What I Packed for Two Months in Europe

One of my biggest fears I had before setting off on my trip was how on earth would I pack for two months in just a backpack. And two months in Europe, nonetheless, this was not a place I wanted to be wearing t-shirts and leggings every day. I needed to look nice, but also be prepared for a number of scenarios: clothes to hike in, to protect me from rain, clothes for the beach, clothes for conservative churches….the list goes on.

Continue reading “What I Packed for Two Months in Europe”

Venice, Italy

 

Twp Days in Venice + Murano/Burano! Part of my Two Months in Europe series.

After our train ride from Rome we got into Venice for what ended up being quite a mess of a night. First of all we having a really hard time communication with out Airbnb host, he didn’t understand English very well so he was having a hard time understanding our messages on where we should meet. He quite insisting he would meet us at a waterbus stop so once we took the waterbus from the train station we waited…and waited…and waited….we ended up turning data on to message him and still not reply so we walked to the Airbnb…where he was home and not at all phased that he never met us. So half and hour of standing by the water at dusk in Venice we were covered in bug bites. Once we were settled we moved past this and headed out to dinner where then half a carafe of red wine was split on my friend without as much as a sorry by the parents of the kid who split it. She ended up just leaving the restaurant because she was so uncomfortable in her wet clothing ( thankfully all black and no white), the waiter who witnessed it also barely apologized or did anything to make up for it which kinda soured the whole night. We then returned home to quite a stuffy room where we are still not sure if the AC worked, but hey we are in Venice so you really just can’t complain!

Continue reading “Venice, Italy”

Rome, Italy

Five Magical Days in Rome!  Part of my Two Months in Europe backpacking series. 

Arriving:

Our train got into Rome just before dinner time. We made the rather quick and picturesque walk from the train station to our Airbnb to meet our host. Our airbnb in Rome was a super cute and decently spacious loft studio located quite centrally. We didn’t realize on the walk to our Airbnb ( as our backs were to it) but once we stepped outside for dinner we realized there was an amazing view of the Colosseum from our doorstep! 
 
For dinner we wanted to stay close the first night so we headed to Li Roni for pizza. This place is super cute on the inside, it is set up to look like an outdoor street. Pizza here is quite good and quite affordable, we both settled for a Capricosa and split some house red. After dinner we walked by the Colosseum and then stopped by a grocery store to pick up stuff for breakfasts in Rome as we finally had a full kitchen again!
 

Day One

Despite our bad luck with the Uffizi we still didn’t learn our lesson and couldn’t find tickets for the Vatican online that fit our schedule so we decided to head to the Vatican first thing to see if we would have better luck there buying tickets for a later day. When we got to the Vatican everyone we followed the hordes of people we assumed were heading to the museum but we ended up in St. Peter’s Square. When we got there we realized the square was set up for a Mass ceremony but thought nothing of it and left to the museum. As we were walking towards the museum we notice the unusually high amounts of people walking away from the museum early in the morning and the lack of long line. As we approached a very closed museum and ticket office we finally put the pieces together and realized today was a very important Roman holiday, it was the holiday of Peter and Paolo the patron saints of Rome. Seeing we had come all the way out here we decided to head back to St. Peters to see what the ceremony was about. As we headed back and headed through security and the increasing crowds we begun to wonder what were the chances that the pope would show up to a mass at the Vatican, on an important Roman holiday, with visiting archbishops from around the world. While our sightlines weren’t great and we had missed the introductions the camera begun to focus on a very Pope looking person( as it was a holiday he was dressed in red and not the traditional white hence this was harder to decipher)  who was giving a speech. After sufficiently squinting, attempting to decipher the Italian ( and a Google search later) we had definitively decided it was the Pope. So if accidentally stumbling into a speech by the Pope is not the most “When in Rome” thing you can think of I don’t know what is. 
 
 
 
 
 
After the speech we decided to head back across the river to the centre of “downtown” Rome as my (second pair!!!!) of sunglasses this trip had broken and I needed a replacement. We walked along the Via del Corso until we found a decent looking pair at H&M. On our quest we sunglasses we also stumbled upon the Spanish steps as we turned a corner and hung out here for a little bit. This stumbling upon significant people and attractions seemed to be a trend of our time in Rome. 
 
 
The Spanish Steps are kinda funny as the bottom is super crowded but there are very few people actually sitting on the steps themselves. So despite being here around lunchtime we were able to take quite unobstructed pictures. 
 
 
 
After this we set off in search of a semi-affordable lunch, which is quite the mission in this area, and stumbled upon the Pantheon in the process. We finally found a decent place for pasta on a side street but nothing to write home about. 
 
After lunch we made our way to Piazza Venezia to meet up with our free walking tour guide. This afternoon we had signed up for a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere- two very interesting and less touristy areas of Rome. 
 
Our walking guide was amazing!!! The most spunky, enegertic Italian lady ever. She literally would walk right out into traffic to make cars stop so our group could cross. ( We have come to realize that there are literally zero traffic rules in Italy, the only rule appears to be don’t hit anyone but besides that anything goes: cars treat stop signs as very optional, motorbikes go on the sidewalks and brave pedestrians jay walk everywhere.) She was amazing and went above and beyond not only explaining the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere overall but also stopping to explain every building we passed, giving tips on eating/drinking in Rome and just generally providing information on the city and its history. If you take a tour with Free Tour Rome definitely try to get Claudia. 
 
