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.