Our Italian Adventure
Cobblestone roads, beautiful bridges, pasta, gelato, museums, and so much more. It was a whirlwind of an adventure.
My husband, Nick, and I traveled to Europe for the first time and stayed in Florence, Italy to celebrate our one-year anniversary and my 26th birthday. It was an unforgettable vacation to say the least. Our travels began with two layovers and a lot of air time. We landed in Italy Friday morning and spent the day exploring the gorgeous city and all it had to offer. Our hotel was nestled in the center of Florence by a local train station and a quaint cafe packed with caprese sandwiches and espresso galore. Being the hungry travelers we were after 18 hours, we purchased our first true Italian meal in a black and white vintage cafe full with pictures of famous women and the aroma of coffee beans. I was in heaven.
After fueling for our day, we grabbed a map from our hotel concierge and planned our adventure–well Nick planned, I sat and enjoyed people watching and instagram stalking (HA!). Then, we were off! Making our way through the small, cobblestone roads we arrived at the Duomo, a magnificent piece of architecture that is incomparable to anything in the States. We basked in all its beauty and admired the specks of people we saw at the top lookout above the dome. The square was packed with people from all ethnicities and ages, travelers, locals and everyone in between. We slowly made our way around the city admiring the small restaurants, taking note of the select few we simply couldn't pass up. We wandered toward the river Arno, taking in the pure beauty of the European buildings and bridges. Stopping like true tourists, we took pictures by the water and crossed the river with our heads on a swivel absorbing the breathtaking sights. We walked, and walked, and walked some more, hoping to arrive at the Boboli Gardens –which take up a MASSIVE amount of real estate. We didn't think it'd be too difficult to find. We were wrong. After hours (yes, hours) of walking and searching, we finally found the gate, which closed 30 minutes before our arrival. FAIL. On the plus side, our step count was through the roof. Our evening panned into a delicious meal across from the Palazzo Pitti with some clean eats and WINE, because, duh. We headed back to the square and sat outside a bar listening to an amazing live band only a few steps from the Duomo. All of the American 80's hits were on the playlist for the night, and man, did they kill it!
Our next day started with sleepy eyes and full hearts. I managed to fit in a workout in our hotel room before we dressed for breakfast. Our hotel, Hotel Ambasciatori, served a wide spread of pastries, pancakes, eggs, fruit, and all things yummy. I of course, headed straight for the espresso machine. Priorities. With full bellies, we left for our next adventure - the Accademia Gallery which houses the infamous Statue of David. There are no amount of pictures that will do this artwork justice. It reins far above eye level in its massive form. The museum was full of paintings and a room with walls crowded with busts. Having art in my genes, and my occupation, I was captivated by the views. Starving, yet again, we found a restaurant with views of the Duomo and ate Italian-style pizza. Shortly after we finished, it was time to walk (and by walk, I mean hike) to the top of the Duomo to view the city from above. Good thing Nick and I workout, because the unending staircase to get to the lookout was quite a challenge. Nearly sweating and panting by the top, we stepped onto the roof...Just like that, our prior thoughts of Florence were expanded by the vast array of clay roofs, tan buildings, and surrounding mountains ranges. Breathtaking, simply breathtaking.
As we made our way back to the base, we rested in our hotel and enjoyed the support of a bed beneath our feet. After an hour or so, we left our room again for a wonderful meal on the second floor of a classic Italian restaurant. I was in heaven as I sipped on wine and enjoyed bread and olive oil. I didn't think it could get any better...until our server brought my entree. Gnocchi with beef bolognese and a topping of parmesan (by far my favorite meal of the trip). Stuffed and ready for a bar, Nick and I found a place called Move On which featured rooms stocked with records and a large menu of drinks. We were at home.
New day, new adventure. We wanted to pack our last full day with all of the "must-dos" which meant time didn't stop. We woke up early, cranked out a workout and left to wander the city once more. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio bridge and admired the jewelry shops and the expensive tastes it had to offer. We found the railing that holds hundreds of locks, and after writing a little note, we added one to the masses. Our hope is to return and find it one day in the future. After doing some research and map surveying, we found our way to the entrance of the Boboli Gardens. Built so long ago, acres upon acres of greenery and fountains were before us. We managed our way to the top of the gardens and walked through the back of the Palazzo Pitti. Famished from the morning activities and sun, we found a quaint cafe along the river overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and ate a sandwich lunch. In need of some extra energy, I ordered espresso and Bailey's, and we were on our way once again.
Our next stop: The Uffizi Gallery. The museum was full of grandeur with statues, paintings, frescos and sculptures lining rooms and hallways and everything in between. So much artwork was packed into the building that we couldn't possibly give the pieces their required attention. We saw Leonardo's sketches and works, busts of hundreds of dukes, and so much more. After a nap and refresh, we made our way to a cooking class. Simple but Italian to its core - pizza and gelato. Our chef was energetic and honest. His bubbling personality made us laugh and enjoy every bit of the prep. We learned the secrets to smoothing dough into a velvety texture and creating vanilla-flavored gelato (without adding any vanilla). Needless to say, our time there was well spent and our bellies were full.
Sleep was well invited. Sitting on our porch overlooking the city, we breathed in sights of the rolling hills and tall trees, the lights and smells, the moon and the stars. Our morning came bright and early as we packed up our room and took a taxi to Tuscany. You should have seen the expression our driver made as he dropped us off in a field in the middle of nowhere right before dawn. A large balloon was strewn across the ground waiting for our arrival. A crew of about 5 people worked to inflate the hot air balloon, and my excitement was hard to hide. My husband made all of my dreams come true with a birthday hot air balloon ride over the rolling hills of Tuscan vineyards. As the sun was rising, we packed into a basket and floated above the ground. Higher and higher we flew. The sights were breathtaking and too much for words to ever describe. My heart was so full. My eyes were in wonder. This world was simply stunning. After an hour of flight time, we began our descent and landed in a field even more so in the middle of no where. Our taxi driver then took us back to the airport, and just like that, our Italian adventure had reached its end.