Roma

ROME! Such a fantastic city. Love the history, love that it’s so walkable, love the food. Now the wine… not as good in Rome as it is in the rest of the country 😉 But you still can’t beat $10 table wine in Italy.

After our terribly long day of traveling from the Amalfi Coast, I was wiped out. Luckily, I got a burst of energy once we arrived at our VRBO rental. It was the best room we had the entire trip- maybe it was the A/C? No, definitely more than that. Lofty ceilings made of the original wood, from the 1600’s, smack in the middle of everything. The owner also left us a great map marked with his favorite spots. Charm was just oozing.
We started the night off with a walk around the neighborhood- we hit the Pantheon, the Torre Argentina (ruins where they think Caesar was killed- also a cat sanctuary), and the Piazza Navona, following up with pizza at Da Baffetto. 2 packed stories of deliciousness. They make the pizza right in the center of the restaurant- I can’t imagine how many they make in one night! Afterwards, we stopped for a drink and stood outside surrounded by Italian conversation. Languages are so beautiful.
It was pouring rain the morning we went to the Colosseum- I had wanted us to get there early to avoid the crowds. We definitely avoided the crowds, but I think it was mostly due to the rain. We donned our ponchos and had the place almost to ourselves 🙂 Luckily, the weather cleared up pretty quickly and we were able to leisurely enjoy the Roman Forum. I know I’ve said it a dozen times, but the history of this place!! Unreal.
Our second night in Italy was spent on a “Food Tour of Rome“. We went to several different neighborhoods, learning the history of Rome and tasting food at 7 different places. Meat, cheese, wine, pizza & pasta, cannoli, espresso, gelato (Cortona was the best gelato of the trip- so fresh). The company was great too! It was quite the the last hurrah. Our guide baffled me, since he grew up in Rome, but had a 100% American accent. Apparently he spent some time in Oregon post high school and worked extensively on losing the Italian accent when speaking English. It worked, but was amusing to hear him make the switch to speaking flawless Italian.
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Our last day was spent on foot, walking around the city. We started the day with a trip to the Vatican. We skipped the museum because I had gone a couple of years before, but we hadn’t actually gone into the Basilica. So glad we made it this trip because it  was overwhelmingly extravagant. We climbed (approximately one million steps) up to the top for a view of Rome, but my favorite part was seeing the dome of the church and the status on top, up close. The stairs are extremely narrow and fairly claustrophobic, so getting to the top was a breath of fresh air. Then, after we left, we got to see the POPE! We aren’t Catholic and don’t speak Italian, but it was still a cool experience. People really love him and I feel privileged that we were able to be there.
The rest of the day, we just roamed (sorry, I had to). We walked through small campos, past markets, and along the water. A perfect last afternoon and a summation of our entire trip. Oh and we rented segways in Villa Borghese- maybe Dan’s favorite part! Such an odd juxtaposition.
On our last night, I think 1/2 of our conversation consisted of lamentations on having to return home. As much as we missed Barley and our bed, feasting your way through one of the best food countries in the world without a single thought of calorie consumption is truly magical. We walked around the corner from our rental and dined at Trattoria Moderna, and had our last aperitivo, primi piatti, secondi piatti, and dessert. And man, was it a great last feast. And then a long flight home. LUCKILY, we got moved into an exit row, which made the trip infinitely better.
And that (finally) concludes our Italy re-cap! Only 5 months later 🙂  A once in a lifetime trip. I know some people don’t visit Italy because it’s too touristy- and I say, it’s that way because it almost can’t be beat. The diversity, the people, the landscapes, the food & wine. Just beyond. And always a new corner to discover. The Trevi Fountain was under renovation and we weren’t able to toss a coin, so hopefully that doesn’t keep us from returning one day 😉

To see the rest of our trip, in order:

Positano

I personally think that the Amalfi Coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world. So it was definitely on my list when planning this trip. Unfortunately, it’s kind of a pain in the butt to get to and we had already hit so many places. As excited as I was to return, Dan was starting to get pretty worn out from all our traveling around. This resulted in us taking it really easy while in Positano. As in, spend the whole day on a beach, never leave Positano, easy.

We actually stayed way up above Positano, in a B&B, in the teensy town of Nocelle- it’s where a lot of people hike the Path of the Gods and the views are stellar. No cars allowed, hence the donkeys as transport for goods! Even tough it’s very close to Positano, the bus ride down takes 30 minutes, is packed full without A/C, and only runs every hour or so. If you can, I would suggest staying in actual Positano, but we did meet an American couple who stays in Nocelle every year and love it. Personal preference I guess. We made it to dinner in Nocelle the first night just in time to eat dinner while watching the sun set.

