ambitious nature in me thought we could do 3 cities in one day. Why not? They were all located in a straight line, nearly 30-45 minutes away from each other, and all we had to do was start at the farthest city and then stop by each one on our way home.

Yeah that didn’t happen. Sleep happened.

So we shortened our plans (which it turned out we didn’t shorten them enough), and headed to Reggio Emilia, home of parmigiano reggiano.

(Everytime I say or write that, I immediately think of Giada DeLaurentis and her over-exaggerated way of pronouncing Italian words. Love it.)

This trip was not well-timed. In addition to leaving the house late, we arrived in Reggio Emilia, a super cute, tiny little town during the Italian version of siesta. Everything was closed. No one was out. We suck.

But hey, we drove almost 2.5 hours to the Emilia-Romagna region, so we decided just to make the best of it and take a stroll around the town. And it was adorable.

So tiny and so different from the Tuscan mountain cities we had seen up until now. We left Reggio Emilia and headed about 45 minutes east to Modena, home of the greatest balsamic vinegar in the world. The original plan was to visit a balsamic vinegar company for a tour and tastings, but they never responded confirming our tour, and besides, the whole day was off from the moment we woke up.

Modena was such a surprise to us; we loved it. I made the mistake of driving into the historical part of the city, and tried for a good 10 minutes to parallel park our little Fiat, only to realize that we were probably going to get ticketed for even bringing our car there (since there are cameras on the perimeter of the historical section). Silly tourists.

This town…wow. It was gorgeous. We walked and walked and walked some more as the town woke up from siesta and came alive. We were there until the sun set, and it was definitely worth it.

We tried to hit Bologna, home of bolognese sauce (which is undoubtedly my favorite thing ever), but it was dark, we were tired, hungry, and the traffic, oh the traffic! It took us an hour to get into the city, a city maybe the size of Athens, GA. We tried forever to find parking only to find that the one spot we pulled into was about 3 miles away from the restaurant we wanted to eat at. I was DONE. Enough driving, enough walking, enough tourist-ing (not a word). Plus, thanks to Daylight Saving, it was completely dark so we couldn’t really see anything in the first place. Bummer, but one day, we’ll come back and plan better.

Our next day was Florence, and that my friends, was a super successful trip. Stay tuned.

♥, VB

Italy Day Two: Perugia and Cortona

Before I forget, I was notified by one of my friends last week that although our Italian selfies were lovely, she wanted more food posts. Those pictures we only took on the nice camera, so let me share with you our first meal in Tuscany. Once we got to our villa after leaving Rome and unloaded everything Saturday night, we made our way 2 km up the mountain to what will probably be one of our favorite places on earth for the rest of our lives.

Ristorante Malborghetto was a haven of unreal food, wine, and people. We were already signed up to take a cooking class there on Thursday morning, and we definitely came back for another dinner that week; we just couldn’t stay away. Truffles were everywhere, handmade pasta, the sauces, the meat, the cheese…where was I again? Oh yeah, so we ate dinner, filled ourselves with an amazing Chianti, and then went back and COMPLETELY PASSED OUT into a delightful sleepy bliss.

Happy accidents can make for the best memories. After struggling to get up on Sunday morning (which also contained a nice Daylight Savings time switch, so that was fun), we made our way by car to the train station in Montevarchi about 30 minutes away only to find out that we had missed the train. A combination of Timmy getting up too late and me reading the incorrect time on the printout wasn’t the greatest start to the day.

So we sucked it up and decided to drive 1.5 hours to Perugia in order to enjoy the 2014 Eurochocolate Festival. Yes, that says Eurochocolate. I unknowingly planned our week vacation to coincide with the final day of the week-long Eurochocolate festival, and you better believe that was one of the first things I added to our agenda when I found that out.

On our way through winding Tuscan roads to the Umbria region, we spotted a few things that made us wonder if we were imagining things. On the side of the road (and keep in mind we’re talking RURAL roads…early on a Sunday morning), not once but twice, we saw hookers.

Hookers. Hooking. On a Sunday morning in the middle of Tuscany.

So yeah, that happened.

Anyways, we got to Perugia, which happens to be one of the best preserved medieval cities in Italy, parked, and made our way to the mini-train to go up the mountain. The mini-train was freaking adorable, and felt like we were on a ride at Disney, making our way up the side of a mountain to the town.

We arrived, and HOLY CRAP. The views were unbelievable.

Perugia in panorama

Perugia in panorama

Unreal. We walked around the town, trying to control our anxiety through MASSIVE crowds, bought a few chocolate goodies, and loved the town all-around.

We found our way back to the car and on our way home, we saw that Cortona was just a short drive away. So we decided, why the hell not? It wasn’t on our original plans, but we made it happen anyway. A good college friend of Timmy’s got married in Cortona last year, and we weren’t able to make it. We wanted to, but after having moved to Florida and starting new jobs, it wasn’t in the budget. And now, after having visited this town (during a sunset no less, which definitely didn’t suck), we can see why they chose this magical place to marry.

Side note: there was a sweet little cafe in one of the main piazzas that cracked me up and I had to share with you (although you probably won’t enjoy this is as much as my family). My Yaya (the one who turned 100 in March) has always said my name as though it were in Italian. She is a full española so it’s funny that she can’t say my name in Spanish. She leaves out the “c” altogether so that it sounds like Vittoria. And lo and behold, what do we see in Cortona?

We loved this city. It was unbelievably beautiful, and the people, oh the people! We stopped in a wine store and were perusing the selections when an older Italian gentleman stood up and just started telling us which ones to get. “Very good wine” as he pointed to some Tuscan choices. He was dead right, the Syrah was DELISH. And he didn’t even work there. 🙂

Later that evening, we went to the local restaurant, La Grotta della Rana. We only ate there once because we could NOT figure out when they were open. Some days they were open for lunch, some nights they were open for dinner, but never when we walked over (this place was literally 50 feet from our villa). So that was definitely unfortunate because the food was incredible and we never got to the try the wine made from the village’s vineyard. And you may notice the wine bottle we ordered, which was delicious. We tried a lot of Chianti this trip simply because we were in the heart of Chianti region and we would’ve been dumb not to.

We may or may not have ordered a bottle of wine at every lunch and dinner that week, minus 1-2 meals. Yeah, it was that kind of vacation.

So that was day two. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the massive amount of pictures. More to come!

♥, VB

Italy Day One: Rome

So, I don’t know if you knew this, but we went to Italy last week. (Here’s the back story.) And it was just about the worst vacation ever.

That was maaaaaaybe the biggest lie ever. It was incredible. From start to finish, if I don’t say so myself, I planned the greatest week we’ve had in our almost 5 years together and we also had the most amazing weather anyone ever could have asked for. I did ask Timmy if he wanted to be involved in the planning, and being the ever-so-wise partner that he is, he replied, “Nah. You got this.”

And get it I did.

Here’s what we were supposed to do (and yes I created a timetable itinerary that I will never apologize for. It was awesome because I’m awesome):

Sat Oct 25

Rome

  • Arrive in Rome @ 7:30a (Drop luggage off at car rental place?)
  • Take train into Rome (Termini station, 11 euros, take to Spagna metro)
  • Spend day in Rome
    • Start in Spagna area
    • walk to Corso/Navona/Campo
    • walk to Vatican (2pm tickets (bring voucher) to Vatican museums/Sistine Chapel)
    • train from Ottaviano to Colloseo (12 euros for entry to Foro Romano, Colloseo, and Colle Palatino)
    • walk to Capitolino Hill
    • walk to Termini station
    • train back to Fiumcino
  • Pick up car around 6p
  • Drive to San Sano ~2.5 hrs (arrive ~9p)
  • Unpack, shower, buy food/dinner
Sun Oct 26

Perugia

  • Leave @ 8a
  • Drive 30 min to Montevarchi station (free parking)
  • Train depart from Montevarchi @ 8:48a, arrives Perugia 10:18a ($56 total)
  • Take minitrain into town for Eurochocolate 2014
  • Depart 7:41p, arrive Montevarchi 9:06p
Mon Oct 27

Parma/Reggio Emilia/Modena

  • Leave @ 8a
  • Drive to Parma by car ~2 hr 47 min drive (arrive ~11a)
  • Stop at Reggio Emilia and Modena (http://www.balsamico.it/) on way home
  • Spend day traveling
Tues Oct 28

Florence

  • Leave @ 8:15a
  • Drive 30 min to Montevarchi station (free parking)
  • Train depart from Montevarchi @ 9:07a, arrives Florence 9:48a in Santa Maria Novella (Piazza Del Stazione) ($36 total)
  • Spend day in Florence
    • 11:45 A tickets for Uffizi (bring voucher)
    • Lunch at I Due Fratellini, Via dei Cimatori, 38, 50122 Firenze
    • Gallerie dell’Academia
    • Dinner at 4 Leoni, Via dè Vellutini, 1r, 50125 Firenze
  • Train departs 9:09p, arrives Montevarchi @ 9:47p
Wed Oct 29

