“Wanderlust consumed her; foreign hearts and exotic minds compelled her. she had a gypsy soul and a vibrant hope for the unknown.” -d. marie
Italy. Oh beautiful, breath-taking, Italy. You have been on my bucket list for way.too.long. And when Groupon sent me an email with a getaway package from Gate 1 Travel (the travel company with whom I used to explore Peru with back in 2014), I was a little beside myself when I saw a price tag that was actually within my budget. So I contacted my trusty traveling companion – Rhiannon – to see if she’d be interested in an 8 day trip to where the vino flows freely and the uomini have accents that set a girl’s heart a flutter. She was game, and so the trip was booked!
We met up at JFK for a long layover, which we made a little more enjoyable with a trip to the Wingtip Lounge and started pre-gaming our wine drinking there. 😉
Which was a perfect game plan for our long flight on-board Emirates Airlines where we made sure that we each got an entire row to spread out and sleep on our way over the Atlantic.
When we finally made it to Milan Malpensa Airport we picked up our Mercedes rental (umm…do they know I’ve never driven a car overseas?!! Definitely was feeling fancy driving around Italy in myBenz!) and headed out in search of our wifi device pick-up point. Not gonna lie…we may or may not have gotten lost within 15 minutes on the roads of Italy trying to get to our DHL pickup point. Lol. But once we got our My-Webspot device, we were golden! Seriously, it was the BEST MONEY SPENT in Italy! We now could have GPS navigation traveling in Europe and be able to keep in touch with friends and family online the entire time we were abroad. Please go check them out if you want wifi while traveling overseas. <3
I was just a wee bit nervous driving with different rules of the road. Haha
With our mobile wifi finally allowing us to travel without crazy fear of getting super lost in Italy, we embarked on our 4:30 hours of driving to get to Montecatini Terme in central Italy where we would be residing for the majority of our stay at Grand Hotel Plaza.
Once we got checked in, we headed out to get some much needed dinner and to get our first taste of authentic Italian pasta! We ended up at a place called – Ristorante Da Lorenzo. It was very good, but it was straight away that we learned about how Italy does “courses” with their meals and it won’t be cheap eating out. Needless to say…what we thought would be entrees based on the price ended up leaving us still craving more at the end of the meal. Oops!
Then next day we decided to hit up Pisa first, then drive up to the Cinque Terre Region. Pisa was definitely a must-see, but we were in and out pretty quickly, so I would definitely make the leaning tower of Pisa a sight to see in combination with something else. Did we succeed below in doing some good “typical tourist” type of poses? haha
After Pisa, we traversed through many mountain tunnels and winding roads to see the colorful Cinque Terre region. Here is where we probably failed a bit with our planning. While Pisa was definitely a short excursion, the Cinque Terre region definitely needed more than half a day. And we should have taken the train and hiked into the town of La Vernazza. Never have I sweated so much driving. SO NERVE WRACKING winding cliffs that only have 1 lane and you can’t see around the corner to see if there is traffic coming on to you head on. So I wish we could have spent more time exploring around this town and the area and taking more photos, but I’m happy we got the time we did there. It’s gorgeous a definite spot to explore if you head to Italy.
While we were in town we had probably one of my favorite meals in Italy. If you know me, you know my love for fries! Add pizza and wine, and it was pure heaven! You can’t go wrong! Thank you, Ristorante Vulnetia for an amazing lunch in such a fun, cozy setting.
The town of La Vernazza was so stinking cute! I could have explored here all day if I didn’t fear driving back in the dark on the cliffs. Haha.
After La Vernazza, we decided to check out town of La Spezia on our way back. This was a cute little shipping town that had some equally picturesque views.
The next day we headed to Florence. This city…oh my! So beautiful! Firenze had us walking a half marathon with our explorations and I won’t complain because it was so worth it! Our first stop was to La Accademia to see the Statue of David. Holy cow was he massive (though not so much in certain parts if you know what I mean…haha). But it was so cool to see all the amazing artwork here. If there is one bit of advice I could give anyone? Order tickets in advance to get in. It will save you lots of time! (Same goes for the Colosseum in Rome).
Also pretty cool was to see a sign for Kent State all the way in Italy!
After that, we just wandered all around this lovely town.
Later you will see photos from a top of this dome – Duomo di Firenze.
