FLORENCE, ITALY

FLORENCE

This Renaissance gem and city of the Medicis kept us enthralled for a whole day. Traffic is banned in part of the historic centre, so visitors can wander at leisure and admire the city’s timeless beauty in relative peace and quiet. Our tour had a walking tour with a Local Guide that features most of the city highlights. We got to see Piazza Santa Croce; beautiful Piazza Signoria; Palazzo Vecchio; Loggia dei Lanzi; and, to top it all, Piazza del Duomo and its cathedral with the Giotto Campanile, and the magnificent East Door of the Baptistry, known as the “Gate of Paradise.”




I don’t think I need to say much about Florence…after all, Florence is Florence. It’s not only the capital of Tuscany but it’s also the capital of Renaissance art and rich culture. In fact, Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was the most important city in Europe for couple centuries in the Middle Ages. Florentine architects from that era also invented Renaissance and neo-Classical architecture which later gained much popularity in whole Europe. Scientists and explorers like Galileo and Amerigo Vespucci are just to name some more Florence’s talented sons. This is also the city where Opera was invented. And finally, dominating artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo called Florence or Firenze their home.



Located in Italy’s irresistible region Toscana (or Tuscany) and by romantic Arno River, Florence is a city with endless enchantment sites and timeless tranquility. It’s not easy to escape the spell of Florence when you are surrounded by such astonishing culture. It is one of those places that offers too much to its visitors and one of those cities that is sophisticated with very down to earth mood. When you enter Florence, you enter the Renaissance time…that connection with time is made instantly and involuntarily. It’s hard not to wander off and be distracted with Florence’s mesmerizing history and atmosphere.





We began with a stop at Duomo- Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore. Located just down the street from our drop off, we found ourselves stopping here quite often. It is just so magnificent, you can’t help but stop, stare, and snap a few more pictures. And you can’t miss it–it’s right in the heart of the city and I believe is the tallest structure around. Trust me, it won’t disappoint! Make sure you buy a ticket inside and climb the tower–especially if it’s a clear day!
The next stop we made was at the Uffizi Gallery. This is a must stop and is often very busy! Just around the corner from Uffizi Gallery is Ponte Vecchio. Surrounded by the ultimate grandeur Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge over River Arno. It’s a pedestrian bridge with beautiful views of River Arno on the both sides, if you can manage to see the river over the countless jewelry stores and tourists.



You’ve all seen pictures of this famous bridge, and it really is quite a beauty. We were there on a spotty-day. The clouds were pretty grey and we were getting just small glimpses of blue sky but it was still amazing and so picturesque.


Not too far from Ponte Vecchio is Piazza della Signoria. This is one of the central squares. There is an old palace across from some Michelangelo copies and other famous sculptures. It’s going to be near impossible to explore through Florence and NOT come across Piazza della Signoria. We passed through it on numerous occasions and I loved it every time. Palazzo Vecchio is worth a visit and is right there in Piazza della Signoria. It’s also in the heart of ancient Florence. There is a lot of history in that square and it’s now known for its quaint little carousel. It’s fun for the kids and people watching. And bonus, there is some fun shopping nearby.



Another stop we made in Florence was at the Galleria dell’ Accademia. This was a bucket list item for me, home to several of Michelangelo’s sculptures and most notably, the famous “David”. Walking around the corner of that beautiful gallery and seeing David majestically calling out on the other end of the hall was one of the most memorable moments of my life. It is hands-down something you must experience while in Florence. Again, it’s safest and cheapest to get your tickets ahead of time!

Check out our tour video here:


//www.powr.io/powr.js

PISA, ITALY


Vistas of undulating hills, rows of cypress trees, terraced vineyards, olive groves, and rural villages form the backdrop of our journey through beautiful Tuscany. We took a break in Pisa to see the SQUARE OF MIRACLES and the amazing Leaning Tower, then on to Florence.


Pisa, Italy is best known for its leaning tower, but there is so much more to see in this Tuscan town. Piazza dei Miracoli, the area around the cathedral and the tower, is beautiful, and a visit can easily occupy several hours. Pisa was one of the four great maritime republics in the Middle Ages, and it retains a good selection of monuments from that era. There’s also the Arno River, a university, and several interesting museums.
It’s a good city for strolling and enjoying at a leisurely pace.
Pisa is located in the northern half of Tuscany, not far from the coast and about an hour west of Florence.
Okay, I’m going to be very honest with you all–there really is not a ton to see or do in Pisa. However, if you’d like to stop for the famous pic with the leaning tower, I recommend just making it short stop in the city for an hour or two.  We went on a lovely day, and were able to get some fun pictures–but other than the famous quirky tower, there really is not a whole lot to do.



It really was such a beautiful day.
I have to make a confession though. This may hurt a bit…but I have to be honest: the leaning tower was SO much smaller than I ever imagined! I legitimately thought it was going to be much taller then it is. It’s really not very big at all.

Also, I know you can buy tickets to go inside! We did not do this, but if you want to spend a little bit longer there–that’s always an option.

