Vacation In Italy: Florence Day Two

The streets of Florence were alive all night long while we were trying to sleep in our hotel room overlooking the Arno River. There were people out and having fun until 4 or 5 in the morning.


But when we woke up on Day Two in Florence the streets were completely quiet. At 8:00am it was just us and a few street cleaners on Via Tornabuoni, the most popular street in Florence for it’s high end boutiques.


It was peaceful. Quiet. I could window shop for all of the items that I adore but have absolutely no reason to wander into a store to see.

we were wondering what this sign was trying to say...

we were wondering what this sign was trying to say…

My sister used and Italian ATM on Via Tornabuoni. We rejoiced when she used it correctly and the machine spit out euros in her hand.

The quiet streets we were walking were taking us to the train station where we would meet a bus for our tour for the day. A twelve hour bus tour called “The Best Of Tuscany” by Walkabout Tours. This was my favorite day of the whole trip. I was in charge, it was safe, easy and we had the most wonderful time touring the small towns of Tuscany.

I enjoyed meeting every single person aboard that bus.

There was a family from St. Louis, North Carolina, a married couple from Atlanta, a youth pastor and his wife on sabbatical. There were so many people and so many fascinating life stories aboard that travel bus in the hills under the Tuscan Sun.

The most wonderful gift on that trip for me was a friend I met on that bus.


That morning we were third in line to board the tour bus. My grandmother and my sister sat together and I opted to sit alone, knowing that I would be sitting next to a stranger for twelve hours.

As the bus filled up, no one was filling the seat next to me. Then finally a woman about my age traveling alone sat next to me. We didn’t speak at first. We didn’t speak for the first thirty minutes but when our tour guide came around to discuss dietary restrictions for lunch my seat mate explained that she only spoke a little English. She was from Buenos Aires and spoke mostly Spanish.

I immediately was so thankful for this small gift. I minored in Spanish, studied the language for eight years total and I hardly ever get to use it. We spent the rest of the ninety minute bus ride to Siena speaking with one another the best we could. Alejandra was her name.

(Side note, when I was a little girl living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania one of the only childhood friends I have in my memory is a girl named Alejandra. The name Alejandra goes with the face I see in my third birthday party pictures and trick or treat pictures from my childhood.)

Alejandra’s English was much better than my Spanish but she was so gracious and let me practice with her. I was so thankful for the gift of sitting next to Alejandra that day, making a new friend and the safe place to speak in a foreign language in the Tuscan Countryside.

Our first stop for the day was the town of Siena. Sunday morning was quiet in Siena. When we arrived the carousels and fairground rides were closed and waiting for the lively children who would vacant their seats after Sunday morning mass.


We walked while listening to the tour guide about the historical banks and the history of this little Tuscan City but I was taken back by the narrow cobblestone streets, the nuns walking to church and the laundry hanging out the beautiful Italian windows.



On our tour we learned that in Tuscany if you are not a paying customer you must pay to use the restroom and there are no free public toilets. Every public restroom cost us a euro or a half a euro. This was a new experience for me and my sister, grandmother and I found it all quite hysterical when we were all digging for those small coins worth one euro in the bottom of our purses so we could pee.


After our tour we had free time to explore the city and we found a sweet little shop with handmade dolls where I purchased my daughter’s souvenir. (My three sons received slingshots from the Colosseum and my husband a mug – he is a collector of coffee mugs from all the places we visit if you ever come over for coffee I try to personally pick one of these collected mugs for you to enjoy your coffee from, it’s just a special thing I like to do.)

As we explored the city we found ourselves eating the largest slices of pizza I have ever seen, eating the most delicious gelato and my sister and I stopped and bought an espresso just so we could use the bathroom.




As we left Siena the churches were ending their services and you could see that the streets were becoming more and more crowded. When we passed the carousel and the fairground rides you could tell the city had awoken for the day. Roller coasters were roaring and families were having fun and enjoying one another after church, just the way I believe Sundays should be.

Our next stop on the Best of Tuscany Tour was an organic farm in the Tuscan Countryside. We toured the winery and farm areas and then were shuttled to the farm’s restaurant for lunch and wine tasting. This was a lovely part of the trip. We shared a round Italian table with Alejandra and some friends from Alaska, Canada and Switzerland.


The found and the views were brilliant. It looked more beautiful than I could have imagined Tuscany to look. While I was there I decided that it would be a dream for my husband and I to spend a summer there once our children are grown. Eating, drinking reading and writing. Since we will be empty nesters at 48, this may actually be a realistic dream.

I may have had seconds and thirds of this...

