If I was forced to choose a favorite place on our vacation this one would come in close to the top. (But, I'm not picking a favorite, because I can't commit to that.) I really loved Florence because it was a big city with a small town flair. It was small enough for us to walk from place to place, but big enough that we didn't get to explore everything. This was our longest stop- 2 and 1/2 days. Whoa....
Anyways, just like Rome, I could go on and on about Florence. Again, I'll try to spare you all the details. So, one of the first things we did in Florence- which may have been the highlight of our entire trip- was a Taste of Florence Tour. This tour was a "food" tour, and we love to eat, so this was right up our alley. Toni, our tour guide, was AMAZING. If you go to Florence you have to do this tour. We met Toni, and she first took us to a small bakery to taste some of the best flat bread in the city. Then she took us to the market where she gave us a lesson on olive oil and balsamic vinegar and where we tasted the best of the best. (Who would have guessed that "real"balsamic could be so sweet and yummy.... ah...) We also tasted, pesto, artichoke spread, cheese, jellies, sun dried tomatoes, honey, and wine at the market. It was all super yummy and I could bore you with tons of details, but I won't.
Toni also took us to the best gelato place in town- Perche no Gelateria. Oh my goodness- you haven't had real gelato until you've had this stuff! We got so much gelato on our tour it was crazy. We basically had a small cup in every flavor. My favorite flavors were: apple pie, watermelon, coffee crunch, pistachio, sesame milk, and white chocolate. (Yes, we had even more flavors than that- those were just the best in my opinion!) Toni even taught us how to watch out for "bad" gelato and how to know if you are getting the good stuff. You can be sure that we used those skills the rest of the trip.
Toni then took us to a small wine shop to teach us about wine in Italy. On our way there she pointed out small restaurants that we should try and told us what they specialized in at each place. We got to a small wine shop and went to a back room. There, Toni explained to us the winery process and how to know whether you are getting the "good stuff." We then went on to taste tons of different kinds including some of the best quality stuff and most expensive stuff. It was cool to taste the best of the best as far as wine goes. (I still didn't like it. I'm just not an alcohol fan. It all just burns my throat and is over rated.... even the good stuff. I'll take a sweet tea any day of the week over alcohol.)
Let me just say that thanks to Toni we ate at some amazing restaurants that didn't break the bank but were good quality. We had lots of things that we never would have tried and really enjoyed our "eating" experience while in Florence. It was great that we did this tour the first day because then we knew where to eat the other 2 days we were there.
Day 2 in Florence highlights included: a visit to the Galleria dell' Acadamia to see Michaelangelo's "David," more amazing gelato, a local leather store, a walk up to Piazzale Michaelangelo, and an amazing dinner at La Beppa fioraia. Let me just say that the "David" statue was massive. I couldn't believe how big it was. We also explored a photography exhibit from Robert Mapplethorpe that was at the museum. Piazzale Michaelangelo was a viewing point of the whole city. This place had outstanding city views. It was alot of stairs to take up to the top, but there were no regrets once we made it up. Our dinner was fabulous- of course a place that Toni recommended.
Day 3 in Florence was supposed to be the highlight (we thought) of our trip. We signed up for an amazing 14 mile bike tour through the Tuscan countryside. And it was awesome..... ALL of it, except that 1/2 way through it started pouring rain and there was lightening, and so for safety reasons we could not finish out our tour. Oh well, I'll tell you about what we did get to experience.
We met in town and the Tuscan Bike Tour company drove us in busses about an hour out of town. It just kept getting prettier, and prettier the further we kept driving. We arrived at a castle, Castello di Poppiano where the Dutch and Dutchess Guicciardini live and produce Chianti wine and olive oil. We took a tour of the winery and then went to the top of the tower where I saw some of the most beautiful views I've ever seen in my whole life. (You have to see the photos below.) The Tuscan countryside was amazing. Part of me wished that we had spent a whole week there just exploring all the tiny villages and rolling hills. We then sampled some of the wine and olive oil that the castle produced.
Finally we were assigned our bikes. I got "Scooby Doo" and Lantz got "Frank Sinatra." Our guide and part owner of the company Andy looked just like the late Heath Ledger. He was from Scottland and used to be a professional biker- Lantz and him bonded over that issue. Anyways- the countryside was gorgeous, and although biking up all the hills was strenuous, it was worth it. I loved every second of it! We biked to a small village where we stopped and ate lunch at a local restaurant. We got alot of food, and it was yummy. We then proceeded to get back on our bikes, but when we got outside it started pouring. They were going to try to continue the tour, but then it started lightening, so they had to cancel the rest of it. Lantz and I were super bummed out about that. We so wanted to do the rest of it, but safety first. Oh well, what we did get to experience was awesome!
When we got back in town we went to a local little chocolate shop that Toni recommended and ate some fresh home-made Italian chocolate. It was really good, but I'm not a huge chocolate fan. We then ate at another amazing local restaurant! It was a great way to end a fabulous stop.
After leaving Florence the next stop we had planned was Vernazza at Cinque Terre. On our way there we took a small detour to Pisa to see the leaning tower. Since Pisa was not a "real" stop- just a quick one I did not feel the need to document it in it's own blog post, cause there's really nothing to say other than we took a train there and took a bus, and then took some photos at the tower. We also ate a quick picnic lunch that we brought with us at the tower. It was fun, and I'm glad that we stopped and saw it, but you don't need more than a day in Pisa if you ask me. That's why you'll see photos of Pisa below, and I wanted to explain them.
So yeah.... that was Florence! I loved it. It was so beautiful and I'm so glad that it was one of our stops. Enjoy the photos below. Oh, and I can't wait to tell you about our next stop, Cinque Terre ... I think that you'll all want to go there some day! Okay, now to the photos: