July 2017

Driving through Tuscany

The only way, and I repeat, the ONLY way to see Tuscany is to rent a car. Public transportation throughout Italy is very reliable, but it’s another story when it comes to the countryside of Tuscany.

The idea of renting and driving a car in a foreign country was horrifying to me… so I nominated Matt to drive. That left me in charge of directions and the GPS. Before we left, I printed out maps and typed directions just in case our phone’s GPS didn’t work like we had planned. Despite all the preparation, map studying, and route preparation, we still got lost multiple times. Our road trip was the most stressful part of our vacation, and we couldn’t wait to turn our rental car back in, but it gave us so much freedom to explore and a real sense of adventure!

We stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast in Montepulciano (more on that later), and we couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay. It was in the heart of Tuscany, but also centrally located to all the towns we had planned day trips to (more on that later too). For this post, I just wanted to feature the beautiful scenery we were able to take in. None of these pictures are specific to any city or attraction, but they deserve to be featured.

Take a minute to slow down and enjoy the colorful wildflowers, the native Tuscan cypress tress, the gorgeous poppies in bloom, and the bright blue skies.

Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll post about our time in Montepulciano!


Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

With only a short time in Florence, I really wanted to maximize our dining options. Florence is in the northeast region of Tuscany so we were able to try all of the Tuscan favorites. This region is known for hearty food, excellent wine, and freshly pressed olive oil. If you’re traveling to Florence, do not miss the Florentine steak, fresh truffles, red wine, bruschetta with olive oil, and wild game (like boar and rabbit). Also notice the unique taste of Tuscan bread. It’s made without any salt! When salt was scarce, Italians in the Tuscany region used the little salt they had to preserve meat instead of flavoring their bread. It’s still done that way today! Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite places we ate at in Florence.

I Due Fratellini

I Due Fratellini translates into “two brothers,” and rightfully so since they are the only two people running this hole-in-the-wall panini shop. We needed an extremely fast “eat-on-the-go” kind of place for lunch on our first day in Florence. I had read that there would be a line for I Due Fratellini, and all my research was right! The line moved pretty fast since there aren’t a lot of options on the menu. Matt and I both had ham, goat cheese, and fresh arugula paninis, and it was the best sandwich of my life. The bread was perfectly chewy and the creaminess of the goat cheese complimented it perfectly. Combine that with the saltiness of the ham and you’ve got a delicious authentic Italian panini!

Cafe La Loggia

We had drinks and appetizers on the outdoor patio at Cafe La Loggia, and it was so relaxing. While on the more expensive side, you have to remember that you’re paying for the best view in Florence. The restaurant is directly across the street from Piazza Michelangelo. From the piazza, you can see the Florence skyline with the river below. I’d recommend going at sunset… have your camera ready!

Alla Griglia

You cannot go to Tuscany without trying the Florentine steak. You’ll see it on the menu as “bistecca all fiorentina,” and you’ll definitely want to share with someone! A true Florentine steak is cut only from the white cows in Tuscany known as Chianina cows. The waiter won’t even ask you how you like your steak cooked because all Florentine steaks are served rare and sliced table side. Don’t embarrass yourself by asking for a well done Florentine steak… you’ll be laughed out of the restaurant! We also shared a sliced meat appetizer, a side dish of roasted potatoes, and caramel cheesecake for dessert… all delicious!

Trattoria Za Za

Right on the edge of Mercato Centrale (THE place to buy leather in Florence!), is a touristy hot spot known as Za Za Trattoria. Don’t let the touristy atmosphere stop you from eating here because this is the place to go for fresh truffles. Their truffle menu is extensive and reasonably priced. There are so many ways to try truffles! We started our meal with fried zucchini flowers… why aren’t these a thing in the States?? They were so light and crispy, but still had a faint taste of zucchini. Exactly what eating a flower should be like! For our main course, Matt tried a truffled pasta carbonara that was overwhelmingly truffle-y. I think the truffle oil used in the pasta sent it over the edge, and we couldn’t really taste any of the other ingredients. On the other hand, I had fresh pasta with zucchini, shrimp, and truffles and it was seasoned perfectly. If you’ve never had black truffles, then this restaurant cannot be skipped!

It’s so fun to see the differences in food as you travel from region to region. Italy was more diverse in their menu than I was anticipating! Next week, we’ll move towards the heart of Tuscany in a tiny village called Montepulciano. Thanks for reading!

Florence, Italy Travel Guide

I know I’m about to disappoint everyone (especially everyone from Harding who went to HUF), but… Florence was our least favorite city in Italy. Sorry, y’all. Florence really is a beautiful city, but we found it to be so Americanized that we didn’t enjoy it. At times we felt like we were in downtown Boston because everything was written in English and the buildings just looked “old.” There was no charm or quaintness to it. Perhaps we just didn’t venture out far enough (we were only there for about 24 hours after all). Florence is definitely a city for art afficianados so we found our “things to do” list lacking. Matt and I can appreciate art to some extent, but we really don’t get excited about art galleries, art museums, paintings, or sculptures. Having said all of that, I do want to share with you the things we enjoyed about Florence.

Where To Stay

Hotel Cellai was the nicest place we stayed while we were in Italy. The location was perfect because we were able to walk there from the train station. FYI… I DO NOT recommend that. We got turned around at the train station and couldn’t find the taxi line. By the time we found the taxi stand, the line was so long it was easier faster sounded like a good idea for us to walk instead. Dragging all that luggage down half a mile of crowded streets wasn’t ideal, but we did it and we learned and I’m now here to tell you not to do it. Anyways, Hotel Cellai is a beautifully decorated boutique hotel that has the best (free!) hotel breakfast I’ve ever had! Great option for accommodations in the historic center of Florence.

What To Do

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Better known as the Duomo, the Cathedral in Florence is breathtaking. The architecture alone is to be marveled at. Constructed of white, pink, and green marble, the church is regal, intimidating, and elaborate. When you visit the Duomo, there are actually quite a few different places to see. There’s the church (Cathedral), a bell tower (Campanile), the Dome (Duomo), the crypt, and the baptistry.

Type A Tidbit:

If you have any desire to climb to the top of the Duomo, it’s very important that you reserve a ticket online ahead of time. Only a few people are allowed to climb each day, and every ticket was sold out for our entire stay in Florence. Don’t climb if you’re claustrophobic or scared of heights!

Tour Guides are no longer allowed to utilize “skip the line” passes, so be prepared to wait with everyone else.

The Cathedral is free, but get there early. The longest lines we experienced in Italy were at the Duomo/Cathedral. We arrived 45 minutes before it opened, and the line still wrapped around the building!

Accademia Gallery

Even though I know nothing about art, I DO know that the statue of David by Michelangelo is a must-see in Florence. The statue has been moved from its original location to the Academia Gallery. The gallery houses many other magnificent paintings and sculptures, but since we had such a short amount of time in Florence, we booked a one hour semi-private tour so we could see just the highlights. I’m so glad we did that! We had no clue what we were looking at or who any of the artists were, so the tour guide helped us focus on the main pieces. Our guide also told us some really interesting details that I would have missed on my own. If you look closely at the statue of David’s left foot, you’ll see that it has been damaged. The statue used to be out in the open in the museum without any guard rails or protection. In 1991, a man came into the museum and attacked the statue with a hammer! Thus, causing the damage to the foot that is still visible today.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio used to be the town hall of Florence, but now it’s a museum open for tours. We didn’t have time to see the museum, but I did want to go here for one of the best views of the Duomo. While climbing the Duomo might be fun, once you’re at the top, the view is not that great. However, climbing the tower at Palazzo Vecchio offers a fantastic view. The staircases are steep and narrow so make sure you’re in good shape before attempting this climb! The view at the top is worth it!

Piazzale Michelangelo

There’s nothing too special about this piazza except for the panoramic view of Florence’s skyline. Take a cab (you definitely don’t want to walk… it’s uphill!) to the piazza around sunset for breathtaking scenery. We had appetizers and drinks at the outdoor patio of the hotel there, and it was picture perfect.

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio is said to be the only bridge in Florence not destroyed during WWII because it was too beautiful to damage. In reality, it wasn’t destroyed because it wasn’t a threat due to it being too narrow for army tanks to cross! But… I guess the legend sounds better. The bridge is lined with shops and jewelry stores, and it’s always crowded!

Santa Maria Novella Farmacia

Being a pharmacy nerd, I couldn’t leave Florence without seeing one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. The painted ceilings alone are worth a visit! It’s no longer a pharmacy, but they do sell perfumes and expensive soaps. Be warned that we looked for this place on three separate occasions before we finally found it!

Even though Florence wasn’t our favorite, we did enjoy our time here. Art enthusiasts would feel much more at home than we did! Come back next week for our guide on where to eat in Florence!