 
This tour was super interesting- especially the Jewish Ghetto as despite it being such a small part of the city a lot of important history has happened here. Recently the city has put a lot of effort into recognizing the devastation of the Holocaust in Rome, putting up a plaque commemorating the day the Secret Service came in and took away all the Jews in the Ghetto. She said some thousands were taken, only a handful made it to concentration camps in Poland ( the rest died in transit) and virtually no one returned. Outside the houses in this area there are little plaques which say who was taken from the house, on what day and where they died. This neighbourhood is really powerful and going with someone who can explain this history makes it even more.
 
After exploring this area we headed across the river to Roman Trastevere, which is where you can find a lot of best traditionally “Roman” food. This is an area where a lot of Jewish people and pagans fled to after the Pope took control of Rome.
 
After the tour we decided to grab gelato and make the (excruciatingly long) walk home. Note to self do not attempt this walk after a full day of walking, I actually wanted to chop my feet off at the end. BUT the gelato was really good so it was sorta worth it. We went to Fatamorgana which is known for their really fun flavours and great gelato. I got riccotta and citrus with a hazelnut/floral flavour and my friend got Chocolate Wasbi with Baklava.
 
So in Grade ten my friend had gone on a school trip to Rome where one of her teachers nieces who lived in Rome joined them for a lot of the trip. She and her became good friends and had stayed in touch all these years. So tonight we went out with Erika and a couple of her friends from university. They took us to a really cool area outside of Rome, called Roman castles or more specifically Frascati. This is a beautiful area on a hill that overlooks all of Rome, the neighbourhood is full of restaurants, many with beautiful views of Rome. We settled in at for an amazing dinner of traditional Roman classic pasta dishes. We got Carbonara, Caicio e Pepe and Gricia plus some starters and red wine to share. The pasta was great ( my favourite I think is the cacio) and the atmosphere is super fun. This was such a fun night as it was amazing not only seeing a part of Rome we would have never seen on our own but it was so nice making new friends and being able to connect with people our age from another country. We grabbed after dinner gelato and then headed back into town. 
 
 

Step Count: 29,634

Day Two

So despite our late night last night we still woke up early to make it to our morning walking tour of “classic” Rome. We went with the same company as yesterday after our amazing experience. This tour took us through the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and more and was great at providing the foundational history of Rome. Our guide focused both on what he called the mythical and factual histories of Rome, going over the two stories behind the origins of Rome but also the two stories behind many statues/landmarks. We learnt about the pettiness of the Trevi Fountain architect who built a urn just to block the view of an annoying barber and of the feud between Bernini and Borromini. 

 

 

After this tour we decided to take the metro to the market in Tesstaccio for lunch. this ended up being such a fun experience. Since the market is away from all the touristy landmarks it is so nice and calm. We were able to take multiple laps around the market without feeling claustrophobic from the crowds. This area is a super nice, quite residential area which is nice to walk around. We settled on Sicilian Arancini and zucchini flatbread pizza for lunch AND I finally found a real iced coffee( quite the struggle in Italy) to satisfy my summer iced coffee craving. 
 


After this we headed to the Eataly which is also in the area. The Eataly in Rome is the biggest Eataly and OH MY GOD it is heaven on earth. It is three floors of incredible Italian food, both groceries and numerous kiosks and restaurants for hot food. It ranges from fresh pasta to the most impressive cheese selection, walls of hanging meats and half a floor dedicated to wine, including a “fill your own” bottle section! We ended up being so in love we decided to buy ingredients to make dinner at home ( it was also there anniversary so there was a huge sale). We picked up Genovese pesto, gnocchi, a 4EU DOCG Chianti (!), zucchini and some fun orange and lemon drinks. 

 

 

After our beautiful foodie afternoon we headed home for a siesta. After our Vatican ticket kerfuffle we managed to get some tickets for the Friday night opening. In the summer the Vatican is open most Friday nights and it ended up being an amazing opportunity to visit the Vatican when it was less crowded. 
 
The Museum opens at 7pm and closes around 11pm, we were only able to get tickets for the 9pm reservation. However we wanted more time to see the museum and so made a gamble to show up earlier to see if they would let us in. Since we imagined the wouldn’t be able to let us in right aaway ( we showed up at 7:30pm) we decided to stop at Old Bridge for Gelato. Old Bridge had come very recommended and omg it did not disappoint. I think this was my favourite of the entire trip. The gelato is so so good and super cheap! At this location it was 2Eu for a small with three flavours! I tried their speciality pistachio, biscotti and caramello. We brought our gelato to the line figuring we would have to wait but there was no line for reservations so even though our reservation wasn’t for an hour and 15 we thought we would try. The security guy looked at our tickets, looked at us, looked at the line and just kinda shrugged his shoulders and let us in. I ended up having to quickly finish the rest of the my gelato in the lobby as there were literally no lines in sight ( besides the still very long no reservation line of course). This was amazing and we ended up having the perfect amount of time to explore the entire museum.
 
