We just got back Saturday from our trip to Italy with our friends Zac & Cara. It was so much fun & Italy is now even more my favorite place on earth. I want to write out as much of it as I can remember, so, enjoy!
Josh & I drove up to Austin Thursday night since the boys were staying with my parents. We woke up super early that morning, after about 3.5 hrs of sleep, to head to the airport. We flew to Atlanta, then Miami, then switched airports via taxi for our international flight. (Josh & I always opt out of the cancer machine screeners [you know, the nekkid picture ones] so we had to do the whole pat down thing. Something showed up as sketchy on the gloves of the guy checking Josh, so he got taken to a private room to do it again. It was kind of comical because you could tell they didn't exactly find us suspicious, but had to go through the motions anyways. He checked out fine after that one.) We then flew 8.5 hours to Dusseldorf, then 1.5 hrs to Milan, where we took a train from the airport to the Milano Centrale train station, then waited a couple of hours for our train to Florence. In short: we were STINKING TIRED by the time we got there. So. Much. Traveling. But worth it, obviously.
In Florence, we stayed down a narrow street in an apartment that was located between a trattoria & a ristorante. Totally charming. We were so happy to see Zac & Cara. Our time with them (since college with Zac, & for as long as we've known Cara) has been limited to vacations or their weekend trips to SA, so we cherish every moment with them.
We went out to dinner after we dropped off our luggage & had pizza & wine. Bufala mozzarella is plentiful in Italy & we had it at almost every opportunity, starting with our margherita pizzas. We walked around town a bit & got dessert in the Piazza della Repubblica, then crashed for the night (Josh was D.O.N.E. after dinner).
The next day, I woke up before everyone else & headed out to walk around. Florence had been my favorite city when we visited Italy in 2009. I love the charm of the city - I'll never get over it. Since it was a Sunday morning, it was so quiet out, & the streets were almost empty. I walked along the river, grabbed a cappuccino & a croissant, & sat in the small piazza near our place to eat. This was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.
(I must pause here to say that no one does coffee like Italians. They mean business! Even convenience stores off the side of the highway have espresso machines. I love their cappuccinos. I had as many as possible, even though they made my tummy hurt sometimes since I don't consume much dairy these days. Going from gluten & dairy free to eating lots of pizza, pasta, sandwiches, gelato, cappuccinos, & cheese did a toll on me!! But it was SO GOOD.)
I headed back to meet everyone else before we headed out. We had scheduled tickets to the Uffizi Museum & the Accademia that day, so we headed to the Uffizi at 9 & walked around for a couple of hours, admiring all the paintings & sculptures. We grabbed lunch at a sandwich shop (which are a very popular Italian lunch option) & sat at the apartment for a while, & the other three had a little nap time (I couldn't sleep; for some reason jet lag on the way there left me with tons of energy, but coming back, I am still exhausted) before we went to the Accademia, which is where the David is, along with many other Michelangelo sculptures. We may have been shushed at one point. Our laughter wasn't very museum-like. But we enjoyed ourselves!
That night we wandered around & found a restaurant in a small piazza to eat at. That was where I got the best tiramisu of the trip. But I was also left feeling really yucky afterwards - dairy overload. So I passed on the gelato after dinner. (Don't judge - we had gelato every day at least once, along with tiramisu three times, appetizers every night at dinner, & cappuccinos at every turn. We like to think we walked enough to make allowances for all that deliciousness.)
Monday morning, we climbed up the 460+ stairs in the narrow tunnel up to the top of the dome of the Duomo. We got some beautiful views of the city from the top. Zac & Cara then headed to wait in line to go inside the Duomo, but since Josh & I got to do that last time we were there, we grabbed lunch & walked around a bit before meeting back up with them. That afternoon, we walked across the bridge to the Pitti Palace & toured the gardens & the costume gallery (since we were too cheap to pay for admittance to the palace). I also believe this was the day we got the best gelato, at least in my opinion, also across the bridge. That evening's dinner was one of our best. We sat outside & had delicious food & a very kind waiter. (Appetizer: fried pasta dough with mozzarella & proscuitto - SO GOOD. I got pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Tiramisu for dessert.) We walked around town for the last time before calling it a night.
