February 14, 2019.
Having my best friend from home (hi, Maria) studying abroad one country over gave me the perfect opportunity to take a weekend trip to Italy.
Julia, Allison, and I landed in Florence at 8 am on Thursday, sleep deprived, shivering (who knew Italy was so cold?), and over ecstatic to be back in one of our favorite cities.
A brilliant blue sky greeted us as we departed the Santa Maria Novella railway station, wandering the narrow streets to find Maria’s apartment.
The walk itself reminded me of why I love Italy in the first place; Florence has a certain charm hidden among its tiny streets that you can’t find anywhere else.
Maria popped her head out from behind a massive wooden door as we approached and I’ve never been so happy to see a friendly face. Although I haven’t had that feeling of homesickness yet, it’s always good to see your best friend after some time apart.
We settled into her little bedroom, a pullout couch and twin size bed the free lodgings for the weekend, and then set off for some much needed breakfast.
After waking up at 3:30 am (not a joke) we ordered the most American thing we could find: a complete breakfast with bacon, eggs, toast, and almost-normal coffee.
We caught up, laughed, gossiped, and enjoyed being around each other before Maria had to dash off for school, which thankfully wasn’t too early.
Julia, Allison, and I continued on towards the Duomo and central Florence, not really requiring the service of Google maps, but instead navigating by following the cathedral that peaked above the buildings.
We strolled around the square enjoying the warming sun and then joined the crowd forming a line to enter the church. As anyone who’s been to Florence can attest to, the inside of the Duomo falls flat in comparison to the extravagant outside, but it was definitely a sight still worth seeing.
Having no real plan or sense of stress, we found ourselves drawn to the music floating from the Piazza della Repubblica. The carousel sparkled under the brilliant sun, and somehow my friends found themselves paying for a ride. We’re all still kids at heart.
Piazza della Signoria, the statue garden, was our second stop during our slow journey towards the Arno River. Street artist cupids lined the arched walkways, winking and blowing kisses at people passing-by.
We scooped (ha!) up some gelato and explored alongside the river’s edge and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Gusto’s Pizza- world famous, was our chosen spot for lunch, specifically because of the heart shaped pizzas (did I mention it was Valentine’s day?). We decided to take our pizza to-go and found a perfect piazza for an informal picnic.
Side note: this was the same piazza of my hotel back a few years ago when Cameron and I stayed in Florence. The sun, fountain, to-die-for pizza, and familiar atmosphere made this spot perfect to relax and soak up the warmth.
After pizza we walked back over the bridge and found ourselves back at Maria’s apartment before dinner. Waking up at 3 am required us to nap before our night out- and we all woke up just in time for Maria to get home from class.
Dinner was at an authentic Italian bistro where Maria and her friends are on a first name basis with the waiters. We had a group of six girls, splitting endless pita bread and white wine. Our main dish, only described as “pillow pasta” by Allison, had was quite possibly the best gnocchi I’ve ever had (and I used to eat a lot of carbs).
After a delicious meal, we went back to Maria’s friend Rachel’s apartment to drink some wine before going out to some of their favorite bars. We all split bottles of wine and bonded over the difference between life abroad and life at our separate colleges.
We bar hopped, danced, and laughed more than thought possible, living for the copious amounts of American music blasted in the bars. Come on Eileen played in my head the whole walk home.
With slight headaches the next morning, we all recovered and composed ourselves enough to venture out for coffee. Maria showed us the cutest cafe overlooking the Duomo where we all ingested caffeine and croissants.
The shinning sun quickly chased away the morning chill and we explored the side streets around the Duomo.
Next we tackled the intense hike up the bell tower next to the Duomo. The narrow and winding polished stone hallways caused some claustrophobia to flare up, but the views were entirely worth it. We popped out into the sunshine with incredible views of the top of the Duomo and the rest of Florence.
Wanting even more claustrophobia, we headed straight towards the 463 steps up the Duomo. The spiral staircase to the top meant dizziness and heavy breathing (and weirdly some karaoke to Nial Horan’s Slow Hands to keep our minds busy).
Obviously, the extra exercise and American pop music were worth the panoramic views.
Jumping to the other side of the river, we began (another?!?!) climb towards the Piaza de Michelangelo. We took in the brilliant blue sky and amazing vantage point to enjoy the classic landmarks and rolling hills surrounding the city’s valley.
We wanted to watch sunset from our spot but 4 pm meant it was a few hours off, and several hours since we’d last eaten. Hanger struck all of us with a vengeance and we furiously Yelp’d the area for lunch. Unfortunately like the Spanish, the Italian take a siesta and close shop between the hours of 2-5 pm, leaving us with few options.
Thoughts of pillow pasta being the only thing propelling us forward, we slowly crawled back to our dinner place from the previous night.
We were the only ones in the restaurant but our same waiter brought us endless bread as we stuffed our faces with the best carbs in the city.
Taking a lesson from Snickers (you’re not you when you’re hungry), we all left lunch in much better moods than when arriving. We retraced our steps back to the Michelangelo lookout for sunset.
The quiet crowds, drifting street music, and golden hour made the whole environment really calming. Perfect to unwind after walking around 12 miles exploring the city that day.
We sleepily made our way back to Maria’s apartment, seeing the tale end of the sunset light up the river on our walk home.
We spent the night relaxing and watching Disney movies in Maria’s twin sized bed. Normally it would just be Maria and I in my basement in Michigan, but watching Tangled in Italy works too.
After a much needed good nights rest, we woke up bright and early and made the 45 minute journey to the train station to meet up with our group for our day in Tuscany.
Our bus meandered through the gorgeous rolling hills as we pulled up to our first vineyard. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the valleys, our backdrop for the first wine tasting had everything you could possibly imagine Tuscany possessing: the grape vines, iconic trees, and fairtytale-like landscape.
Brilliant blue sky, warm sun, and six tastings of locally-grown red wine later, we were in heaven. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or setting for our first stop.
From there our group went on to explore the quaint medieval village of San Gimignano to try “Italy’s best gelato.” The town and gelato lived up to the talk and we strolled the stone streets enjoying the shade and downtime.
We hopped back on the bus and headed to the second winery of the day, located in a valley between the rolling hills.
A private tasting room was set up for our group, fully equipped with beautiful hanging vines, tasting plates, and plenty of wine. We enjoyed a four course meal (Italian soup and classic lasagna being the highlights) with plenty of bread along the way to cushion the tasting.
We wandered through the hedge-maze garden and through the stables on the way back to the bus. The sun was just beginning to set and the lighting (and wine) gave everything a warm glow.
We arrived back in Florence with just enough energy left to enjoy the bustling streets and night life on the trail to Maria’s apartment.
Another 6:55 am flight (why do we keep doing this to ourselves?) had our alarms going off at 3:55.
I said goodbye to Maria in the early morning, excited for our next international adventure.
Did someone say Nice?