 
 
 
Some exhibits are closed at night but almost all the main ones are open so you still get the full experience. Also there was a choir performing in the courtyard which added another layer to the experience. Seeing the Vatican at night also gives you kinda creepy cool Dan Brown vibes, you really feel like someone is going to jump out from the top of the building or something. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The collection at the museum is so so impressive. Next time I would definitely go with a guide or at least an audio guide, we had free app guides which gave us some information but covered only a small sliver of the huge collection. The best part of the night was by far the Sistine Chapel, which , even as a very non-religious person, took my breath away. This room is so impressive and so full of detail. The perspective of the painted room with painted paintings in incredible and every single inch of this space provides something new and interesting to look at. We were able to get seats along the side and just sat for a while taking in the space. I would definitely recommend budgeting a lot of time to just sit here and look. 
 
After this we headed home and prepared our Eataly feast and then passed out for much needed sleep. 
 

Step count: 25,770

Day Three
Today we decided to take it slower and head back to the Jewish Ghetto/Trastevere for a bit more walking around and exploring. We didn’t realize that it was Saturday until we showed up to a mostly closed Jewish Ghetto but thankfully after Shul ended a lot more places opened up. We had been told so many times about the “Jewish style” fried artichokes from this area so we stopped into a place to try them. These are definitely delicious, with half of tasting like artichoke chips and half of it still super moist. We walked past the synagogue, the porticus octave and the old theatre.

After exploring this area we went to head across the river where we bumped into another Old Bridge. After our amazing experience last night we couldn’t say no so we got some gelato. This location only gives you two flavours with a small which was kinda disappointing but the gelato is so good and they have great flavours here. I tried the pear and ricotta and the Sicilian cannoli, both of which were amazing.
 
 
 
Gelato in hand we wandered over and begun getting lost in the back streets of Trastevere. Trastevere is a really fun area because it is really where you can get a more real slice of Rome, the streets are full of families and people on their way to and from work. There are tons of fun restaurants, bars, bakeries and beautiful churches. We headed up Gianicolo park as we had heard it had some of the best views of Rome The main viewing point is just after the Spanish Academy and has beautiful panoramic views of Rome. It is especially spectacular because you get all the mountains behind Rome too. Seeing as there are dozens of places you can pay to see good views of Rome this is a great hidden spot where you can get the same view ( or even better) for free. 
 
 
 
So after walking up a hill we were (surprise!) hungry again so started wandering down streets in look for a place for lunch. We stumbled upon this cute Trattoria that had a cute patio with cheap pizzas ( and cheaper wine) and settled in a leisurely lunch to complement our extremely relaxing day. We continued to explore more and stumbled upon a really cute patisserie where we picked up some Italian cookies for snacks at home. 
 
 
 
 
We then headed home as our friend was finally returning from her conference so we went to meet her at our Airbnb. We helped her settle in, hung out for a bit and then started planning our Canada day dinner. We found a good neighbourhood pasta place near our Airbnb ( called I Buoni Amici)  which is known for great Roman food and donned our red and white. For Canada Day we had white pasta ( carbonara and cacio e pepe) and red wine. To further celebrate we even got Tiramisu, which was amazing. We did another nighttime walk by of the Colosseum to complete our night. ( You can’t see but I am wearing red shorts)
 
 
 

Step count: 16,920
 

Day Four 

On the first Sunday of every month all the museums in Rome are free. Since we previously weren’t planning on seeing the Borghese we thought this was the perfect excuse to see it always for free! We woke up early to get there early before openings to make sure we got tickets and were greeted with a very short line. Despite very little information about this online, even though the museums are all  free you still need to pay and get a reservation to get in ( which was different than the Sunday free museums we had been to in Lisbon). Disappointed but not wanting to waste our early start to the day we wandered off to explore the Villa Borghese park. The park is quite beautiful and filled with cute little coffee stands where we got morning espresso. There are a ton of tiny old buildings housing museums and even a fake Globe theatre. 

 
At the bottom end of the park there is a spot for beautiful views of Rome. It is nice because you view Rome from the opposite end that you would from Gianicolo so we were able to get really good perspective over the city.
 
 
 
The park exit form the viewing point pretty much lets out right by the Spanish Steps so we went there again so our friend could see them and again super crowded at the bottom and barely anyone on the stairs. We also went back to the Trevi Fountain and took some photos here. The beginning of July is a huge time for sales across Italy so as we waited for our lunch spot to open we walked up and down Via del Corso popping into some stores.
 
 
For lunch we went to Pastaficio which is a great place in the heart of Rome that makes 4EU fresh pasta served daily starting at 1pm. They make two types of pasta a day and serve it until it runs out. You can take your pasta to go or eat it standing in their shop where they sell their pasta packaged. The 4EU pasta also includes water which is amazing for hot summers day. The pasta was quite good and for 4EU the cheapest option around. After lunch we wandered over to the Pantheon and grabbed some gelato from Gelateria San Crispino. 
 
 
 
 
After a quick siesta we headed out for aperitivo at a place in Trastevere highly recommended by our first tour guide. Freni e Frizioni is a hip apertivo bar with amazing drinks and a good, mostly vegetarian apertivo buffet. It was only 8EU each for a Hugo ( Northern Italian cocktail my friend discovered in Bolzano) and access to the buffet. We ate outside on the steps as this place gets super busy and enjoyed the beautiful roman night. 
 
