As it happens my flight tickets turned out cheaper with a brief stop in the Netherlands so here I am now. I have left the nest (again) and set off to face my fears, face the unknown, and be with my beloved Englishman. First however, I was lucky enough to get to stay with my former flatmate Christa in her current place of study: The gorgeous town of Groningen in the North-East of the Netherlands. Here is a little blog from one of our days!
With our base in Florence for 10 days we took the opportunity to explore other cities in Tuscany as well as Venice and Assisi. This seemed to work well as it allowed us to have a steady base, but also see so much of the nature in lovely Northern Italy as we crossed back and forth by train 🙂
It wasn’t our first day trip, but it was certainly the most emotional one so this gets go first. We got there by train and local bus, but while we were there we saw quite a few tour buses so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a company doing trips there. Assisi is a tiny village in the Umbria region in Northern Italy. It is famous for being the birth place of Saint Francis of Assis as well as several other religious figures. For such a tiny village, it sure has a lot of churches (notably Church of San Pietro for examples) , and for this reason as well as visitors being able to visit the tomb of St.Francis it has become a place of pilgrimage.
Must Do: Walk to the very top of the village, next to a fortress of sorts, and take in the view. It is breathtaking.
It is a beautiful little village, quiet and traditional, despite the occasional souvenir shop. Or maybe not souvenir shops, but more like shops for religious mementos and figures. It was very clear that though small, it has been, and still is a religious centre. This said, I have never considered myself particularly religious, always believing in “something” but never God as we know him. A higher power yes, a man who created all of earth, no. I still had one of the most emotional experiences of my life when I entered the Holy site of St. Francis tomb. Laura and I walked into the round room and sat down, a little way apart from each other. It was quiet and I thought of my late Grandfather and sent some thoughts his way. I sent some thoughts to my friends and family. And then I looked at the tomb and started crying. Not hysterically, and not audibly, but tears were running at a steady pace down my face and I felt so much grief. Overwhelming grief. Like the entire room contained the grief of centuries of people mourning the loss of the patron saint of Italy. I won’t go into it more than that, but I will say this : I walked out of the room and out of the church and felt lighter than I had in years. That silent church room felt peaceful and safe and the emotional release that happened in it stayed with me for a long time.
Monterosso – Cinque Terre Coast
We were only going to go to the beach one day to relax a little by recommendation of Nadine (our host at the B&B) but once we got there we decided to go back for another day. Who knew that such a tropical looking and feeling beach could be found so far north? Monterosso al mare is the biggest of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre coastline. Now, we had spent so much time exploring other cities that when we got to Monterosso we spotted the beach and decided to just stay there. It didn’t help that it was very very warm for the season and lying straight out soaking up some sun seemed like the best plan of action. We enjoyed it immensely, despite me getting a severe sunburn on my legs after going for a dip, and I know I want to go back there and see more. Only this year the Cinque Terre coast line and the villages along it have become the “it” place to be and now everyone who is anyone have explored the five villages and my Instagram timeline is all Italy. It has become evident that we missed out on some spectacular views, but that just means I have an excuse to go back. As if I need an excuse 😛
One of the cities we really were looking forward to visit was World Heritage Site Venice. The city that is not a city exactly, but rather hundreds of little islands that all together make up the rocky foundation of a city. Gondolas, the architecture, the picturesque river “streets”, it all came together and offered a wholly romantic experience. I didn’t question the honeymoon destination stamp for a minute, because everything screamed romanticised nostalgia and historical grandeur. It was gorgous, but quiet, if one walked out of the steam of tourist (the Norwegian herring in a bucket metaphor has never been more appropriate).
It also felt like a ghost city. We took a wrong turn on purpose and ended up in no mans land. Only old buildings and quiet waters. No life in the windows and no life in the streets. The historical grandeur was still present, but it became aerie. The emptiness of the vast city compared to what it must have been like was loud and intrusive, but an experience in itself. Venice was an odd mix of bustling tourism and absolute silence, but it was all together beautiful.