Check out our video of Pisa to Florence:




//www.powr.io/powr.js

//s7.addthis.com/js/300/addthis_widget.js#pubid=ra-59a0a83bbefaf8c1

ASSISI, ITALY

An interesting drive southward, cutting across the Po Delta, and through the gentle Umbrian hills to Assisi, where St. Francis was born in 1182. We visited the world-famous BASILICA with its beautiful frescoes by Giotto, then head for Rome.


The first sight of Assisi, perched halfway up the slopes of Mount Subasio is extraordinary. Virtually untouched by modern architecture, with the soft pink of its medieval buildings shimmering against the greenery of the mountain, Assisi is an experience for the eye and the soul.



The ruined castle looming over the city is the Rocca Maggiore, an imposing fortress rebuilt in the 14th century over an earlier fortification dating back to the time of Charlemagne.



The Basilica of Saint Francis is unique. Nowhere in Italy there is so rich and complete representation of the art of the late 13th and early 14th centuries. One of the supremely important events in the history, not only of Italian, but of European art.


A day visit to the town should also include the Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of Saint Clare) devoted to Francis’ first “sister”, the Romanesque San Pietro (Saint Peter), Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen), and Assisi’s town cathedral, San Rufino.




We took a walk up Corso Mazzini to Piazza del Comune and enjoyed the medieval palazzi and the beautifully preserved Temple of Minerva. It is an ideal spot to sit on the stone steps and do some people watching while eating a gelato. Roman foundations are a common feature of many buildings here. Below the piazza is the excavated Roman Forum, which can be visited from Via Portica. It is not much of a site if one comes from the splendors of Rome or Pompei, but it makes a good stop in a rainy or hot day and it has the added charm to be completely underground. The Middle Ages are above your head but your feet are on the pavement of a once bustling Roman square. Continue towards the Saint Francis Basilica  by Via San Paolo, to the right of the Tourist Office. Make a detour to the signposted Romanesque church of San Stefano. This small church is wonderfully quiet and simple, in sharp contrast with the extravagance of colors, flamboyant architecture and ample spaces, often filled with people, that awaits you at the Basilica down the hill.

We then finally arrivied at the “Basilica di San Francesco”. From the height of Via Cardinal Merry del Val, the sight of the Piazza Superiore is sudden and surprising. Most Italian monuments stand within the architecture of the city. Saint Francis stands alone and serene at the end of a green meadow.

//s7.addthis.com/js/300/addthis_widget.js#pubid=ra-59a0a83bbefaf8c1

VENICE, ITALY

Venice

 Venice is more like a marvelous film set than a real live city, with its criss-crossing canals, gondolas and water buses, arched bridges, and palaces.  They don’t call this the city of romance for nothing. We arrived in the evening by boat, had a late dinner, spent the whole next day looking around and exploring. It was plenty of time to soak up beautiful Venice.  But seriously, the best way to explore Venice is losing your way to discover the charms of this mesmerizing city.



Venice was that dream you never want to wake from. Every corner you turn, you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else we’ve ever been. It’s (quite literally) a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two.

Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal and is one of the famous pictures taking spots in Venice. There are little tourist shops all across the bridge. We don’t care much for the tourist shops, but it’s a fun place to take some pictures and get a great view of the canal. You will also see (and probably go under) this bridge if you take a Grand Canal Tour.



I briefly mentioned this earlier but want to elaborate a bit more, YOU WILL GET LOST in Venice. It is inevitable that you will get turned around at least once (but most likely fifteen+ times) There is very little, if any, method to the madness of their streets and alleyways.

The best tip we can give you is to try and keep a sense of what direction you need to move. Eventually you’ll get somewhere, because it’s really not that big. And in the tourist heavy areas they will often have signs with arrows pointing to “Rialto Bridge” or other big landmarks.



Also note, we had an international phone/data plan, so I did have Google maps the whole time, we still got lost many times. So even if you’re thinking “oh, we’ll have data, we’ll be fine”. Think again & just be ready to get yourself all sorts of lost. However, there is a plus side of getting lost and that is that you may possibly come across hidden book stores and boutiques in the small alley ways.

I should also mention that there are so many galleries, museums and church/cathedrals you could wander through all day long throughout Venice. There are certain passes you can buy to get into a lot of them that have an entrance fee. We were on a tighter schedule, so we didn’t purchase one of the passes, but if you time I imagine it would be amazing!



The Palazzo Ducale/ Doge’s Palace, was not cheap, I think it was roughly $20-$30/per person, but you can probably get better deals if you buy ahead of time online We didn’t regret our decision not to fork out money, and if you have the time it’s well worth to take the audio tour as well. There is so much to see and so much history to be heard.