Afterwards we weren’t really in the mood to head home just yet so we found a cheap bar around the corner. This place was amazing because not only do they have super cheap drinks but they also served us little glasses of proseco while you wait for a table. We got 4EU giant Peronis and there was also super cheap wine. Their patio was a super fun place to people watch and soak in the super fun atmosphere of Trastevere at night. 
Stepcount: 18,185


Day Five

For our final day we did the quintessential Colosseum day. Thankfully we had thought to book these tickets in advance so we went straight to the Palatine Hill entrance and exchanged our voucher for tickets and walked straight in no line. Honestly if you don’t buy tickets it is not a huge deal- just show up early and go to the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill entrance as there was no line for tickets here. One of the annoying changes they made is you can no longer go directly from Palatine Hill to the Colosseum, you have to go back out and around. So if you buy tickets here I would recommend walking straight there to get in early if you want to see this first as once you go into the Roman Forum you can’t go out and back in.

We ended up walking into Palatine Hill not knowing this so just committed to seeing this and the Roman Forum first. It was pretty cool seeing this first as there was no one else around so it did feel very ghost town-y. We used the Rick Steeves Podcasts as our audio guide which was amazing!!! I am so addicted to these now! We used both his Roman Forum and Colosseum one.

 

We wandered through Palatine Hill, down to the Roman Forum and then out and back to the Colosseum. We got in the ticket holders line at the Colosseum which went super fast. The Colosseum was busy but not unbearable when we were here so we were still able to walk around and appreciate it. The podcast is a definite must as I feel it would be hard to appreciate without any historical background.
 
After this we found a place near our Airbnb for a leisurely lunch as we had time to kill before our train. We grabbed good but not great pizza and just relaxed before heading back to our Airbnb to grab our bags and metro to the train station. 
 
 
Overall Rome more than surpassed my expectations. It was a beautiful city- way prettier than I imagined. Also there is history literally around every corner and with a couple free walking tours it is pretty easy to get a grasp on the history and begin to appreciate it at every turn. We were able to find quite affordable food and once we got a hang of the crazy traffic we felt quite a home. I can definitely see why Audrey Hepburn called Rome her Dolce Vita! 
 

Stepcount: 17,964

Favourite Thing

Loved the Sistine Chapel, the views from Gianicolo or Villa Borghese and wandering through Trastevere. 


Favourite Food


Old Bridge Gelato was amazing!!! And everything in Eataly!


Tips 


Do multiple walking tours! There is so much history around every corner so having a guide helps so much! Also when there is no guide available Rick Steeves Podcasts are a new lifesaver. 

Where we stayed: Airbnb Rome 
Sign up for Airbnb here 

Florence, Italy

Four days in Florence, aka my new favorite European city! Part of my Two Months in Europe series!

We arrived around dinner time and walked from the Florence train station to our Airbnb just across the river. We were staying in a really cute residential neighbourhood, in the Oltrarno area. This ended up being perfect as it was still quite close to everything, Florence is a very walkable city, but it was quiet at night and had access to more affordable, local restaurants.

We went to one such restaurant the first night. This one (Trattoria il Contadino) back on the Duomo side of the river is known for good Tuscan food. It is 14.50EU for two plates, a side dish, water and 1/4 litre of wine ( we definitely got more as we had three glasses each) and includes coperto and service which many restaurants charge. The plates are huge. This is definitely a place to go if hungry. Also on the way back to our Airbnb we were surprised with fireworks!! It was the end of Calcio Storico, a Florentine sporting event which is a mix between soccer, rugby and wrestling, so the entire city had come down to the Arno to watch fireworks marking the last match.

Day One

We got started with a walking tour around Florence, we used the company La Bussola. We had a great guide, she was a local art history student so she really knew her stuff and was able to give us a lot of knowledge into the art and architecture on the streets. Also she had some amazing gelato and food recommendations ( both Gelateria de Niri and Kitsch below were her suggestions) so would 100% recommend. The tour was a good size and covered a good chunk of Florence.

Our tour ended in Piazza di Santa Croce so we decided to head over to the famous All’Antico Vinaio for one of their famous sandwiches. The line was incredibly long, we waited just over 45 minutes, but if you have time its a fun, cliche thing to do and the sandwiches are amazing. My sandwich was the size of my face and I could not finish so either come hungry or share a couple among your group.


We then walked to the Accademia to see if we could get tickets for later today as they were unavailable online. We were able to score a reservation at 5pm so we proceeded to just get lost stumbling around the streets of Florence. This city is amazing in that if you walk a couple blocks from any given tourist attraction you can be completely alone in the beautiful streets and feel you are in a small town. 

So after wandering around for a couple hours we finally got into the Accademia and made a beeline straight to David. This sculpture is just one of those things you have to see in person. It is so much more impressive and grand than the photos could ever capture. It is also so interesting just to think of all the innovation that went into creating David, with the tree trunk supporting the stature so it can be self standing.


We walked through the rest of the museum, including their special exhibit which was full of beautiful old instruments. Really great museum and not overwhelming crowded late in the day.

After walking around all day we were pretty tired so we headed back to our side of the river for a quick rest and then went back out in search of pizza. Even though pizza is really not a Tuscan specialty we had heard great things about Gusta Pizza in Oltrarno. There was a bit of a line when we got there but it moved quite quickly. We grabbed our 5EU pizzas and 2.50EURO wine to go and ate in on the steps in Piazza Santo Spirito. There is a super fun vibe out here. The square is full of other travellers/young people grabbing Gusta pizza and also families walking to and from all the restaurants lining the piazza. 


