Tag Archives: gelato

Italy Travels: Florence Frolics Part II

Visiting Florence, Italy

I left off with a part I recap of our Italy travels in Florence here.

Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we?

Ponte Vecchio

Firenze Ponte Vecchio

Perhaps the most iconic Florentine destination – the Ponte Vecchio. This covered bridge is lined with gold jewelry shops. I was thinking it would be more like a market with vendors, but the Ponte Vecchio is lined with tried-and-true small upscale jewelry shops. And at night they all close up shop with beautiful ornate wooden doors.

Visiting Florence, Italy

The top portion of the bridge is not open to the public. It was actually created as a private walkway for the Medici family to walk from one building to another because, heaven forbid, they walk outside.

Another fun fact, the Ponte Vecchio used to be where all the butchers were. You can only imagine where all the animal entrails went… when the city of Florence decided to clean up the Arno River the butchers were kicked out and the gold jewelers were in.


Florence is famous for it’s Duomo. We decided the right word to describe this place is “impressive”. Calling it “beautiful” doesn’t exactly feel right – the intricate white, pink and green stone with gold filigree isn’t exactly my cup of tea but the Duomo is definitely a work of art and shouldn’t be missed.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Directly across from the main entrance to the Dumon is the Baptistry, which was smaller than I pictured, but featured a copy of the famous bronze doors. (The originals are inside the Duomo museum.)

The dome inside the Duomo was my favorite part. Brunelleschi, the designer, modeled it after the Pantheon’s dome. Apparently he told his sister that, although he could not make a better dome, he would make one that was more beautiful!

Beautiful it certainly is.

Visiting Florence, Italy

The tall tower you see next to the Duomo is the bell tower, or the Campanile. You can climb the Duomo dome or the bell tower for a small fee – we ended up doing neither since we enjoyed the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo so much.

Next to the Duomo we found our go-to cappuccino shop – 3 euro for two cappuccino? Yes please! While Florence is not extremely crowded, this particular square is where you will constantly find hoards of tourists. If the line to see inside the Duomo is long, just wait 20 minutes and try again. The crowds ebb and flow, so enjoy a cuppa while you are waiting.

Visiting Florence, Italy

San Lorenzo Market

Ahhh the fine Italian markets… of Indian men… selling South American fake leather goods. Haha!

Regardless, the San Lorenzo market is a fun place to shop/haggle/look for an afternoon.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Most of the stalls have the same items (although they adamantly refuse to admit that!) and the market is dominated by leather goods – purses, belts, etc.

Among all of those stalls though, there are definitely a few winners! Here you can find silk neckties and Murano glass jewelry.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Haggling is definitely the name the game at this market, and if your eyes linger for too long on an item they will run you down trying to sell it to you. Just stand your ground and be prepared to walk away – usually that’s how you get the best price.

Mercato Centrale

The central market is full of produce, meats, cheeses, breads and flowers and is next to the San Lorenzo markets in a large building with a glass ceiling. Even if you plan to purchase nothing, walking around the market is a must!

Visiting Florence, Italy

You’ll see beautiful fresh vegetables, munch on free samples of cheese and… see lots of weird things too.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Like massive fish, chickens, and brain-like foods.

We went to the market one day to get foods for our lunch – it was delicious. Just make your way around the market and you’ll have a big meal right away. Just make sure you have lots of small change!

If you have a bit more time to linger, there are free tasting sessions of olive oil, vinegar or wine at some stalls as well!

Food in Florence

Apparently Florentine gelato is the best of the best. And you won’t hear any contradictions from me. We tried a number of places during our days in Florence, but quickly found our favorite Italian gelateria – Santa Trinita Gelateria just past the Ponte Vecchio.

Visiting Florence, ItalyIt’s where I discovered by deep, unabiding love for grapefruit gelato – also known as pompelo rosa. The prices were good, the gelato was fresh, and the staff friendly.

We tried several different restaurants in Florence – appertifs at Bianco, a fixed price meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near our hotel, and looked to our trusty Rick Steves book for recommendations. Which led us to Trattoria Lo Strocatto. It was delicious food and great atmosphere for a quiet meal. Our waiter wasn’t the most pleasant we’ve ever had, but we’re chalking it up to the language barrier.

Sleeping in Florence:

I think I’ve mentioned before that this trip was entirely made possible by the fact that we were up to our ears in Starwoods points – which allowed us to book free hotel rooms for nearly our entire vacation. So you might notice this hotel is quite a bit fancier that what you’ll usually find recommended around these parts. Well, we decided to spend the bulk of our points in Florence and stayed at the beautiful Excelsior Hotel right on the Arno River.