The next morning, we did some souvenir shopping & got to eat lunch at one of the best restaurants in town, which was my favorite meal. I got the stuffed cabbage leaves. So wonderfully spiced! I'll attempt to recreate it soon but I know I'll fail. Then we went to get our rental car to head out to the country. Zac had rented a Fiat 500, & after considering the upgrade but deciding against it ("It's only for an hour!), we squished four people, four large suitcases, five backpacks, a camera case, & a purse into a tiny two-door car. We viewed a church at the top of a hill across the river on our way out of town & got some good pictures of Florence, then headed out of town. About an hour in, I got carsick & would have barfed if we hadn't pulled over, & Zac graciously switched places with me. A bit further down the road, we realized we had been going the wrong direction the whole time. So an hour on the road turned into more like 4+. Oops. That's what happens when you don't have WiFi, y'all.
(Josh really, really enjoyed driving the manual Fiat, & driving like an Italian. Driving laws are more like suggestions there, so he zoomed around & drove well over 130 kpm - around 90 mph. One of his favorite parts of the trip by far.)
We eventually made it to our awesome apartment in the medieval town of Montefollonico, on top of a hill in Tuscany. It was a beautiful, quaint little town with three restaurants, some artisans, & one small grocery store. It lives off tourism now, though it seemed to be mainly Italian tourists. It has two short streets that run long ways, & a couple small roads that barely fit our small Fiat. That night we had a very late dinner at the closest restaurant, La Costa. Delicious crostini appetizer with truffle oil, & homemade pasta & risotto. The next morning, we drove to the next hill over to the old town of Montepulciano. Montepulciano is known for having some of the best wine in Italy, so there are many wineries there. We did some sampling & walked through the cool, dark wine cellars, & I bought a ceramic olive oil jar to bring home (the Roberts love us some good olive oil). We relaxed a bit at our apartment, then went to a local pizzeria for dinner & good conversation (& lots of laughs).
Thursday, we went to Siena, about an hour away. What a beautiful, charming city. Like the other Tuscan towns, the old part of the town is on top of the hill, surrounded by the old city walls. We did a little touring of the town, & of course some eating. One of my other favorite parts of the trip, though, was when we bought gelato & sat in the main piazza & simply enjoyed the moment. There is so much to see in Italy that it's tempting to just go go go, but I loved when we were able to stop & bask in the beauty around us. Shortly after, it began to rain, so after about 30 minutes under a restaurant canopy, we ran through the rain back to our car. We ate dinner at another restaurant in town for our last evening together.
Friday morning, we recreated the stuffed-car situation & drove out to a vineyard about 20 minutes away, where we were able to get a tour & a wine tasting. We also got a bread plate & some of the best olive oil I have ever had. This was another one of my favorite parts of the trip. We headed back to Florence, checked our bags at the train station, hustled over to a restaurant that attracts the locals that served us some really good roasted beef, pork, & white beans, received & consumed in about 15 minutes time. We grabbed some gelato on the walk back, then said goodbye at the train station as we headed back to Milan & they left for Venice. Throw in another marathon day of traveling, & we were home again with our boys (of which, the oldest told me upon seeing me, that he didn't want to go home, he wanted to stay at Mimi & Papa's. They definitely didn't miss us too much!).
We had a great time in a beautiful region of a lovely country with wonderful friends. I love Italy. I love the people & the culture & the food & the language & most of all, the coffee. (Just kidding. Not really.) Tuscany is so gorgeous to me, with its rolling hills, vineyards & olive trees, & old world structures. Many times during our trip, I just stopped & thanked the Lord for the blessing of being able to go there, not only once but twice, & to spend lots of time with Zac & Cara. We'd love to go back again one day. If nothing else, I'll be spending a lot of time there on the New Earth; that's where you'll find me. :)