Step Count: 25,147

Day Two

My friend really wanted to find something leather to buy from Florence since the area is quite famous for their superb leather. This morning we went on a bit of a leather tour of Florence. We started off at the Centrale Market to grab a quick espresso before going to the leather market. Still confused about the leather market and if it is just all the random carts lining the streets as most of what they were selling looked mass produced. We popped into some of the more permanent stores around the market but were still very underwhelmed by the offerings.We then went to explore some other well known leather stores. The first was a major fail as the address it was listed at online did not exist and we couldn’t find it anywhere. We then made our way to the Leather School behind Santa Croce, which has a really cool story. It was made after the war to provide a career path for orphans. It was run by the church and still to this day is a leading institution in hand crafted leather and sells beautiful products. We looked into some of the workrooms to see the students and also gawked at the stunning ( but expensive) products in the showroom. If you want a more interesting and less mass produced Florentine leather experience this is definitely the place to go. 


Between this stop and our next we stopped for a morning pick me up of gelato from gelateria de neri. This gelato was SO GOOD and its pretty central so 10/10 a must eat in Florence. My lemon tasted like the lemon were picked that morning. 

In classic #taketwo style the leather shop next on my friend’s list didn’t open until 2pm so we went home empty handed.

For lunch we ended up at a cute Trattoria close to our Airbnb( Trattoria Sabatino) . Very local place with good affordable pasta and tuscan food. 

We had booked our Duomo tickets for 6pm to avoid crowds and the heat of the day. We made it to the Museum around 4pm. The museum layout is a little confusing but it is jam packed with art. Definitely do not miss this. So much of the art and sculptures from the church is now stored here for restoration purposes so there is a ton to see. The museum is also super informative and provided a lot of information on the building of the basilica, the dome (watch the video about the building of the dome) and the religious art scene in Florence. 

After the museum we were able to go into the Baptistery and then get into the Duomo before our reservation at 5:45pm and begun the climb up. The climb up really isn’t that hard but it is a lot of stairs. My biggest reservation with the climb is that it can be super claustrophobic at times so if you get claustrophobic just be prepared and definitely go as late in the day as possible. I am only a little claustrophobic and even I got quite uncomfortable at times, especially when there are people passing you on their way down in this tiny, twisty staircase.  That being said the view is 100% worth it. It was stunning from the top. The dome really does tower over all of Tuscany. We spent a long time up here just taking in the view. We made it back down before the bell tower closed so we for some reason decided to climb that to. Our legs definitely hurt way more on the second ascent but being inside the tower was really cool plus you get views of the Duomo from the bell tower.


After the both climbs we were quite hungry so we headed over to a highly recommended apertivo bar close by. Apertivo is a buffet served alongside drinks between 6:30/7-9:00. It can range from snacks to a full dinner. At Kitsch it was 10EU for an aperol spritz and unlimited food at the very extensive apertivo bar. We got great pizza, pasta, salads, roasted vegetables ( best roasted red peppers) and even literal balls of buffalo mozzarella. It was great value for money with all that food and a fun experience. Would definitely recommend using this as an excuse to get a cocktail as the apertivo is 10EU flat and cocktails are often 5-7EU whereas wine and beer are always really cheap.

On the way back from dinner we stopped by Gelateria La Carraia, a great gelato place on the Oltrarno side of the river. There is always a line but it moves so quickly you barely feel like you waited. 

Stepcount: 27,959

Day Three

Today we attempted to go to the Uffizi early to see if we could have the same luck as the Academia and get same day tickets even if they were sold out online. We had no such luck as even though we showed up first thing the ticket booth had a TWO HOUR line. Lesson learned buy tickets for Florence weeks, not days, in advance. So instead we headed off to the Piazzale Michelangelo which is a beautiful viewing point over all of Florence. I would 100% recommend going here the view was honestly stunning. You can see all of Florence ( including the Duomo which you obviously can’t see when you are at the viewing point of the Duomo) and all the surrounding hills. Below there is also a nice little rose garden you go to to escape the city. 


After we had taken about a million photos of Florence we wandered around this side of the river. We walked past the Palazzo Pitti to see if we could see any of the pretty Boblio gardens but the walls are very high so if you want to see the gardens you actually need to go to the museum.

We went back to the Centrale Market for lunch. The market’s first floor is what you would expect of a typical market with produce stalls and butchers but the second floor is a very cool eatery/food court. There are a bunch of chefs you all have stands around the second floor preparing hot food- everything from vegan food to dumplings to pasta and pizza. It is quite busy during lunch but there is a ton of seating. We picked up some food ( flatbread style pizza) and had lunch in the food hall. This is a really great way to have a delicious but affordable lunch in a central area.