Visiting Florence, Italy


The hotel was beautiful and our hotel room was like stepping back in time – in the best way. Why yes, in a 15 foot tall canopy bed. Just call me King George.

The Excelsior also has a beautiful rooftop restaurant and bar. If you are looking for somewhere swanky to drink some insanely overpriced cocktails with aloof waitstaff – this is the place. Our drinks were a complimentary upgrade, otherwise this was not really our scene. Besides the fact that our two drinks would have cost us a weeks worth of gelato(!!!). But the vibe was cool, there was live music and it’s definitely a place you go to be seen. Also, the view is one of the best in Florence.

Visiting Florence, Italy


Our last night in Florence was after our Italy trip, so we stayed in another hotel right by the train station – Hotel Joli. As much as our previous hotel room was luxurious, this hotel room was NOT. It was definitely hovering around the quality-level of a hostel – the rooms were definitely sparse and a little icky. That being said, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the free breakfast was actually pretty good. And the location is perfect – very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station.

Overall, Florence was everything that I wanted it to be. The city is beautiful and easy to manage. You can walk from one side of the city within 20 minutes, so there’s no need to worry about buses, trains or cabs.

And being so close to Cinque Terre, Siena and Tuscany, it would be easy to spend your entire vacation in this one area of Italy.

Next up – our two days in the lush Tuscan hillside!

Italy Travels: Florence Frolics Part I

Visiting Florence, Italy

I’m not one for bucket lists, but visiting Italy is definitely one of the few items on my life “wish list”. I had always pictured myself studying abroad while I was in school, and that would be my way to get there. But one thing led to another and I couldn’t carve out the time to do so. (One of my few regrets.) Not only did I imagine myself visiting Italy someday, I specifically envisioned myself in Florence.

Throughout my trip research and planning, most people and books recommended spending 2 days to see all that Florence had to offer. But I went with my gut and decided to dedicate 4 days of our trip to this beautiful Renaissance city – and I’m so glad I did.

Visiting Florence, Italy

If Rome was like New York City, Florence was like Boston. And I love Boston.

Florence, or Firenze, is smaller, quieter and (I think) more beautiful. It’s definitely a “must” for art-lovers, and while you will certainly still see some group tours passing through, it’s nowhere near the level of crowds we encountered in Rome.

Piazzale Michelangelo

A trip to Florence is incomplete without a walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a quick 20 minute walk from the heart of the city. We ended up doing this walk every day we were in Florence. The 180 degree views of the city from this point are lovely. You’ll find peddlers, food stands and live musicians singing American pop cover songs from the 1990s – but we mostly just came for the views. There is also a (weathered) copy of the David statue at the top – there are 3 Davids in Florence.

Visiting Florence, Italy

There are several ways to get to Piazzale Michelangelo, and I’d recommend following the signs for the Rose Garden. It was in full bloom while we were there and I happily spent some time enjoying the smells and many different colors of rosebushes.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the main draws in Florence for art-lovers. This world-famous musuem is packed to the brim with amazing, historical art. The Botticelli’s were my favorite – no surprise there as they are one of the museum’s main draws.

Uffizi Florencevia SmithsonianMag

If you wish to visit the Uffizi you will definitely need to purchase your tickets online several weeks in advance. We used our trusty Rick Steve’s free audio tour, but if you follow the rooms in numerical order you won’t miss anything important. The Uffizi has a massive renovation going on right now, but we were still able to see most of the highlights. We spent about 4 hours going through the musuem, and it just happened to fall on our only rainy morning in Florence.

Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Signoria

Visiting Florence, Italy

Directly next to the Uffizi Gallery sits the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace of the Medici family) and Piazza Signoria.

The courtyard to Palazzo Vecchio is free to enter and you can get a taste of the grandeur surrounding the wealth of the family who funded the Renaissance art period. Outside of the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of the David statue, where the original state stood until they brought it inside to protect it.

Florentine piazzas are not nearly as spirited as Roman ones, but it’s still a very cool place to visit. There is a free outdoor sculpture museum in Piazza Signoria that you don’t want to miss. The Rape of the Sabine Women is only one of the many famous statues you can ponder – free of charge!

Visiting Florence, Italy

David / Accademia

We almost skipped seeing the real David statue at the Accademia – and I’m so glad that we decided to go. The David statue is person is truly magnificent. Looking up at the massive statue is truly an ethereal experience. The room was custom built for the David statue, and the unfinished works by Michelangelo in the hall leading up to David are nearly as compelling as his finished sculptures.