The next day we took a boat over to Capri where we walked about, window shopping the ritzy stores, and took the funicular up to the highest point for some stellar views. I’m slightly terrified by heights, so I was apprehensive. Luckily it turned out to not be so bad and the view from the top was well worth it. While on the island, we took a taxi convertible with an awning over it- unique. On the way back to the Amalfi Coast, we stopped in a few places to swim which was unreal. The water is so blue! I didn’t want to go back on the boat. An amazing experience.

Our last day in Positano was the full day on the beach day 🙂 We hopped onto a small boat sitting at the dock and took it over to Arienzo Beach, a 5 minute ride down the coastline. As long as you eat at the restaurant, you don’t have to pay for a chair. The seafood was freshly caught out of the sea we swam in and the beers weren’t crazy expensive. It was a beyond perfect day.

We stayed down in Positano for dinner, with drinks at Franco’s Bar (which is amazing and felt so glam) and dinner at Bar Bruno. The patio is just a few tables along the sidewalk across the street from the restaurant, so servers have to run back and forth across the street!

Since we spoiled ourselves on the way to the coast with a private driver, we stuck with public transportation to make our way to Rome. Bus, walk a ways to wait for another bus (standing room only), train (no A/C), another train, then finally a bus to airbnb. It took all day and made me miss the rental car! But we had made it to one of my favorite cities, and our final stop of the trip, so all was good.

Pompeii

After packing up in Tuscany, we drove down to Naples to return our rental car and met up with a driver who would take us to our B&B in Positano. On our way, we stopped at Pompeii (cue Bastille playing in your head), which is an incredible experience. I wish we had known more before we left, but it’s still surreal to stand in a place so old, but so well preserved. We also just happened to be part of a video? I have no idea what it was for, but the crew had us pose in touristy ways as they panned around us and several other couples. Wish I could find it, but no such luck!

My favorite part were some frescos in what they considered a luxurious vacation home! I think Dan liked the preserved bodies the best…

Tuscany

In order to really experience the Italian countryside, you need a car to get around. We picked up our rental car, a Fiat Panda, at the Florence airport and had a slight panic attack when Dan straight up didn’t fit in the car. After pushing the seat back as far as it would go, his head was touching the ceiling and his knees were up at his elbows, no joke. We went in to see if we could get a larger car but it was going to be significantly more expensive to upgrade. We headed back to the Panda to debate… and then Dan found a magic lever that further moved the chair back! Phew. Off we went.

On our way, we stopped in San Gimignano, which we had a lot of fun learning how to say. This is the most charming town and was packed with visitors! But it’s a hit for a reason. We started the day off with lunch overlooking the Tuscan hillside and spent the afternoon walking the streets and eating gelato. It was the first of many walled, hilltop towns that we would explore over the next several days and maybe my favorite.

I researched hundreds of places to stay, no joke. There are SO MANY options! But, many require a week long minimum and others can be quite pricey. With our $100 budget, I was looking for a place with history, a nice view, and a pool. Oh man did we enjoy having a pool. We ended up at Foresteria il Giardino, about 20 minutes from Arezzo. It is smack dab in the middle of a working orchard in a building from the 1700’s. We stayed in what used to be the tabacceria. There was even a truck that came by each morning with fresh baked goods! When we arrived, we were greeted by the sweetest woman who gave us a handdrawn map of the area and circled the few places to eat with 15 minutes of us. This was the beginning of no air conditioning and very limited wi-fi for the next week. FYI, Italy in late August isn’t much cooler than Texas. 

After we settled in, we went over to Civitella to take in the sunset, took a dirt road down the side of the mountain, and ended up at a butcher’s shop for dinner and the best biscotti ever.

In the morning, we drove out to Siena without a plan, which may have been a bad idea! We kind of just roamed the town and ate some food. The was a church there was stunning! But aside from that, the drive was a bit long to justify the trip. We probably should have stayed by the pool all day 🙂

To celebrate on our actual anniversary, we just bought some food at the local grocery store and cooked up an Italian meal in our kitchen. Almost felt like we were at home 🙂 We dined at the picnic table outside our door and reflected on the last year of marriage, soaking in how lucky we both felt to have each other. The answer- very, extremely, lucky. 