After lunch we went to meet out tour group for our afternoon Taste of Tuscany Tour. We had really wanted to see Tuscany/Chianti but didn’t really have enough time to plan it ourselves so we settled for a planned tour. The company we went with was great because it is specifically for 18-39 year olds and they only take a maximum of 8-16 on their tours. Our group ended just being us plus two other girls our age from the States which was super nice. The tour was good but I still felt rushed at certain times and definitely missed the freedom of not being on anyone’s schedule. Our tour started off with a brief stop in Monteriggioni, a beautiful medieval town with only 42 inhabitants. The walls of the town have beautiful views over the surrounding Chianti region. After this quick stop we continued onto to the Lornano winery in Chianti/Chianti Classico. Our tour guide/driver was also nice enough to stop on top of this big hill which also had beautiful views of the surrounding area. 


The winery was definitely the best part of the tour. The winery itself is beautiful with a lot of the original buildings still lining the property. We started by a tour of the facilities from the big barrels to the cellars where the wine ages. The tour was done by a winery employee who was able to give us a lot of information on the Chianti region, like the differences between Chianti and Chianti Classico and DOC vs DOCG wines. After our tour we had our wine tasting. We got to try four of the wines: the rose ( surprisingly delicious) Chianti, Chianti Classico and their gran selection Super Tuscan. This winery is especially cool because half of it is in Chianti whereas the other half is in Chianti Classico so it was cool being able to compare the two major wine regions. 


After our wine tour we had time to explore Siena. Siena was beautiful but we definitely did not have enough time to full appreciate on this tour so I really want to go back on a later date. We went to this really good patisserie in Sienna called Nanini. 

Dinner: Attempted to go to one place but it was closed so instead went to another place down the street, which ended up still being pretty good. The only annoying thing is they didn’t turn off their misting machine on the patio from earlier in the day so the patio was weirdly humid for night time. 

Step count: 28,965

Day Four
For our last day we really wanted to make it out to Pisa. Originally we were planning to go to both Pisa and Lucca, but with the high chance of rain we decided than walking around a city was probably not the plan so we settled on taking it slow and just going to Pisa. Of course the rain started exactly when we got off the train in Pisa and by rain I mean literal torrential downpour. Restaurants umbrellas were flying, the rain was pouring sideways and everyone was running for cover. We hid out in a coffee shop just outside the train station until this stopped. Thankfully when it rains in Italy it is violent but quite short. It pretty much stayed clear or very light rain for the rest of our visit. 


The train station is surprisingly far from the tower and there was no wifi and we forgot to download the offline Google Map so it was a bit of a mystery at first how to get there as there are were no maps in the train station. But thankfully the coffee we stopped in gave us a map and there are some big maps on the streets as you walk away from the train station.


So after battling the rain and overcoming our lack of preparedness we made it to the tower. Its funny the tower is much smaller and more leaning than expected. I am actually not sure how it doesn’t fall over because it looks like it is literally toppling. We walked around the tower and took a bunch pictures before setting off back for main town to explore some more. The nice thing about the rain is that it was busy but not as crowded as it usually gets in high season. After exploring some backstreets we settled in for lunch and then hopped back on the train to get back to Florence for our train to Rome!

Step Count: 19,245

Favourite Thing

I really really liked Florence so this is tough. I loved exploring the backstreets and just wandering. The Duomo was stunning but also so were the views from Piazzale Michelangelo. Also wine tasting in Chianti was a dream and I really want to go back solely for a Tuscan trip now.   

Favourite Food

Loved Gusta pizza it was so good and so cheap. Plus eating outside on the street is super fun.

The market was amazing and had so much to offer, I wanted to try everything!

Tips 

Book Uffizi tickets well in advance, not worth chancing it as at 9am there is already a two hour line

Definitely try to book your Duomo climbing time at night, it was not busy, not hot and we had the best lighting. 

Cinque Terre, Italy

2 and half days in Cinque Terre, a collection dreamy multicolored towns along the Ligurian coast.  Part of my Two Months in Europe series!
Day One
 
So our first day in Cinque Terre was very much a “take two” kinda day. 
 
We woke up in Nice around 7am to catch our 8am train. The train ride between Nice and Genoa was beautiful but due to an accident on the track ran about 45 minutes late giving us just enough time to make our connection to La Spezia. 
Our train into La Spezia was supposed to arrive at 1:15 and meet our Airbnb host at 1:45.  But we ended up arriving later and just missing the train into Monterosso so we had to wait  half and hour for the 1:55 train. This train was then super late so we didn’t get into Monterosso until like 2:30. We didn’t have internet for any of this time so were unable to contact our host and of course when we got off the train station in Monterosso it was crazy busy and our host was no where to be found. After finally finding wifi we were able to contact him and meet ( a full hour after we were supposed to). He was very understanding about how late we were which was super nice. And then we made the surprisingly long walk to our Airbnb. Because Cinque Terre is all built into hills Google Maps doesn’t do the best job showing distance between locations. This roughly 15 minute walk was also turned into like a 25 minute walk as it was 30 degrees and we were carrying all of our bags on a very skinny path with stairs. 
 
Second hiccup of the trip was when we arrived and realized the Airbnb didn’t have air conditioning after we were 99% sure we had booked one with air conditioning. But alas we opened windows and dealt with it. 
 