Make sure you take a Gondola Ride or Water Taxi.  We have a confession to make; we didn’t take a gondola ride. Before you judge, let me explain why. For starters, we tried to talk a few of the Gondola drivers down a bit and none of them would budge (we’ve heard of people successfully doing this, especially during the off-season when we went, but we had no luck, so if you try and succeed, let me know your tricks.
One of the main reasons we decided not to it was because even though we had a few blue skies throughout our stay, it was little coldish. We felt like we’d basically be paying $100 to sit and freeze on the water for 45 minutes. We didn’t regret our decision, but if the weather is good and you don’t mind paying, I’m sure it is as magical as it looks.



Up next, Saint Mark’s Basilica, probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Venice, and it is a must. The architecture alone is enough to go and just stare at, but even better you can go inside.  Oh, and I have to mention, it’s FREE. We love when we get to do cool stuff for free. There was a small line, but it only took us about 5 minutes to get inside, so don’t let the line scare you away.

And then of course, St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is really a breathtaking scene. Take time to stop and admire the architecture and enjoy some people watching. No matter what time of the year, this place will be bustling with tourists, so if you don’t like large crowds you may need to hurry through this one, but it’s definitely worth a stop.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to my favorite food stop in Venice was Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta-To-Go. When you visit, please make sure to stop in for me, and honestly you can’t really go wrong with any pasta/sauce combo that you choose, but I do highly recommend the Creamy Broccoli Alfredo Sauce with the Fettuccini noodles.



Overall, Venice was one of my favorite stops in Italy! It is such a magical, romantic place with so much to do and see.
Check out our video highlights here:

//www.powr.io/powr.js

//s7.addthis.com/js/300/addthis_widget.js#pubid=ra-59a0a83bbefaf8c1

VERONA, ITALY

VERONA



Verona is one of Northern Italy’s most beautiful small cities and its packed full of awe-inspiring sites and things to do. It’s also consistently underrated and overlooked by travelers, who often skip it to hit Milan or Venice. But their loss is your gain – from the rich culture and beautiful architecture, to intriguing history and unique cuisine, there are so many things to do in Verona is gaining popularity as a base for people who like to spend extended vacations in Italy. Of course it’s also known as one of the most romantic cities in the world due to its association with Romeo and Juliet, but it has inspired more than just Shakespeare; many important people are associated with the town like Goethe who passed through in his travels, Julius Caesar who vacationed here, and Dante who featured it in his works and was even buried here.

What stands out about Verona above all else is its beautifully-preserved ancient, medieval, and Renaissance architecture. The city center alone has probably the best collection of Roman buildings in Northern Italy. This incredible inheritance won it UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2000 and continues to make it a must-visit for anyone interested in the cultural history of Europe. Its location nestled between the Alps to the north and the banks of Lake Garda to the south also makes it an ideal base to explore the region, especially for families looking for diverse experiences during a long vacation.

Perhaps the most impressive thing to see in Verona is the Coliseum-like Verona ArenaLocated in the main square of Verona, Piazza Bra, the arena is a beautifully preserved reminder of Roman rule. Slightly smaller than the Colosseum in Rome, Its construction actually predates the Colosseum by about 50 years, and unlike its more famous cousin, it’s still in regular use.

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Ah, Shakespeare’s famous, tragic love story. Why am I bringing up an English play write when discussing the best of an Italian city? Because the minute you step foot in Verona, you’ll understand why Shakespeare chose this glorious city as the setting for his masterpiece. Located in Northern Italy, Verona is close enough to Venice that you can make it a day trip, or stop by on your way to or from Venice.
In search of a nice bar, we passed from the Roman to the medieval era, walking through the pedestrian streets inside the walls of the old town. What really hit us was that almost all the area is pedestrian, something that we haven’t seen in any other stops so far and that really made us enjoy the walk. We finally found streets full of people going for shopping, for an ice-cream or chilling at the bars with their Spritz.



While the others were looking at shop I raced ahead to Juliet’s house and balcony, then back to Piazza delle Erbe. This place has always been the heart of Verona: it is the oldest square of the town and lies upon the ruins of the Forum of the Roman town, it’s was the setting for the market and today. We took a while to breathe and continued the tour. We just had to make 20 meters at the back of the House of Municipality to get to another amazing square: Piazza dei Signori, with at its centre the statue of Dante Alighieri. The imposing statue made the Veronese people give the square the name of Piazza Dante. It’s another square built in medieval times and surrounded by monumental buildings. The very curious thing is that each of them is linked to the next through arches. In a corner of the square there’s maybe the most particular monument of Verona: the “Arche Scaligere”, monumental tombs in the open air topped by arches in gothic style. They were considered the most honourable burial for the illustrious lords of the Scaligeri family, who ruled the city in the 14th century.


We then headed back the way we come and had a quick bit and back on the bus. I’d like to return to Verona one day, not just because it’s beautiful, but because I keep trying to imagine the wonder of the opera playing out in the Arena and I simply can’t. I just get the sense that I need to see it and feel it. Even if it does mean having to join the summer crowds.


//www.powr.io/powr.js

//s7.addthis.com/js/300/addthis_widget.js#pubid=ra-59a0a83bbefaf8c1