Florence

Florence

Off to Florence this morning! After a quick walk to the Spanish Step’s Metro station, we were on our way to Roma Termini to get on the train to Florence. The Metro station was attached to the train station so there were plenty of signs to easily direct us to the train tracks. We bought tickets at one of the self-serve stations and we in quite a hustle to get on the train. Ryan was running ahead of me, weaving in and out of people to a track. I had no idea if it was the right one, especially since the destination portrayed on the screen was not ours. Ryan made his way down the platform and hopped into a train car and I was still confused. We sat in some open seats and I was pretty sure we were on the wrong train, but there was no one in sight to help direct us. The only thing we had going for us was that the train number on the screen was the same as that on our ticket, so I just had to trust Ryan that we were going the right direction. After the water taxi debacle in Hvar though, I was a bit nervous.

The train from Italy to Florence, Italy

It also turned out that we had assigned seating and were in cart 6 instead of 11. We got kicked out of our seats and had to travel the carts to the back of the train. We finally found our seats, and I was a little stressed out, but thankfully, we were able to confirm we were on the right train! Phew!

It only took a little over an hour to get to Florence, and our hotel, C-Hotels Ambasciatori, was right across the street from the platform which made things super easy. Our room was quite large, the bed was soft, and we had pretty nice balcony with a good view.

After a quick refresh, we were off to find lunch. We walked for 20 minutes or so through the alleyways, past the markets, super expensive stores, the Duomo, and down to more reasonable restaurants outside of the tourist section.

We ended up at a hole-in-the-wall place down a random alley and had a delicious pasta meal, however, the bread was terrible. We had to douse it in balsamic to give it any taste. Little did we know that, in Florence, the bread is made without salt. Apparently, years and years ago, the coastal city of Pisa was in charge of the salt trade that fed into Florence. Florence and Pisa went to war, and Pisa refused to sell Florence salt so, Florence stopped putting salt in their bread and, instead, made their olive oil and meats more flavorful and salty to make up for the bread’s flavor deficits. Florentines also typically do not eat the bread until their main course, not with the appetizers or pastas, so we were doing it all wrong!

Truffle ravioli in Florence, Italy

After lunch, we explored a little bit before walking over to the Uffizi to meet up with our tour guide for our Skip the Line Uffizi Gallery Tour. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was officially sick. My nose would not stop running and I was exhausted. I think the wine at lunch also affected Ryan because all he wanted to do was nap – we were a pretty pathetic looking duo at this point. On top of that, we realized that the meeting point for our tour was about 5 blocks away at a square, not at the Gallery as I thought – oops. This was not a “good mood” day unfortunately. We made it to the meeting point and were not the “talkative” couple in the group. We somehow made it to the Uffizi and I had to get about half a roll of toilet paper to use as tissues throughout our tour.

Our guide was super nice and chipper though, and did a great job of perking up our spirits and walking us through the amazing rooms of the gallery. We looked at a lot of Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance period pieces, learning all about the style of painting during those times and the breakthrough’s of Davinci, Raphael, and Micheal Angelo.

The paintings and sculptures were pretty amazing, especially considering the massive size of them. Even the frames were incredible. We just had some art framed and could only imagine how much the ornate frames here would run.

The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy

We made it through the Uffizi in one piece and followed our guide over the Ponte Vecchio bridge which is filled with jewelry stores. Ryan kept having to pull me past all of the sparkles in the windows. After we got over the river, our tour was over and we were ready to pass out at the hotel. We made a quick stop for a bite to eat in the Piazza della Repubblica. I had some yummy petso raviolis and Ryan had a delicious salmon gnocchi. Apparently the best day to eat gnocchi is on Thursday’s because that is traditionally the day most restaurants make it and, luckily for us, it was Thursday.

During our entire dinner on the patio, we watched the illegal sellers of random junk harassing people in the square. They had selfie sticks, light up balls that they threw high into the sky, roses, and other little things for sale. As soon as you made any sort of eye contact with them, they would run up to you and hustle you to buy whatever it was they were selling. They even came up to the people inside the restaurant multiple times. It was quite annoying and invasive of our space. The entire time we watched, we did not see one person actually buy anything. It was a little sad really.