The Accademia is small, the David statue being the only real draw, which is why we almost skipped it. We walked by the museum a few times, but the line was very long. I would recommend buying your tickets online in advance, or, like we did, get to the museum at the very end of the day and you will be able to get in pretty quickly. Again, we used our Rick Steve’s free audio tours throughout the Accademia.

I’ll be back later this week with more on Florence!

Have you been to Florence? Is there ONE place you’ve always wanted to visit more than anywhere else?

Italy Travels: Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

I have many happy places, and I’m officially adding Vernazza to that list.

I had heard so many wonderful things about Cinque Terre, I was starting to wonder if it could all possibly be true.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

And as we sat on the regional train from La Spezia, through tunnel after tunnel of the mountainous hillside, there was an audible gasp on our train. There she was, the Mediterranean Sea.

Cinque Terre is made up of five small villages built on the hillsides of the Ligurian Sea, part of the Mediterranean. We stayed in Vernazza during our three, too short, days we spent in Cinque Terre. Today I’ll post on Vernazza, and I’ll share later on the other towns we visited, as well as our hike.

Vernazza is the second-most northern of the five towns and has a rocky beach and calm harbor. It was a welcome retreat after the bustle of Rome.

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyVernazza is for relaxing. It’s a very small town, so there are only a few shops and restaurants.

Your itinerary should include:

Sunning on the rocks in the peaceful harbor. Bring a book and a snack!

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Maybe you’ll even fancy to have a swim.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

For a change of scenery, walk through the tunnel to the rocky beach. The water over there is much colder! But that is also where the waves are.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Walk  up and down the short beach and see how much seapottery and sea-terracotta you can find.

I even managed to bring home a handful of seaglass to add to my favorite collection.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

For a mid-day snack, try one of the area’s specialities: focaccia bread, pesto, or fresh anchovies.

Or there’s always the old stand by:

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyVernazza has two gelaterias – both are delicious. Just don’t wait too late in the evening or they will be closed! (We managed to grab a cone before she put the last two flavors away!)

While this may sound like an uneventful day, believe me, the day will be over before you know it. You can’t get lost in Vernazza, so climb the many, many, many narrow staircases and enjoy exploring the town.

As far as siteseeing, there is a small church right in town. Oyou can also climb to the top of the fort, where they used to keep watch for pirates. There is a small fee to visit the fort, and if you plan on hiking the next day you’ll see much better views from there, so we didn’t bother going in.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

While you are gallivanting about town in the afternoon, you had better scope out all the restaurants and make a reservation. Most places shut down from 5pm-7pm, and you’ll be hard-pressed to get into the restaurant of your choice without a reservation.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

We choose Ristorante Belforte, and it was possibly the best meal we had on our whole vacation! I strongly recommend making a reservation for 7:00pm and showing up right on time – otherwise you will miss out on the best tables!

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyThe entire restaurant has sweeping views of the sea. Bring a sweater!

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

Dip into the fresh local foods! If you’re a seafood-junkie like myself, this will be a heavenly experience. If you’re less adventurous, there are options for you too.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

While I’d recommend not missing the Ristorante Belforte experience, to anyone who is going to Vernazza, you certainly don’t have to spend a lot of money for a delicious dinner with a seaside view.

Case in point, our dinner the next evening:

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyStop at the local market and pick up some fresh tomatoes, cheese, focaccia bread and salami. Find a nearby terrace and bon appetit.

Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy

The town definitely fills up in the daytime with people who are hiking or training through the five towns.

Two days in Cinque Terre, ItalyBut the evenings are blissfully quiet. Two days in Cinque Terre, Italy


There aren’t any real hotels in Vernazza. You’ll need to rent a room from a small operation. We booked a room at Affittacamere Rollando. It was a simple room on the main street in town.

Check-in is only from 3-5pm. Pay with cash and they’ll take about 10 euro off the bill.

The power situation in Vernazza is tenuous, which we had read about, but also experienced! Only having plugged in an electric kettle for tea, we blew the fuse – so when the hostess shows you where the fuse box, you’ll know why!

While Affittacamere Rollando was perfectly fine, I think we would have preferred staying off the main street. The morning market traffic brought a lot of noise.

Getting to Cinque Terre

From nearly any main train station, you’ll need to switch at La Spezia to get to Cinque Terre. There is a regional train between the five towns every 1-2 hours. We missed the first regional train because we weren’t sure what to do when we got to La Spezia – look at the posting on the boards when you get out of the train! Or else you can sit in a fancy Italian McDonalds for an hour. 🙂

Vernazza was amazing! Truly a vacation destination. I think we could have stayed there for a month.

Have you been to Cinque Terre?