Posts Tagged With: italy

A Tower with a View: Giotto’s Campanile

I struck out on my own to climb Giotto’s Campanile, the tower right next to Florence’s Duomo.

Of course, I meandered around at first and found a bar to grab a quick espresso. (Buongiorno! Vorrei un caffe, per favore. At this point rolling my R’s was getting easier.) I watched a few street vendors painting in the piazza, and heard several fellow Americans attempting their Italian. When I felt I had given the espresso enough time to energize me for the climb, I got in the ticket line for the Campanile.

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413 steps up. 413 steps down.

Luckily there were a few floors between the ground and the very top so I could stop and catch my breath. The stairs were very narrow and winding – if you’re any more claustrophobic than I am it might get uncomfortable when you’re halfway up. But in my opinion, the view was definitely worth it. Each of the five levels had an even more fantastic view.

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Tuscan Vineyard Trailride

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I don’t think I can count the number of hours I’ve spent in the saddle. I can, however, remember every single destination trail ride. Riding a few miles up from our starting point at a barn in Colorado comes to mind. This trail ride kinda tops them all in terms of scenery.

I booked Kate and I a ride through Fun in Tuscany. It included pick up and drop off in the center of Florence, as well as a wine tasting/food pairing lunch (after the ride, of course).

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Our trail guide

The stable was located a little over 30 minutes from our pickup point and surrounded by some of the most breathtaking countryside I’ve ever seen. We drank a few cappuccini as we waited on a patio, and sampled different kinds of honey. I never thought a honey tasting could be all that interesting… but the group we were with discussed in-depth the differences in each type… the hazelnut honey was my favorite. yum.

The previous tour was late getting back, so we hung out in the barn area, saying hi to the old goat. Just from the barn, the view was amazing. The tour guide helped the less experienced people up into their saddles first, and gave them brief instructions on steering, stopping, going, etc.

Kate and I, as we had the most experience, were at the back of the line. When I mounted from the ground and comfortably picked up my reins, he just blinked at me and said, “You’re good.”

Even though I was slightly bummed I wouldn’t be close enough to the tour guide to test 20160614_122018any of my Italian horse-related vocabulary… there’s something to be said for being at the back of the line on a trail ride. You don’t have to be nose-to-tail. We got to walk around a farm, through a slightly wooded area, and right down into a vineyard, going between rows of grapevines. It was sunny with a slight mist, which made the temperature PERFECT.

Of course, Kate and I would have been happy with a 5-hour trail ride, but it was so relaxing to sit in a saddle, in a quiet vineyard, after we’d been averaging 7 miles of walking a day through crowds of tourists. Instead of our feet being sore, now it was our riding muscles.

I’ve never spent this much time in a vineyard, but I definitely didn’t get tired of our tranquil surroundings! By the end, Kate and I were scheming of ways to get hired as the next trail guides. I wouldn’t mind riding that trail every day.

The wine-pairing lunch was just icing on the cake at the end. I now know how to look like a snob at my next wine tasting, as well… And I’m still dreaming about the lasagne they served us. Overall? On a scale of 1 to 10, the day was about a 15. Definitely recommended!

 

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Holy vineyard view, Batman!

 

 

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Florence First Impressions

I’ve trained myself to sleep on public transportation now, so I had to struggle to keep my eyes open on our way in from Pisa. It started raining before our train pulled into the station in Florence, which made it even more difficult to stay awake. (Those 4:30 am wake up calls are always brutal.)

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view from the train

Just as we were a few blocks from our Airbnb, the light rain became a downpour. We managed to find some shelter under an overhang and waited out the worst of it before we rang the bell. Our host had a friend with him and introduced us. He made some tea and we sat and chatted.

He remembered I had used a little bit of Italian when I booked the room and asked me about it. I was excited to have an interested audience to practice my Italian on. He actually used to ride horses and we had a half English-half Italian discussion about it – if he didn’t know the English word, or I didn’t know the Italian, we would switch languages and figure it out.

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After the storm passed

After Kate and I rested and changed, we went out to pizza with our host and his friend. They took us to a local place with absolutely delicious pizza. As soon as we were seated I just had to sit back and listen to all the fast-paced Italian flying by me. Occasionally our host would laugh, look at me, and ask, “How much of that did you understand?” I’d repeat back to him the 5 words out of the last 3 minutes I had picked out. He’d nod and say, “Not too bad. That was fast.”

I was getting my bearings as our host led us back to his flat. So far, Florence seemed pretty easy to navigate. The buildings and streets were sparkling and clean after the rain, and tourists and locals alike were back out on the streets. The restaurants and bars were beginning to overflow with people spilling out onto the pavement. As we said goodbye and piacere to our host’s friend, I decided I liked Florence a lot. The people we had met so far were friendly and very patient with my language attempts, and the city’s vibes were much more small-town than the vast London we had just left.