The next day, we spent the morning in Arezzo and the afternoon in Cortona (where Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed). Arrezo felt much more like a real city after the tiny towns we’d been in- shopping and people and flags! Then Cortona was just beautiful. We somehow ended up walking all the way to the top… in not great shoes with the sun beating down our backs. Dan and I kept seeming to work long hikes into our days, not on purpose!

One of the best evenings of the trip was a tour of Baracchi Winery. So glad this was recommended to us. It ended up being just us and a Cardiologist from Brazil, who knew much more about wine than we did, with a personal tour by the owner. They make a sparkling rose out of sangiovese grapes that was fantastic- we brought some home and I can’t to open it. After the tour, we had our wine tasting on the patio with charcuterie. When it came time to open the rose, the owner proceeded to pull out a sword… then told me I would be doing it! Of course, I somehow managed to break the bottle, which he said he’s never seen happen. Of course. He said it had to do with the bottle being bad, not me. Still embarrassing. I did succeed on the second try ☺

On our last magical day, we did a winery tour at Palazzo Vecchio in the Montepulciano region, followed with a homemade lunch. We just died more and more with every dish they brought out. My goodness, the deliciousness was out of this world. They gave us their recipe for the sage bread but Dan and I have yet to try it. These pictures are going to make you hungry… be warned! The winery had served many purposes in it’s past, including a convent and an orphanage and the grounds were just gorgeous with the typical stunning hillside views. We also had a couple friends join us for lunch in the form of 2 sweet labs. Dan and I were really missing Barley, so we loved their company 🙂

Then that night, we were beyond spoiled again!! The place we stayed prepares dinner one or two nights a week but it depends on whether there are enough people staying. Thank goodness it ended up happening, because the food was fantastic. Each couple had a table set up for them on the patio with candles and the sunset in the background, making it incredibly romantic. This was definitely a full day of eating. We were bursting at the seams in the best possible way.

 

We were so sad to say goodbye to this little slice of paradise. It worked out really well to have a slower pace in the middle of the trip to give us some relaxation. What I would give to be laying by that pool again…

OH and for lunch on our way out, we stopped at the best winery of the trip- Avignonese!  We brought back a bottle of their merlot but seriously debated splurging on the 50&50.

Cinque Terre

With Florence as our base, we took a day trip out to Cinque Terre, or “The Five Lands”. It’s 5 small, hillside, villages along the coast, in the middle of what is now a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site. We chose to use a tour company (Walkabout Florence) for the convenience of transportation- it’s about 2 hours from Florence. After planning every piece of our trip, it was nice to just have a tour guide and not worry about what train/bus to catch! We also really enjoyed hearing about the areas we drove through on the way out- past the mountains where Carrera marble comes from (the peaks looked like snow!) and through the region where they grow a lot of plants for the nurseries. I’d really been looking forward to this piece of the trip because neither of us had been and I’ve heard so many friends RAVE about it. So my expectations were incredibly high. Maybe just a little too high- while it was absolutely beautiful, the trail was packed and I just couldn’t get as into it as I thought I should be. I kept wanting to get off the path and just go swim in the blue waters with the Italians. Guess that’s the negative of going with a tour group, ha! Regardless, it was still an awesome day, our group had fun people, and the views were so picturesque! Plus, it was nice to get a good hike in considering the massive amounts of pasta and wine we’d been consuming. We did end up getting to jump into the crystal clear, cool, water in the middle of trek and that was my favorite part of the day. Talk about refreshing after being a sweaty mess.
The charter bus dropped us off in Manarola, the 2nd town and smallest village. From there we worked our way through towns 3-5 and ended back at town 1. We took a train to Corniglia where we ate lunch at Ristorante Cecio with stunning patio views and fresh seafood and pasta. It’s the only town that doesn’t directly touch the water. From there, we hiked 3.5 km in the hot sun to Vernazza where we swam. Dan jumped off the little cliff and I was impressed 🙂 Afterwards, we took another train to Monterosso, the largest town, where we had the best puff pastry stuffed with cheese. I also got to ogle the umbrellas I’d seen in all of Gray Malin’s Cinque Terre photos. Finally, we took a boat to Riomaggiore, which allowed us to see all the towns we had just visited from the water.