We walked through random little alleyways back to the hotel. Along the way, we stumbled across a huge crowd of 50 – 60 people. I thought there must have been a fight or really good street artist or something, but in reality, they were all crowded around the closed doors of a restaurant, Il Latini. The doors opened at 7:30 on the dot and people were basically “Black Friday” rushing to get in. Those with reservations were picked out to enter and everyone else could go in as tables opened up. With such a crowd, the place had to be good, so we called to make a reservation first thing once we got back to the hotel.

 

We were getting ready for bed and I noticed that yet another one of our hotels had a bidet. Since we both had no clue how to use one, I turned to YouTubed to show me the way. Ryan and I laughed our way through the video and then I proceeded to go into the bathroom and turn the thing on out of curiosity. Little did I know, the water spigot was facing upwards and water went everywhere! Not kidding, I flooded the bathroom. I busted out laughing and Ryan kept asking me what happened from outside – my strategy, obviously, was to deny deny deny, but he totally caught me making a total mess of the loo. It was hysterical! Thankfully, we had a bunch of towels to absorb all of the water before hitting the sheets to sleep.

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

After 11.5 hours of much-needed sleep, we woke up at 8 AM to get ready for our Dubrovnik city tour. We had a delicious breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus for a 15 minute ride to the Pile Gate to meet our guide, Tomislava. She grew up in Croatia and was born in 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence  against Yugoslavia. She told us all about the war and its effects on the city. Apparently, a good portion of Old Town was destroyed in the war by grenades, but UNESCO donated money after the war to restore and protect all of the old buildings. You can still see the shrapnel damage on quite a few of the buildings and the effect the war had on the people there 25 years later. Hearing Tomislava’s stories and seeing the war’s impact on the walls in front of us was so surreal and hard to comprehend considering how sheltered we are in the US.

Tomislava guided us into and through the streets of Old Town, telling us interesting factoids or historical tidbits as we walked. For example, many of the arched doorways are shaped like a “P” so that the owner could lock one side of the door and sell goods outside of the waist-high ledge of the other door. A lot of the merchants we saw sold jewelry specific to their region out of these doors. It is tradition that mothers give their daughters earrings in the style of their region so that the bride can proudly indicate where she is from by wearing the earrings.

We also got to see some areas where Game of Thrones was filmed, including the Red Keep, Tyrion Lannister’s secret entrance to Kings Landing,  and the “Shame” scene path.

We toured with our guide for a little over an hour before she said “Chow” and we were on our own to explore. We opted to buy a City Pass so we could walk the wall along the border of the city and gain access to the various little museums. It took us a while to find one of the four entrances to the wall, but once we were up, we had an awesome view!

We walked about 1/4th of the wall before we opted to stop for lunch at this cute sea food place that our guide recommended. Ryan tried an octopus burger, which was so legit as the octopus was only caught a few hours beforehand, and I had tempura shrimp and oysters (yum!). We even marked our visit with a personalized “we were here” fork declaration for the wall.

After lunch, we took a water taxi to Island Lokrum. The waters were quite wavy, but we got to the island quickly and without any seasickness (thank goodness). Apparently, the island was cursed by monks centuries ago. After years of living there, the monks were kicked off of the island. Before they left, the monks circled the island three times with candles facing down and dripped wax on the ground, placing a curse on the island for anyone who decided to live there until all of the wax eroded from the island. Because of that curse, no one lives on the island and everyone leaves it before night fall.

During the day, the island is a beautiful place! There are wild bunnies and peacocks running around everywhere. I definitely had, as Ryan put it, my “Disney princess moment” while petting some of the wild bunnies.

We walked up to the cliffs and were blown away by the view and the insane wind!