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(This is why I enjoy using Airbnb. Here’s my AirBnB referral code. You get $35 off your first booking!)

 

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Bucket List Pit Stop: Pisa

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London gave us a rainy send-off, which somehow made my excitement for Italy a bit more bitter-sweet. We were landing in Pisa before taking a train to Florence, the city that was ultimately our destination for the next few days. But who doesn’t have “take touristy photo with the leaning tower” on their bucket list? So I built in some extra time between our train to Florence and when we landed in Pisa… because sometimes you just need to get the iconic photo.

 

It was noticeably hotter than London (of course), so our 15-minute walk in the sun from the train station was a bit sweaty. But it was pretty much a straight shot, and I was glad to stretch my legs after being on the plane. And once we made it through the swarm of people, we had 20 or 30 minutes to admire il Torre di Pisa.

 

Then, it was back to the train and on to Firenze! I was eager to meet our Airbnb host and test out the small bit of Italian I had in my head. (Which, after the Add1Challenge, was certainly more than the ciao! and grazie! I had my first time in Italy.)

 

 

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Ask Me About Free Walking Tours

Free. Walking. Tours. What’s not to like? You get to explore a fabulous city in the most up-close way possible with some of the most entertaining tour guides you will ever meet. After this summer, I am officially a walking endorsement for Sandeman’s New Europe tours (and any other tip-only walking tours – looking at you, York, Venice, & Rome).

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I met my first London friends (as well as the Bathrobe Crusader – look it up, haha) on my first London tour.

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I (along with Angela, Laura, and Lily) got one of the most entertaining history lessons in Dublin.

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No group pictures were taken on my Venice & Rome walking tours – but they were both fantastic. So many iconic sights!

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I took my parents on the London walking tour when they came to visit – and I was just as entertained the second time around.

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Dad & I were the only ones to show up to the non-Sandeman’s York tour in the cold rain. (This one deserves its own post.)

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Dad & I also went on the Edinburgh tour – where we ended up buying tickets for a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle for all three of us the next day.

Some of my best traveling stories from 2014 happened during or because of a free walking tour. I think I remember more history from one 3 hour tour than any semester of class. It is also an excellent way to get in some great exercise without realizing it. And it is always a treat to see a new city from the perspective of someone who lives there. So if you’re ever in a city with Sandeman’s, go!

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

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Italy

IMG_1686   Traveling to Italy was my first overnight trip completely solo since I got to London. Speaking of – I’m really missing all my friends that have already gone back to the States, or Australia, or Germany, or France, or just moved on to other parts of the UK. It feels like the friendships I made in the past 3 months happened over years. I’m so grateful I got to travel with so many amazing people! But traveling for 5 days by myself was incredibly freeing, and a different type of experience.

Venice was absolutely breathtaking. Pictures don’t do it justice. I was lucky enough to have fantastic weather the first two days I was there. With just some slight cloud cover, a comfortable temperature, a very slight breeze, and no need to take a rush hour tube journey, Venice was the perfect break from cold, rainy, crowded London (not that I don’t still love London! Its just a bit early for IMG_1692summer to be over, is all).  As soon as I stepped off the coach that brought me from the airport, I had my camera out to take pictures. Within about 30 minutes, I decided I could probably live there for a few months and be perfectly content with only a few friends and a stack of books.

The two highlights of my stay in Venice had to be the 3 hour walking tour (I learned so much history and managed to get my bearings for the section of Venice I was staying in – and I don’t think I would have ever found the best bookshop I’ve ever seen without it), and the groupon Gondola ride. (Groupon has been an important part of my life since leaving the States.) I loved hearing the water sloshing around in the canals and getting to ride a gondola through them was the one tourist thing that I would have regretted not doing.

I also possibly ate my weight in gelato.

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Rome, as a whole, wasn’t as aesthetically awe-inspiring as Venice. However, the ancient and historical sections of the city were
magnificent! I saw Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum – so many Roman Emperors and officials that lived and entertained there. I kept thinking about different Bible stories I could put visuals to. Then there was the Colosseum! I knew it was large, but when I was standing in it, it felt monstrous. It was difficult to picture how many people used to be able to fit into the one building.

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I also went on a 3 hour free walking tour in Rome – we went through some beautiful churches and saw some great architecture. I think, though, that my biggest disappointment in Rome was the fact that the Spanish Steps fountain and the Trevi Fountain were both drained and covered in scaffolding. Not what dreams are made of. Come on, Rome. I wanted my Lizzie McGuire moment!

Overall, it was a very successful solo backpacking trip through Venice and Rome. And the train ride between the two went through some gorgeous countryside! My new life goal may just be to retire to Italy. If I can manage to get a Visa.

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“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown”

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