SO glad we got to visit, but I do think I would have fallen more in love had we actually stayed in one of the towns and gotten the full experience. Which is the case with most places in the world 🙂

Firenze (AKA Florence)

We caught a train from Venice to Florence and checked into Hotel Spadei- down the street from the duomo and brand new, this was the most modern & updated place we stayed during our trip. And it had robes which make a hotel top notch in my book. They also had a little spiral staircase up to the top with a viewing room of Florence, which was a nice touch. Some how, we once again ended up with the only room a balcony. Not complaining.

We kicked off the afternoon with a quick bite to eat then explored the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace, which were designed for the Medici family. Not nearly as beautiful as Versailles, but expansive. We started at the lowest point and worked our way up, ending at Belvedere Fortress which had a panoramic view of the city on one side, and olive trees and estates on the other. After the long walk/hike we were able to hang out at an awesome restaurant at the fortress that had a pop-up/outdoor club feel. It felt so strange in such a historic place, but we really enjoyed it.

That night we ate at Coquinarius (recommended by a friend) and had one of my favorite dishes of the trips. My stomach is growling just thinking about it!! Pear ravioli. Buttery and perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of cheese. The owner was very knowledgeable on wine and made great suggestions from the area. (At this point in the trip we were still ordering bottles of wine, instead of cheap house wine.) After dinner, we checked out a local brewery, Mostodolce, which was very cool, but the beer was just meh. If the beer isn’t on par somewhere, trust me, Dan is quick to point out what they did wrong. I loved that the walls were plastered with drawings and the cozy vibe was really nice.

We spent the next morning at the Uffizi (I finally learned how to pronounce it) surrounded by madonnas. There had to be dozens. Maybe hundreds. The word Uffizi means offices in Italian, which was the building’s original purpose. The amount of art the Medici family collected is amazing. I can’t imagine living in that time, going in for a meeting, and walking past works by Botticelli and Michelangelo. Stunning! The place is enormous… we thought we had reached the end only to continue on and on. We rushed through the last bit because it started to become overwhelming. And we were hungry for some pizza. So we found a cute patio at Trattoria Garibaldi then followed it up with some gelato at Perche No. Mine had fresh cherries in it. Dan’s was stracciatella…which is what he ordered every time. Boring.

That night was another amazing meal at Il Santo Bevitore. It was pretty busy, but they were able to squeeze us in. While we were waiting, we sat along the river and watched the sun set and it was so cliche and magical. Then the restaurant itself was romantic and THEN the duomo was stunning at night, the white reflecting the moonlight. Such a solid date night. We attempted to take a good photo, but weren’t successful. You’ll see.

Then we were in bed, to wake up bright and early for our Cinque Terre trip the next day!

Ciao!

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

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Dan and I leave for Italy TONIGHT! It will be his first visit and it’s going to be awesome seeing everything with him by my side. Plus we’ll be celebrating our one year anniversary! I’m a little in shock that it’s here and also crazy excited to just be there already, relaxing and enjoying an extended vacation. We start the remodel almost as soon as we get home, so preparing for that and a 2 week trip has been a little stressful. Okay, a lot stressful. But definitely the good kind of stress, thinking of all the fun things coming up. And also my own fault… ☺ Dan knows we are going to Italy, and I think he knows which cities, but that’s about it. HA. Lots of surprises in store for him! I, on the other hand, have a big spreadsheet with a tab for each city with ideas on what to do. Type A at its’ best. Or worst if you hate plans? I promise to still be spontaneous and not let a spreadsheet dictate the entire trip. And we are way open to suggestions if you have any! SO if you’re curious, here’s the itinerary:

Houston>>Istanbul>>Venice>>Florence>>Cinque Terre>>Arezzo>>Amalfi Coast>>Rome>>Houston

I think Dan is most looking forward to Venice, and it’s a toss-up for me between just hanging in the middle of nowhere in Tuscany, and swimming in the Blue Grotto in Capri. 

Unfortunately, Dan twisted his ankle this week while playing basketball. It’s bruised all the way around and so, so swollen. It’s such terrible timing but he’s been trying to just keep it propped up with ice on it as much as possible. Fingers crossed it’ll be healed enough by the time we get there, but we may renting a Vespa in every city if not. Thus getting to live out my Lizzie McGuire dreams

And if you’re wondering about Barley, he’ll be staying with his grandparents out in Georgetown, enjoying time away from the city ☺ Big thanks to them for watching our favorite pup. I only cried a tiny bit after leaving him. Dan says to think of it as doggie summer camp.

Ciao for now!

**photos from the best Box family vaca in 2013**