I may have had seconds and thirds of this…


Second plate. The meats and cheeses were so delicious.

Second plate. The meats and cheeses were so delicious.

Almonds cookies. Meant to be sopped up in the dessert wine. YUM!!!

Almonds cookies. Meant to be sopped up in the dessert wine. YUM!!!

After lunch everyone was very happy on the bus and we stopped at San Gimignano, which I am still unsure how to pronouce the name of this town. It was the hilliest of our cities on the tour but the small streets held the storefront of THE BEST GELATO IN THE WORLD.


I also took my favorite picture of my Grandma Trudy on the top of the city and my sister and I sprinted up the steep hills in Rocky fashion as we were climbing to the top.


Our last stop for the day was Pisa. Truly something amazing to see. A leaning tower that’s construction began 1,942 years ago. Remarkable. And I had been thinking about this picture since we first planned our trip.


If you thought I was the only ridiculous person planning my picture you are wrong. The lawn at the Leaning Tower of Pisa is filled with people from all over the world posing for their planned for months pictures just like me. Don’t be ashamed to look foolish while you are posing if you go. Everyone does.

And then the tour was over. This was then end of my very favorite day. We got to see so much aboard that bus and the tour guide, Antonella, was SO FABULOUS!  She was friendly, knowledgeable, funny and her English was perfect.


We took a taxi back to the hotel that night and we had our first female taxi driver! We then opened the wine we bought from the winery and walked down the street to purchase personal pizzas.


After a long day we all slept well.

Our next morning in Italy we were traveling to Venice on my thirty second birthday. I hope you come back to read about probably my best birthday ever.


Vacation In Italy: Day One In Florence

My sister was in charge for the day we traveled from Rome to Florence on a high speed train. We arrived at the platform a little early and waited anxiously until our train arrived maybe eight minutes before the scheduled departure.

Our travel time via train was about ninety minutes. Just enough time to make good progress in the book I was reading and also stare out the window at the beautiful Italian countryside.

We arrived in Florence and we were introduced quickly to the Tuscan norm of paying money to use the public toilets. Truly, in Tuscany make sure you have those coins worth one or two euros. It costs to pee.

Our taxi driver took us to Hotel Berchielli and I fell in love with Florence in the backseat of that taxi watching the people in the streets, seeing the carousel in the town square with children dancing in bubbles blowing in the wind. If Rome felt historical and powerful, Florence felt whimsical and alive.

Our room was overlooking the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge not destroyed by Germans during World War II.


Of course we were hungry so the concierge recommended a restaurant nearly one hundred steps away called Mangiafoco. If you are in Florence ever, please eat here. The food was amazing and the service was even better. One of the servers was American and she saved us that day. She told us in Italy you are not supposed to tip. She said most menus will indicate that service is included on the bottom, it even says servicio on the check. She said maybe leave on or two euros but no more than that.


We loved her. She saved us and she recommended a fabulous place for dinner.

I don’t remember what I had there but it looked like this…


And then this.



Oooh that al dente pasta. It was scarfed down in momma with littles style.

Our next stop was to see The David.


We walked a few blocks and it started to rain when we approached the Accademia Gallery. We were confident because our tour was booked with vouchers in hand and we skipped the line only to find out our vouchers had to be redeemed ACROSS town.

I went. My sister and grandma stayed in the shorter line of people who had booked tours and I ran across town. In ballet flats. In the rain. While reading an Italian map. Like. A Boss.


I literally ran like I was training for a half marathon or something. My calves hated me the next day for running in those ballet flats. Good shoes really do matter when it comes to running.

We saw the art and The David, which was all amazing. I knew what I was getting into but truly seeing the sculptures up close is something everyone should get to experience. The David and the hundreds of other sculptures in the gallery.


After the David we went to the whimsical rooftop garden in our hotel for cocktails while we waited for the restaurants to open for dinner. Somehow I became in charge for dinner. I made the reservations for a little place across the Arno River called Pandehohio.

People from Florence actually say the heart of Florence is on the other side of the Arno River. They believe that is where the really food is and the real heart of the city is found.


First off, this place was recommended to us by the woman who saved us at lunch. She knew the owners and the owners were so sweet to us.

Secondly, this restaurant has Ohio in it’s name. Enough said here.


And lastly, everything was made on site. And delicious. I had the most delicious citrus shrimp ravioli I have ever tasted. I am still dreaming of this meal and hope that when Jesus comes to bring me home in the new heavens and the new earth, Pandehohio will be on every corner of every golden street.


We had tiramisu. My sister is making the face that we all were making.


And were then given free limoncello. Our first of the week. Very strong but necessary to try a little while you are in Italy.