After finally settling in and putting on more weather appropriate clothing we decided to head to the beach to relax for a bit before exploring town. Pretty much just as we had settled in at the beach there was a huge commotion and I looked up to see a bunch of people standing and yelling as one guy ran away and another guy WITH A HAMMER ran after him. There ended up being a huge brawl on the beach with people either running to stop it or running away and protecting their children. As we are not strong enough by any standards to stop a brawl we took the second route and left the beach. From what we gathered one guy maybe tried to steal something and then the guy with the wooden hammer ran after him. But anyways this was quite traumatic so we walked away from the big beach area of Monterosso to Old Town where we found a quiet beach in the harbour where we sat for a little bit before wandering through town.
 
 
We had heard mixed things about eating in Cinque Terre. The food is amazing but supposedly really expensive because the towns are small so there isn’t much choice. Thankfully this assumption was most wrong. We had some of the best and most affordable food to date in Cinque Terre. For starters when we first got off the train and were starving we grabbed the largest slices of Focaccia from a Focacceria just down from the train station for like 3EU each. This tided us over from 3pm until dinner at 7pm, not having eaten anything earlier for lunch.
 
For dinner we went to Gastronomica San Martino in Monterosso Old Town. THIS WAS AMAZING. I capitalize this because it was amazing and so unbelievably affordable. This tiny pasta place run by a husband and wife serves up local Ligurian pasta dishes for 8EU with very generous portions and incredible sauces. The first night we got Trofe with Pesto ( Pesto was invented in the area and they make the best pesto I have ever had) and then Linguine with Seafood Sauce. Both were amazing! The pesto is so much lighter, fresher and more creamy than oily compared to anything I have ever had before. The seafood sauce came with so much seafood and a good mix of clams, mussels and squid. And of course the pasta was perfectly al dente. Wine was 5EU for a small bottle. This place is very small but we didn’t wait long for an outside table and if you are in a rush you can get it to go. 
 
Seriously best meal, we ended up going back tomorrow because we couldn’t bear paying more for food we knew would just barely compare. 
 
 
Step Count: 17,588. 
 
Day Two
 
So today we woke up at 6am to start the hike along the Cinque Terre trails. The trails from Cornglia to Riomaggiore were closed but we still wanted an early start so we could do the trails from Monterosso to Cornglia before it got super hot and sunny. While we were obviously sad not all the trails were open I was happy at least that these trails were open as the descent into Vernazza is supposed to the best part and both these paths were the longest/hardest so we would still feel like we got a good hike in.
 
We got on the trail in Monterosso just after 7am and pretty much had the trail to ourselves. The first part of this trail is pretty much just straight up the mountain on stairs so we were very happy to be doing it in the morning. After a long ascent the path finally flatten out and we began to run into some other hikers. 
 
 
 
The trail took us pretty much exactly an hour and a half to the viewing point over Vernazza, which is as mind blowing as the photos on Pinterest. NOTE: The viewing point isn’t actually an official viewing but a part of the fence is dug out so you kinda half to crawl under to get to it but it is so worth it. We got some funny looks from other hikers but hey you gotta do what you gotta do. Of course we stayed here to snap some pictures before making the final descent into the actual town. The trail spills into the harbour of Vernazza and it was here we started our food tour of Cinque Terre. 

We figured that since we were walking up mountains we could at least sample different Ligurian specialties in each town. Since it was still quite early by the time we got into Vernazza we picked up a piece of Focaccia to split and some sweet cone pastries ( can’t remember what they are called). One of the cones was filled with cream and the other nutella, both were amazing. We ate these in the harbour and then wandered up a couple streets. We didn’t spend that long exploring Vernazza as we wanted to still get on the second trail pretty early and honestly not much was open. 
 
 
The trail to Cornglia also starts with stairs going straight up the mountain. I have probably done more stairs the past week between Cinque Terre and Eze than I have in the past couple months. Most people said the path between Monterosso and Vernazza is the hardest but we found the trail from Vernazza to Cornglia harder. Not sure if it was because of the direction we went but even though the second path was slighter shorter it was definitely more strenuous. This path goes ascent, flat, descent, asset, flat descent over and over again as you wind through the hills to Cornglia. Cornglia is the only mountain top town of Cinque Terre and was one of our favourites. You descend into the town through vineyards and then there was a little market. Since we were here later in the day the town was more bustling but still not busy. We wandered through the brightly coloured backstreets with our lemon granitas and found a nice viewing point over the ocean point below. There are a ton of nice and affordable restaurants in Cornglia that we would have loved to come to for dinner but the train station ( where we walked next) is about 300 feet below the town so you have to ascent quite the staircase to get there, which we weren’t willing to do after a day of walking. According to our iPhones by the end of the day we climbed 191 flights of stairs.
 
 
 
So after we made the surprisingly long descent to the train station we took the train to Manarola. Manarola was I think our all time favourite town. It was bustling and busy without being overrun and the harbour was stunning and filled with people swimming off the rocks. We walked up and around to Nessum Dorma, a place made famous by Instagram for its stunning view of Manarola. I think I liked this view even better than the view of the Vernazza habour. We somehow walked straight in without waiting and got a table along the terrace. We felt a little funny in our sweaty hiking clothes as there were a lot of visitors dressed quite nicely here but honestly no one seemed to care and more hikers came in later. For a well known place the food here is also quite affordable, around 8-12EU per tapa esque dish. Because we didn’t know how big the portion sizes were ( and we were quite hungry) we ordered three for the two of us but you could easily get away with one per person. We got Tricolour Bruschetta, Caprese salad and Prosciutto with Melon. Everything was so so fresh and a nice break from pasta. After a nice leisurely lunch we pushed through the big line that had formed outside the restaurant ( go early!) and explored a bit more of Manarola before getting on the train to Riomaggiore. 
 
