On our second trip to Italy, we flew into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and immediately took a train into Florence. Lots of people have asked us in the last few years how we can stand so many hours of travel. Well, one day I saw this post by Brianna Glenn of Milk & Honey Travels and it made complete sense: “the inconvenience of traveling all that time dissipates in the first 24 hours.”
Anyway, we got to Florence in the early afternoon and rolled our carry-ons 750 meters to our Airbnb rental. Our lovely hostess runs a cooking blog and had tons of great recommendations for food in Florence. After putting away our things, we grabbed an umbrella and went out to explore the city by foot, despite the drizzly weather. We settled on the market and tried some trapizzinos and gelato before calling it a night. The next morning, we started our first full day with a honeymoon session by the Duomo. My post about the photo session is part one of my Italy series so read that first and come back if you want to go in order.
After the session, we hauled it over to the train station to meet our tour guide. We didn’t get to see Tuscany at all on our first trip, and even though we were crunched for time, we didn’t want to miss it again the second time around. We thought about renting a car or paying for an Airbnb activity that would give us transportation to and from a town on the countryside, but we didn’t have a whole lot of time to research where we’d want to go, and we were a little nervous about driving in Europe alone. We’re not usually tour group people but it seemed like our safest option. Through Viator, I found Walkabout Florence’s Best of Tuscany Tour. It’s a 12-hour tour to Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa and included lunch at a Chianti winery and vineyard. It has hundreds of amazing reviews and I’m so glad we did it. I wish I had taken the time to write about it as soon as we got back, because now it’s been almost four months and I can’t remember our tour guide’s name anymore. She was great though and we left the tour feeling like we got the perfect sampling of so many beautiful places in the region. The bus was really comfortable too and we mostly napped to and from each town.
As we left Florence, our tour guide explained the history of Florence and its relation to the other cities we’d be visiting. Our first stop was to Siena, and I’ll admit that neither Chris nor I were very excited about it, but we ended up liking it! It has a gorgeous cathedral and a cute town square, (that’s actually more of an oval) and we learned about how the town has assigned mascots to each neighborhood. Twice a year there’s a big horse race and each neighborhood cheers on its mascot. It’s a big event and a source of pride and bonding for the town.
Our second stop was for lunch at a Chianti farm outside of San Gimignano. And OMG. First of all, it’s a gorgeous villa in the hill country, so the views are breathtaking. Seriously, what dreams are made of. The dining area is on the second floor and has floor to ceiling sliding glass doors overlooking the prettiest view. The olive trees were in full bloom (we were a week too early when we went to Italy in May) and the weather was perfect. We even had clouds protecting us from the sun so I was able to avoid harsh mid-day shadows in my photos. The name of the place is Fattoria Poggio Alloro. We learned that beef is the main dish in the Tuscany region and got to have the most delicious three-course meal. My favorite part was the main course – Ragú alla Poggio Alloro, which is basically meat sauce. This is NOT your grocery store Ragu. It tastes nothing like it. This is beef from Tuscan-grown cows and sauce from Tuscan tomatoes. Fresh pasta too, of course. It was so good. After the meal, we had what was left from our wine tasting and enjoyed the balcony breeze and views before heading down to the vineyard to ogle at the grapes and olive trees some more. After a quick tour through the wine cellars, we went back on the bus toward San Gimignano.
After a Google image search of San Gimignano before our trip, Chris and I both knew it was going to be our favorite stop. We were not disappointed. We’re big Game of Thrones fans and entering the city felt like entering any of the cities in Westeros. It’s walled off and you have to enter on foot through giant double doors. It’s a medieval town so obviously there are architecture similarities because of the time period. I remember laughing when our tour guide said it has three medieval torture museums, but then I walked passed one and was too freaked out to go in. We spent a couple of hours there really just walking around and admiring the buildings and views of the rolling hills. I had to keep my camera out because I wanted to take a photo of every corner. Oh! And I had the best gelato of my life here. The tour guide warned us ahead of time that Gelateria Dondoli has award-winning gelato and that there’d be a long line. I like plain limon gelato and order that everywhere I go and out of probably the 10 different gelaterias I visited in Italy, this was my favorite. I was kinda sad leaving after my one small gelato, knowing I probably will never have one from there again. :D I was too full from lunch to order anything else though. Reluctantly, I was dragged out of San Gimignano so we could make the drive to Pisa.
Pisa was… interesting. It was cool to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but I also could have done without it. We walked past swarms of vendors trying to get us to buy souvenirs and tickets to climb the tower, something that always makes me uncomfortable. Once in the gates, we walked passed row after row of people posing in the full sun to get a picture of them holding up the Tower of Pisa. It seemed like that’s all anyone was there for. We walked passed the tower into the shade so we could take a few pics in good light and then were over it. We learned the history of it. It leans because of the soil in the region, to make a long story short. I’m just glad we didn’t get in a car and plan a full day around it. We were in and out in an hour and back on the bus to head back to Florence as the sun set.
The next morning we were so exhausted we slept in. When we finally got up, we made our way to a little eatery on our way to the Accademia Gallery to see David. We bought tickets online in advance so we skipped the long line, and we were pleasantly surprised that it only took about 15 steps inside the museum before we spotted him at the end of the hall. I had an irritable husband on my hands on our first trip to Italy when we had to walk seemingly endless miles through the Vatican Museum to get to the Sistine Chapel. I’m pretty ignorant in the subject of art history so seeing the statue of David was just a thing I was checking off my list of things you’re supposed to do on your first trip to Florence. I didn’t expect to enjoy it much, but I did. It was stunning. And unlike our visit to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, we didn’t have to fight a massive crowd to see him up close. It wasn’t empty by any means, but the crowd was polite and it only took a few minutes for us to comfortably make our way front and center.
After resting our feet for a few minutes, (the day before killed us) we continued our walk all the way over to the very outskirts of Florence to the Palazzo Pitti because damn it, if there’s any sort of garden where we’re going, I want to see it. The Boboli Gardens at Pitti Palace aren’t filled with blossoming flowers, so you’ll be disappointed if that’s what you’re looking for. I read that ahead of time so I was able to temper my expectations and I thought it was gorgeous. It’s mostly lawns and 16th century sculptures amongst impressively landscaped hedges. You have to walk up a giant hill to get to the front of the palace, and then multiple levels of stairs in the palace to get to the back, to the gardens. Then once there, there are more levels of hills and stairs. At this point, we were several miles into the day with already-sore feet from the day before. But y’all, it was about to be golden hour and I had palatial gardens almost to myself. I must have seen a total of 30 people on this massive, seemingly never-ending property. I said bye to Chris and hiked up and up and up, stopping at every corner, imagining how I’d pose a bride in each location.
Eventually, I came across *this.* And after about twenty minutes, forced myself to head back down and find Chris so he wouldn’t worry about me.
On our way back to the front of the palace, we saw this view of the city. I’ve seen tons of photos like it on Instagram and always immediately knew I was looking at Florence because of the Duomo.
We started the walk back to our apartment to pack for southern Italy in the morning. Florence was lovely and I’m very fortunate to have visited but I personally would choose to return to Rome, Venice or the Amalfi Coast if given the choice. I would love to spend more time in Tuscany though. After getting to see the rolling hills for just a day I’m yearning to stay the night in a Tuscan villa on the countryside. Those views! Maybe someday.
**Part three of my posts about Italy will feature coastal Praiano and an anniversary session in Positano.**