I love this picture of my sister.


Florence is amazing. If I ever go back to Italy I would spend an entire week there. I would see the Duomo and go to the top and also see the Uffizi Gallery. Probably even eat at Mangiafoco and Pandehohio every single day.


Day two in Tuscany is tomorrow. It was my favorite day of the whole trip.






Vacation In Italy: Day Two In Rome

Each day my grandmother rotated between putting my sister and I in charge for the day. Day two was my turn to be in charge and we had to hail a taxi to take us to the meeting point for our tour of the Vatican at 8:30a. (Notice how I have dropped the m in am. This seemed like the European thing to do).

That morning I put on my Red Roman Dress and practiced my Italian to speak to the driver of the hailed taxi. I even wrote out the so called conversation in my iPhone notes in case I became flustered. I am so type A personality and not at all go-with-the-flow.

Continental breakfasts in Italy are fabulous. Mainly because they consist of fresh cheeses, pastries, fabulous juices, capicola and my grandma was so pleased to find prune pie like my Italian Great-Grandpa Seese used to bake. Oh, and how could I forget that espresso. I had two that morning.

We found the cab after breakfast.

Ciao, vorrei andare a calle vaticano. (I really did make note of that just in case).

We arrived outside of the cutest cafe and I failed as a director for the day because we waited there at the cafe instead of heading down the steps to check in for our tour.


I finally figured it out and we checked in for our City Wonders Tour of The Vatican. I had heard that you were not allowed to show shoulders or wear shorts inside the high holy places of The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica so I wore a dress. However,while we were in line I learned that the exposure of my thigh two inches above my knee made my dress too inappropriate for the high holy places. I had to buy a scarf. And I felt shame. The pastor’s wife dressed inappropriately for the high holy places.


(When I called my husband later he said he was not surprised.)

The tour of The Vatican was lovely. This is a place you could see a million times and still discover something new with each visit. There is so much to see.


Our favorite, I believe were two things.

First, hearing that there was an advisor to The Pope at the time of Michelangelo’s painting of the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel who had complained to Michelangelo about his frescoes.


The next day this big wig advisor found himself painted in “The Last Judgment” in hell with a snake around his unmentionable places.

We also found it interesting once you enter the Sistine Chapel it is made very clear you are to bare no shoulders or thighs, take no photos and be silent.

We took this seriously. I wore a mismatched scarf around my legs for heaven sakes. BUT everyone else was snapping photos of the frecoes and chatting about them anyway. every few minutes the guards would come on the microphone and say…

“SILENCE (because all the people talking were silly Americans), SILENCIO.”

Also, the guards are very strict about congregating near and exit or main entrance. This is forbidden and you will be strictly shooed and also mean mugged.

After The Vatican Tour I headed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica which costs an extra ten euros but so worth it. Also pay the extra for the elevator when you go. The close to three hundred stairs are exhausting after a three hour tour. (Gosh, I feel like the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.)


We took a taxi to our next spot. We were meeting a City Wonders tour outside of the Colosseum for another three hour tour of Ancient Rome after lunch.


We ate lunch at a spot called Squist Cook, right outside the Colosseum with great views, good food and fun service. I had the most delicious calzone there and I was given my first free shot in maybe a decade. No one ever gives me free anything and I haven’t taken a shot since my twenty first birthday. This was absolutely a “When in Rome” moment.


We went on another three hour tour of Ancient Rome after lunch. It was hot. And we were tired. I also fell down the steps in front of the Colosseum. (Maybe it was that shot but also I was walking and searching for my Chapstick in my purse and anyone who knows me knows I am not the kind of person who should try to conquer a gross motor and a fine motor skill at the same time.)


So I had bruises. And another shameful moment for the day. My day in charge wasn’t panning out as I had hoped. (Inappropriately dressed, public intoxication, ect.)


The tour of the Roman ruins was a tad boring BUT the Colosseum part was spectacular. It is amazing to be in the Colosseum. So much history and thinking about all the life stories that have walked through the arenas of the Colosseum just makes you feel small, which is a good thing.


We had dinner at the Squisit Cook again and received more free shots. And good food. Then we hailed a cab home, found some desserts, wine and gelato and curled up in our jammies in front of “Under The Tuscan Sun” to prepare for our adventure to Florence the next day.

This was such a fun day. As women we had so much fun laughing, seeing, eating and drinking. However if I went again I would not do these tours in the same day. We were laughing together but also hurting. So much walking.


Don’t forget to check back for my favorite, Florence.