It even started to rain on us and, since we didn’t have an umbrella, we had to follow the peacocks under a tree to shield ourselves from the rain. Fortunately for us, the rain only lasted about 5 minutes, so we were quickly back on our way to hike the island. We walked up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever come across and up to the top of the fort in the middle of the island to see an amazing view of Old Town…

The view of Old Town on the Island of Lokrum, Croatia

After taking in the view for a while, we headed back to the water taxi and across the bay to attempt the monorail up to the top of a near by mountain for another spectacular view of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately for us, the tram was closed because of the wind, so we opted for some cookies and cream gelato instead. The gelato was black and made for some messy faces after eating!

We decided to walk the streets for some window shopping before dinner and took a quick Rosé break at a little wine room down one of the many alleyways. Finally, hunger took us over and we browsed about 15 different restaurants before settling on Spaghetteria Toni. The restaurants in Old Town are pretty expensive and tourist oriented. While I wanted to get something “Croatian”, Ryan was in the mood for pizza, so Spaghetteria Toni had the best of both worlds. Ryan got a giant pizza loaded with everything you could ask for, and I got a Mediterranean gnocchi – pesto gnocchi with tuna and shrimp in a creamy white wine sauce. It was probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten!

After dinner, we hit a grocery store for some take-home Rosé and candy, and hopped back on the bus back to the hotel for a relaxing evening with another amazing view.

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Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii, Italy

I have always loved Greek and Roman history and mythology. I took multiple classes on the subjects in college, have watched almost every TV show and movie released along those themes, and went to Greece a few years back, so now was my time to visit one of the most well-known areas of Italy to see the ruin that Mount Vesuvius caused in Pompeii!

For those of you who don’t know, the volcano Mount Vesuvius erupted and completely destroyed the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Under 13 – 20 feet of ash, most of the city was preserved and excavated, and you can see plaster moulds of the Pompeii citizens in the ash.

We woke up at 6 AM to have a carb heavy breakfast and hop on the bus for the 5 hour drive to the ruins. We slept, watched the Davinci Code, and observed the view of castles and farms in Limoncello country –  a delicious lemon liquor famous in the region. The lemons in the area were bigger than grapefruits!

Once we arrived at Pompeii, we grabbed some lunch in the market and shopped around before our tour. We were so relieved to find a place that had salads and fruit instead of bread and pasta to help digest everything. There was tons of volcanic rock to buy for souvenirs and pretty jewelry. One of the old gypsy ladies that was selling jewelry to one of my friends while eating rice and the rice was rocketing out of her mount between her missing teeth and hitting my friend. It was so gross but hilarious and I ended up buying a really pretty stone bracelet from her. Make sure you have a personal zone between you and these sweet old ladies just in case!

When the time came for the tour, we met our guide and walked through the turnstiles to the momentous place. I was in awe to finally be walking through a place I have been wanting to visit since my Latin class in 7th grade. There were tons of other people touring and getting around some of the larger tour groups while walking through the houses and bath houses was a little tough. I definitely recommend getting an early tour before the masses get there.

Dating back well before the destruction in 79 A.D., it was amazing to see that some of the frescos in the homes were still preserved and you could even see colors from the paint! There were pots, tables, and other objects preserved in the ash, but the most interesting were the moulds of people who were made during the excavation, Parents holding children, people crouched down, and even dogs… all having almost no time to react to Mount Vesuvius‘s wrath.

The bathhouse’s were also pretty cool. The engineering that went into making the steam rooms and hot baths vs. the cold pools was visible in the ruins and very interesting to learn about.

Pompeii, Italy

We toured up to Pompeii’s city center which had a fantastic view of the volcano. Note: even though other people might be doing it and there are no signs, do not climb on the ruins or else you will be chased down by angry site workers.

Pompeii Tips:

  • Have salads when you seem them on the menu. With carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the majority of the trip, salad will really help with digestion and bloating.
  • Get an early tour to avoid the crowds.
  • Bring a hat, sun glasses, sun screen, and water. There is almost no shade while touring and the light color of the ruins reflects the sun, making it very bright.
  • Do not climb on the ruins.