Lucca/Pisa

  • Drive to Lucca ~2 hr drive
  • Stop in Pisa on way back
    • tickets to climb Tower, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m
  • Get gas
Thurs Oct 30

Siena/Gaiole

  • 9:30am-12:30pm: ½ day cooking class at Ristorante Malborghetto
  • Siena/Gaiole for the afternoon by car (15 min drive)
Fri Oct 31

Bologna/Prato

  • Drive to Bologna ~2 hr drive
  • Spend day in Bologna
  • Eat at Ristorante Diana (Via dell’Indipendenza, 24, 40121 Bologna))
  • Stop in Prato on way home
Sat Nov 1
  • Leave @ 4a
  • Drive to Rome ~2.5 hr drive (arrive ~7a)
  • Stop for gas, return car
  • Flight leaves at 9:15a

Did it turn out exactly like that? Of course not, but every omission/addition to our days was incredible and couldn’t have turned out any better than it did. This is the map of where we actually went this trip. You should be impressed, in case you were wondering what your reaction should be.

Italy map

We learned from our traveling mistakes in March when we went to Spain, so this time we flew separately from our cities to Atlanta, and then flew together straight to Rome. The 9.5 hr flight FLEW by, we seriously couldn’t believe it. I think back to all the times my family and I traveled to Spain growing up, AND HOW DID WE GET THROUGH THOSE FLIGHTS??!?! Those back-of-the-seat screens are the greatest invention ever. I saw three movies by the time we landed. 🙂

I also learned from our super difficult time getting over jet lag in March, so we tried to sleep on the plane ride over, but alas, that was a bust. Neither one of us can sleep on moving vehicles and surprise surprise, sleeping sitting up is a very challenging thing to do. We landed in Rome around 7 AM their time, and proceeded to spend every last waking minute soaking up the city and as much daylight as we could to get our internal clocks set to the local time. We didn’t end up making it to the Roman Forum or Capitoline Hill as planned but after having walked all over the city to the other locations on no sleep, we’d had enough.

These are pictures from Day One and only Day One of our trip. You will see as I keep posting that Italy is freaking ridiculous. I’ve been there once before in 2004 when I studied abroad in London, and my friends and I took a 4-day weekend trip to Rome, Florence, and Milan. It prepared me well for enjoying the sites this time around (as well as reminded me of the moronic adventures we experienced there when we were such little 21-yr old babies).

Enjoy the pictures because there’s a lot of them. More to come!

The Pantheon in panorama

The Pantheon in panorama

♥, VB

Freedom on the Lake

Obviously, the 4th of July was a few weekends back, but the further along we move into summer, the faster the time is slipping away from me. Honestly, what the hell is going on??

Bare with me while I catch you up on a super fun weekend spent laughing with friends, family, and my love at Lake Martin in Alabama. It was pretty much a perfect weekend. We flew into Atlanta Friday night and spent a few wonderful hours catching up with my parents. We then drove 2 hours to the lake the next morning, and parked our asses there until it was time to head back home. The wonderful Crosswy family welcomed us to their amazing lake house, and treated us to some boat time, amazing food, and the most relaxing time.

They are also the family that won the BOTE stand up paddleboard grand prize at our birthday party, so they also invited us to take that beauty out on the lake for a spin. That did not suck and only made my craving to have my own paddleboard increase exponentially.

We spent an amazing day with family, including Timmy’s mom and stepdad, whom we hadn’t seen in MONTHS, so that was a biiiig treat! Abigail’s stepdad made the most incredible potato salad that I kept sneaking bites of through the weekend and I don’t feel shame about that at all. When a potato salad is good, it’s the freaking best.

Let’s not forget our group’s attempt at a redneck-themed Fourth of July weekend. It’s quite clear that Timmy won the game there, but I feel like I got the best shopping experience when I was complimented by a Floridian woman who clearly didn’t realize that my purchases were a joke. Go FL.

Finally, after 100 attempts to take that lovely family photo above as the sun set and not being able to get the flash working, I decided to try a bunch of different settings in the game room on our last night. They aren’t fantastic, but god damn I love this camera!

I love little weekends like that, a quick getaway, filled with love, laughter, and delicious food. Thank you to the Crosswy family again for the hospitality, we adore y’all. And in case you were wondering, I’m keeping all my America gear. As Timmy’s life partner, I’ll probably need it again in the near future thanks to his hijinks.

♥, VB