Vacation In Italy: Rome Day 1

As a mother of four young children it felt euphoric to roll my carry on out the door on a Wednesday morning during the last few weeks of school packed with seven outfits, my passport and three books to read simply for pleasure. (The Husband’s Secret, The Church Planting Wife and Unbroken)

I love my kids, I pour my heart and soul into them but it is also nice to spend a week just being an adult, hanging with my favorite women and tending to my soul. Soul care is a good thing.

My grandmother, my sister and I headed to Italy with our passports and our carry-on bags and it was truly the best trip I have ever taken.

The flight was much easier than I expected, especially with some melatonin to help me sleep on the plane a little bit.

When we arrived I wish I would have mentally prepared myself for what Italian customs would be like. It was a melting pot of people from all over the world herding through like cattle to go through eight customs stations. There was very little order and very little railing systems to give people direction. We were all pushing through on another, sweaty and smelly from being crammed into a plane the night before.

Once we got through customs I felt like I could breathe a little.  There was a sweet Italian man waiting for us after baggage. He held a sign with our names on it and brought us to a cleaned air conditioned spacious Mercedes six-passager car.

On the way to our hotel, Hotel Mascagni, I was taken back by the amount of Italian military lining the entrances of important places with their large rifles out for everyone to see. This was my first taste of culture shock and something I don’t think I ever adjusted to while we were on our trip.

When we arrived at the hotel is was three in the morning to us but nine in the morning in Rome, which was too early to check into the hotel room but nothing a real Italian espresso couldn’t fix for me. In Italy, if you order coffee they will give you espresso, unless you ask for caffe americano.


I really love strong coffee.

I didn’t change any of my money until that morning at the hotel. We left our bags with the nice men at the front desk, practiced some general Itailian greetings and then we were off for some sightseeing on foot in Rome.


Grandma Trudy, Abigail and I. Group selfie with the sign of our hotel in the background.

My one pair of two pair of shoes I brought on the trip. And those streets. So beautiful to think about the many people who have traveled on the streets of Rome.

My one pair of two pair of shoes I brought on the trip. And those streets. So beautiful to think about the many people who have traveled on the streets of Rome.

We walked to the Trevi Fountains, which were under construction (this only means I need to go back) and then had some pizza on a side street not too far away and watched the crowds of tourists and the Italian people walk by.



That crust. So good.

Another shocking thing for me was the refugees in the city selling everything to tourists. If you make eye contact, they walk right up to you and push selfie sticks in your face. There was even a lady making money that morning trying to put birds on people. Live birds. And a man dressed as a monk, very poorly, trying to get tourists to take photos with him and then demanding money for throwing on a sheet and some Mardi Gras beads. I struggled with the street selling because I saw these people in their story and I knew street selling was how they made a living. I learned you actually have to be rude and not look at them or they will not leave you alone. This broke my heart but I really didn’t need a selfie stick, or a live bird on my shoulder.


My Grandma Trudy. We were deciding on pizza and the lady in the street putting birds on passer-byers is in the pink shirt right behind my grandma’s shoulder.

The other heart breaking thing I noticed while watching the Italian people was the poor people asking for money on the street. Every single one of them suffered from some kind of physical deformity with the exception with one woman I saw sitting on the side of the road with what had to have been a ten day old baby.

If you go to Rome prepare yourself for the sadness you may feel when you begin to people watch. I don’t think I really prepared myself for the hard places I would see in those cobblestone side streets.


Top of the Spanish Steps with random gladiator in the background.

After pizza we walked to the Spanish Steps, which was a challenging walk because you are essentially hiking to the top of the city. Our reward for that walk was gelato. I am pretty sure I’ve never had gelato before I tasted gelato in Italy. And after that gelato our gift was that our hotel room was ready and we all had a three (maybe four) hour nap.

I am not an ice cream lover but this gelato was the bees knees.

I am not an ice cream lover but this gelato was the bees knees.

Dinner that night was at a place recommended by the concierge at our hotel.

Ristorante La Pentolaccio


It was very good. I learned that in Italy they eat late, like most places in Europe. Italians order first plates, which normally is a pasta dish and then second plates which is your meat course. I also learned the desserts are a must. And wine. Chianti is my new jam.


My grandmother and my sister and I laughed most of the week and my new found talent, eating my food as faster than anyone else. This is a survival skill I have adapted to from being a mother to four young kids. Eating at lightning speed is survival for me. So I spent most of our meals scarfing down my first and second plates like a boss.

But also the food was so good. That night I had lasagna, lamb bites and tiramisu.

And then I had sweet dreams thanks to some more melatonin.

Don’t forget to check back for day two in Rome and then my favorite, Florence. And then Venice.