 
 
We walked through the harbour to get around to the rocky beach. When people say rocky they mean very rocky beach. These weren’t the little rocks of Nice but rather quite large rocks. Not the best beach to sit on but we made ourselves little nests to sit in and leave our stuff before jumping in the ocean. Even if this beach wasn’t the best to sit on this may be the most magical beach to swim in. The water is so clear and has beautiful rolling waves. Plus the water is so salty it is so easy to just float. This is honestly the perfect way to end of day of hiking and walking around in the heat. After sufficiently cooled down we headed off to see more of town and grab a fried seafood cone. The town was pretty busy as it was late afternoon so we didn’t end up seeing as much as we liked but the seafood cones ( which Riomaggiore is quite famous for) were great! After about 10 hours of exploring ( in what was now quite hot weather) we finally headed down for much needed showers and some rest.  
 
We had had grand ambitions to go back to Manaralo for dinner because we liked the town so much but once we sat down at home and almost feel asleep we decided it was better to stay close. We ended up going back to San Martino for their amazing pasta. I cannot stress how great this place is. The owners remembered us from last night and were super chatty. The husband even had a Canadian pin on his apron which was given to him from previous visitors who like us had frequented this place. This couple are so sweet and make the best pasta sauce ever. Tonight we tried walnut sauce at the recommendation of the owners which is another local speciality and OMG it was amazing. It was super creamy without having any cream in it and still had a nutty taste and texture. 
 
Step Count: 30,812( New record!!!) 
 
 
Day Three
 
We slept into 9am today after the behemoth of a day yesterday was and then checked out of our Airbnb at 10am. We dropped our bags off at the visitor centre by the train station in Monterosso so we wouldn’t have to lug them around all day. 
 
 

We had initially planned to hang out at the beach but it was kinda raining by the time we got there so we headed to a bakery for cappuccinos and focaccia instead. We spent a couple hours reading and just soaking up Italian coffee culture. Cinque Terre is really nice in the sense that even though it is very touristy it still feels like people live here and a lot of locals popped in and out of the bakery chatting away in Italian. We then headed off to explore more of Old Town and pop into all the pesto shops. One cool thing about Monterosso because it is the biggest town there is still a lot of explore and we ended up finding a lot of old churches in Ligurian Gothic style in the town. These churches were more similar to Calonian gothic style on the outside as they were very understated architecturally but were painted in stripes and had very intricate insides. After church and store hopping it was finally time to say bye to Monterosso and hop on our train to La Spezia to head to Florence. 

 
Step Count: 16,050 
 
 
Favourite Food: Gastromica San Martino (of course)  and Nessum Dorma for the fresh ( non-pasta) food and views. 
 
 
Favourite Thing: 
 
Definitely definitely the hike. I really wish we could of done it all but both stretches we did were beautiful. The hike is not the easiest thing as there is a lot of ascent but it is also by no means difficult. As long as you bring lots of water, try to plan around the heat by leaving early and wear proper shoes it is a comfortable level of physical exertion. Also all the towns are beautiful and unique in their own way and the hike gives you the perfect way to see all of them. 
 
Tips:
 
Buy the 5Terre card that includes trails, trains, wifi and free bathrooms (more on this later).  if you will take a couple trains in one day. The trains between town are expensive at 4EU each so this pass is definitely worth it if you want to take a couple and do some hikes. This was perfect for us as we wanted to hike but needed to take the train between the last couple. Also our Airbnb didn’t have wifi so it was nice being able to check in a couple times during the day and google restaurants. This pass can long be bought at train stations, the hiking passes can be bought on the trail but they don’t include anything but the trails.
 
Use your town’s visitor centre. This are amazing. The first day after arriving very late, not having wifi to contact our Airbnb host about our whereabouts we wandered in and found they had free wifi. We logged in to connect with out host and managed to stay logged in for the whole trip which meant whenever we wandered by we got wifi. They were also very helpful in figuring out where to buy our passes and you can pay to leave your luggage there all day which came in super handy on the last day. 
 
Bring so much water on the trails. Yes it sucks carrying a heavy backpack but when your hiking in the heat water is so much more important. We had just under 2.5 litres and drank all of it. There are water fountains at each train stations and in many of the main town squares so you can fill up between towns instead of buying new. But you will probably drink about 2 litres on the paths we did and there is no place to find water in the mountain. 
 
Also the trains tend to ran late so just be prepared and don’t take one that gets you in just before you need to be somewhere as you probably won’t be on time. 
 
On bathrooms: Bathrooms pretty much all over Italy seem to cost money ( around 1EU) which can be super annoying. With the 5Terre card you get into the park’s bathrooms for free, which are usually around train stations. In terms of other bathrooms we found two that are free and sorta public. The first bathroom is behind the church beside the Focacceria San Antonio in New Town Monterosso. I’m pretty sure it is the bakery’s bathroom but it is open and doesn’t have a code so its a good place to go near the beach. The other one is by Nessum Dorma in Manarola. The bathrooms are above the restaurant in the little park there and also open.