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.

 

Seattle

Seattle

The alarm sounded at 6 AM and it took every ounce of my being to get out of bed. With our bags packed, we headed to the dining room for breakfast before we needed to debark. The breakfast in the dining room was basically the same as the buffet and I had my usual oatmeal with brown sugar, grapefruit, and sausage. The coffee on board was delicious so I had a few cups of that as well to wake up fully since we had a big day ahead of us.

Ryan predicted about a 45-minute debarkation process and boy were we surprised! We did the self-debark where we carried all of our bags to the Crown Grill for our debark time. Right as we got there, the staff rounded us off and walked us to the gateway. We were off the ship in under 5 minutes from our debark time and through the customs check in another 5. It took us a total of 10 minutes to get off the boat and to our Uber pick up! We were very impressed.

We all piled into one giant Suburban and rode to our downtown Holiday Inn. I liked the Maxwell hotel so much more, with its spunky personality and super comfy beds, but the Holiday Inn worked as well. We dropped our bags off quickly, freshened up, and then Ryan and I took off on foot to Pike’s Market. It was about a 20-minute walk through the drizzly downtown streets, but we passed some really cool statues, art fixtures, and graffiti. Seattle also has amazing architecture and almost every building has some unique color or quirk that makes it visually appealing.

Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington

We arrived at the market and was shocked at all of the fresh produce and the prices! While one side of the market was filled with flowers of every kind and color at prices from $5 – $15 for a beautiful bouquet, the other side had fresh produce that looked picked that morning, right-off-the-boat fish and seafood, fresh pasta of all flavor varieties (we got some basil linguine to try), cheeses and cured meats, honey sticks, and a huge variety of other goods to buy.

Not only was the market multiple blocks long, but it was 6 stories deep! We wandered down to a lower floor, tried some BBQ pork buns from a take-out Chinese window, window shopped through some old record shops, hippie boutiques, and a pet store that made us homesick for our puppy. I could have perused the market for hours!

Not only is Pike Place Market a big attraction, but there are other hidden gems inside and around the market that make for interesting stops. Across from the market is the original Starbucks with a line out the door 50+ people. It has the original Starbucks logo and everything. On top of that, the notoriously sticky gum-wall in an almost hidden corridor of the Market beckons gum chewers to make a deposit, leaving their brightly colored gum as a marker of their visit to the wall. We checked out both of these places before our stomachs brought us to Pita Stop for a gyro before the trek back to the hotel.

EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington

I changed my galoshes out for my hiking boots and we were back on the streets, walking to the EMP Museum underneath the Space Needle. We opted for the EMP since we have traditional science museums in Dallas and a very nice aquarium, so the EMP offered something different for us to try, and boy were we glad we did! Contained in an architecturally complex and colorful building that you can’t help but be curiously drawn to, the EMP Museum offers exhibits like nothing I have seen before. All of the exhibits feature priceless artifacts in theme, my favorites of which included Light Sabers that were actually used during the filming of the originally Star Wars movies in the “Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction” exhibit, Gizmo from Gremlins in the “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film” exhibit, guitars and hand-written lyrics from both Nirvana and Jimmy Hendrix in their retrospective exhibits, and the actual costumes from all of the main characters in The Princess Bride! There was also a music lab with booths containing every type of instrument where people could literally make music and jam out on any instrument they pleased. Again, so interactive and cool. I highly recommend the EMP to anyone visiting Seattle!

After exploring the museum, we went out the backdoor to a huge park with an interactive playground for kids. There were white tents set up at the back of the playground and the smell of hot dogs drew Ryan’s stomach and my curiosity over to the tents. They started with lots of kid’s activities, and as we walked further into the tent mass, we realized we stumbled upon the Folk Art Festival taking place. There must have been thousands of people with the most unusual range of styles I have ever seen in one place! There were hair colors ranging every spectrum of the rainbow, clothes that looked like they dated back to the early 1900’s, folk bands set up every 20 feet or so playing on instruments ranging from old wash boards to beer bottles! We strolled through the crowds and were astonished as the free-flowing and happy nature of all of those participating. It’s amazing what a little curiosity off the beaten path will lead you too!

Folk festival in Seattle Washington

We spent about an hour in the festival before our feet couldn’t bare walking anymore and we returned to the hotel. Unfortunately for our feet, Ryan’s family was ready to go to dinner almost as soon as we returned, so we took off again to Vinason Pho & Grill for some of the best pork vermicelli I have ever had in my life! They added mint to the dish with a touch of cinnamon and the freshness of the ingredients made for a delightful experience. I topped dinner off with a strawberry macaroon from the Macadons up the street.

Pork Vermicelli in Seattle Washington

Ryan’s brother-in-law’s sister drove in town from Oregon to see us for her 21st birthday, so we topped off our night with some celebratory drinks. The bar was the oldest family run restaurant in Seattle, open 24-7 with a huge menu, and had quite a personality. We also had free entertainment as a juggler set up right in-front of our patio table. With a margarita and some good conversation under our belt, we headed back in the misty night to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Seattle – Back to Dallas

Ryan’s family took off early back to Houston, so we said our goodbyes and then went to an Einstein Bros Bagels up the street for some hot coffee and delicious bagels. My favorite it the everything bagel with honey butter – yumm! It was pouring out, but thankfully with my wellies and rain jacket on and umbrella ready to go, we were ok to walk around town for something fun to do. A lot of things in Seattle are outdoors, so we needed to find something easy to do inside and we found out that the REI flagship store was a little under a mile away. While a dangerous decision for our wallets, we took off to find our shopping mecca.

We came up to a rainforest and also functioned as the entry to the store! We went up a winding dirt path, past a waterfall, and across dirt bike testing trails before getting to the 3rd story entrance. The place was HUGE! It was two floors of everything outdoors and even had a 3 story climbing wall looking out over the forest and a big wooden fire-place to gather around. Not only that, but they were having their biggest sale of the year and it was packed! We spent an hour gallivanting around, wide-eyed at all of the great deals and things we wanted to take back. The REI in Dallas is about 1/3 of the size and this place made me want to move north so I could be a permanent camper. If you are in Seattle looking for something free to do and are any sort of outdoorsy type, you need to come check this REI out, just be credit card careful.

With some new gear in hand, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and a driver to the airport, and started our journey back to the sunny and warm state of Texas.