We decided to break for lunch in one of the many piazzas around town. We stumbled upon Osteria De’ Peccatori, and it was probably the quintessential point in my Italian holiday. Sitting out on a piazza made of cobblestone with street music & vendors, clock towers chiming, tourists hustling and bustling by while we sat outside at a quant table in the warm sunlight drinking Sangria and eating pasta. This was exactly what I was looking for when I booked my trip to Italy. <3
After we were properly fueled, we decided to embark on the endeavor up the 463 steps to the top of the Cupula at Il Duomo. That was definitely an adventure and I was kind of glad for the line while doing it because it gave me momentary breaks to catch my breath. Haha. Though at times it could get a bit claustrophobic, the views from a top were SO WORTH IT!
Let’s just say after all those stairs and tromping around Firenze, are feet were super tired on the train ride back to Montecantini at the end of that day. Haha
The next day it was finally time to explore TUSCANY and all of wine country! Unfortunately, we didn’t quite prepare properly and we decided to do this on a Sunday when many were closed or closed early, so I was a bit bummed…but that just means I need to come back another time, right? 😉
We ended up heading to Banfi in Montalcino. The views en route were to-die for and everything you could have ever imagined Italy to be! Oh how I wish I could have had more nerves along the winding roads to pull off to the side on tiny spots along the rolling hills to get photos, but alas, I was a bit of a chicken. :-/ Again, that just means I need to come back again when I don’t have to drive and can shoot as much as I like out the windows or have someone that is less of a scaredy cat driving the foreign roads. 😉
While we were at Banfi, they recommended a place called Caffè Sant’Angelo there in the small town of Montalcino for lunch. This little mom & pop place where they didn’t speak a lick of English and the menu was written by hand every morning had these freshest & most delicious pasta and dessert my mouth ever set lips onto! So I may have lied earlier with my favorite meal…I think this one takes the cake! Molto Bene!
And so the saying goes, You can’t see Rome in a day. Well…we did! 😛 And as you’ve noticed with the theme on this trip, it wasn’t quite enough time (barely at all!), but we definitely made the most of the time we did have in the city. The day started with an early morning 3.5 hour train ride into town.
And of course we headed straight away to the Colosseum.
We also saw the Roman Forum and other ancient Rome sites.
We took a break from exploring to eat lunch in the Piazza Navona at a little place called Ristorante Panzironi. While we ate, a little old man continued to try to play his music from his little boom box…which frustrated the waiters at our restaurant. But I secretly adored him for trying. 😉
We then headed to headed to Vatican City and saw St Peter’s Basilica.
We did a walk down Via Dei Condotti – with all the fancy pants stores. It was getting into golden hour at this point and the sun was lighting up the street gorgeously!
Last but not least, we hit up the Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that tossing a 3 coins over your shoulder will 1) Ensure a return to Rome, 2) Ensure a new romance 3) Ensure marriage. I’m still waiting to see if any of that comes true. 😉
On our final day of exploration, it was time to head back up towards Milan so we could catch our flights the next day. We had some scary driving through the mountains and fog where there were moments where I couldn’t see a few feet in front of me and I’d all of a sudden be upon a twisting tunnel into a mountain side. Uhh…I’ll just say this now for my next trip to Italy when it comes to driving…”NOT IT!” hahaha. But we eventually made our way to the town of Verona and visited all things dealing with Romeo & Juliet. We got to see the Casa de Giulietta – coped a feel of her bronzed boob for good luck, climbed her balcony, and even wrote letters to her and stuck them into the wall for the Club di Giulietta . Here’s hoping I get a letter back! 😉
And the lovely piazza where we had lunch at “Tèta de Giulieta” – which we so lovingly translated into – Tit of Juliet…I mean we did grab her boob earlier…so it has to be, right? 😉
After Verona, we had one last stop up to Lake Como. Oh my, how breathtakingly beautiful it was there! If only we had had more time there, the curvy mountainside roads didn’t scare the shit out of me, and the road hadn’t been closed off after a certain point, I would have loved to have spend more time here. I mean if George Clooney has a house there, it must be nice, right?
So what did I learn from this trip? Italy is absolutely amazing! So much beauty in on country! But next trip…I’m spending way more time there instead of staying just 6 actual days in the country for exploring. Also, instead of a central point to go off and explore from…spend a few days in each of the cities I want to visit with train rides in between so I don’t have to drive. And if we do still get a car…NOT IT! 😉