Lucca and Bologna
The other two cities we visited were Lucca and Bologna. Lucca is known in particular for the historical Renaissance city walls. We spent hours walking the pedestrian paths on the wall and enjoying the view of the architecture. When lunch time rolled around we had followed the maps to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a square that used to be an old amphitheater, but is a shopping and food centre today. We sat down at a café and spent time people watching, soaking up the smells and the sounds and the rapid Italian flying around all around the square.
Must Visit Tip : Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is a wonderful square full of life and colour, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops if you go looking for postcards.
Bologna is another historical city, but this one is arguably most known for the use of arches in the architecture. Bologna is also the place of origin of Bolognese, but arguably not the Dolmio kind, as when we had some bolognese in Bologna it tasted heavenly. The food we ate in Bologna was as Italian as it gets and there were so so many places to choose from. If you prefer a menu in English some restaurants do offer that, but often restaurants that cater to locals more than tourists are cheaper so take that into consideration!
Our 12 days in Rome, Florence and Tuscany were some of the best days of my life and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or better hosts. Impressions for a lifetime, but just a taster of what Italy has to offer. I can’t wait to go back one day, hopefully not too far in the future. Xxx
After a couple of wonderful days in a sunny Rome we caught a train up north to Florence, the biggest city in the Northern region of Tuscany and the birthplace of the Renaissance. We stayed in a little Bed&Breakfast called “My Friends Guesthouse” run by a lovely young woman called Nadine. She gave us local tips on all the best places to get food in town, told us about the little hidden treasures we should look for and helped us out with everything from maps, getting our laundry done and booking train tickets when the website was only available in Italian. The guesthouse is close to the train station and had such a lovely atmosphere that I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling, but maybe especially for women, as it felt very safe.
We stayed for a week and a half in Florence, using it as a base for day trips out to a number of different cities, but we also spent a significant amount of time exploring the city itself. With under 400 000 inhabitants it’s not a very large city, but it can boast with being one of the fashion capitals of the world, its historic centre (centro storico) is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is arguably one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in the world (oh how I wish I knew I would eventually start a travel blog and had taken more and better photos).
Must-See Tip: Piazzale de Michelangelo. Catch a bus or walk up to this lovely square that offers a brilliant view of Florence and the surrounding area, but make sure to bring a camera because you will want to capture it!
After being tourists in Rome, we needed a change of pace so the slightly less hectic Florence was just what the doctor ordered. Where we in Rome rushed around to do as much as possible in the few days we had, we took it rather leisurely in Florence and it felt like we were getting even closer to the authentic Italy.
While in Florence we visited the Accademia Galleria, home of the famous Michelangelo statue David. It was a lovely gallery, albeit a little underwhelming, despite David being about three times bigger than expected. We had to queue for a long time to get tickets and the queue stretched on for almost two blocks so if I were to go again I would probably have gotten the tickets online (see link above). Another famous gallery in Florence is the Uffizi Gallery, but this one we sadly didn’t have time to visit. We did however see two of the main attractions: the medieval Ponte Vecchio (literally, “old bridge) and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Walking through the streets of the historic centre where both are located is like walking back in time. Gorgeous, breathtaking, awesome, they all apply.
Best Pizza In Town Tip: Gusta Pizza the best and most authentic italian pizza in Florence. They cook the pizza from scratch with good quality ingredients and despite being very very busy, this little restaurant is well worth a visit! Keep in mind that on especially busy times or days there may not be enough places to sit, but there is a piazza (square) right around the corner next to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte which makes for a lovely lunch spot!
Though there are many things to see as a tourist in Florence, it’s not a city that screams tourism and it doesn’t take much to get away from the crowd. It doesn’t take much to find quiet little areas that are imbued with a calm Italian soul and is rather busy just being a city and not a tourist machine. It doesn’t take much to go from city-break to small-town idyll and I loved that about Florence. In our almost two week long trip, there is no doubt in my mind that Florence was my favorite city by far and I can’t wait for a chance to return.
In between touring the ever-charming streets of this quintessential Italian city we spent our days exploring Venice, Assisi, Lucca, Bologna and Monterosso on the Cinque Terre coast . We took local trains and it was a wonderful way of seeing a lot of Northern Italy, but not having to move around all the time. A post about our time spent exploring Tuscany will be up soon! Xxx