Carolyn Kruse

Carolyn Kruse

For so long, I have dreamed of an Italian vacation. It just seemed like an impossible dream, given work schedules, school schedules and money. Finally, all the stars aligned and I was able to make it happen for myself, and my family. With the help of a travel agent, and clear schedules all the way around, we made the voyage to the beautiful country of Italy 2 weeks ago. Here, I will share my Italian vacation, and a few things I learned about this glorious place.

I highly recommend packing just one bag for carry-on, it makes getting around from place to place much easier. I also highly recommend using a travel agent for such a big trip, especially if you want to do some tours. Our favorite tour was a food tour in the city of Florence. It’s a excellent way to get to know an area and a culture. Bonus: You may meet some fun people from all over the world who share a love of learning, food and wine! We also did a few walking tours, which is a superb way to learn the history of a place.

Below, I will share the places we visited in Italy. All of the places we visited were in the Tuscan Region. I will also share some of the interesting things we discovered about the people, culture and customs. Enjoy a slice of my Italian vacation, and a few things I learned about this glorious place.

  • Florence

    This was the first stop on our trip. What an introduction for a first visit to Italy. We loved Florence for all it’s art, history, food and people. We were there on a weekend, so there was less traffic getting into the city. We stayed in a boutique hotel, about a half mile’s walk into the center of Florence. This is also where we did our food tour. Mama mia, the Italians know how to eat well! The freshest ingredients straight from farms and homemade pasta everywhere you go. You can try a Negroni or stick with wine and you eat your way through town, navigating small and picturesque cobblestone streets. Our guide was so much fun and we loved our group…so much so, that we hung out with some of them long after the tour was over. The Florence Food Tour was one of our favorite things about this visit.
    Florence is where you can see the statue of David, by Michelangelo. It’s an amazing sight that must be seen. We visited gorgeous and historic churches, learned about the great flood, and architecture.

    Statue of David:

    My Italian vacation

    My first Negroni!

    My Italian vacation - negroni

    The Food Tour Gang

    My Italian vacation - food tour group

  • Lucca

    Stop #2 on the schedule was Lucca, Italy in Tuscany.

    What a special place Lucca is! My great grandparents came from Luca to America. It has a small town feel and a population of about 89,000. Here, we fell in love with the charm and peacefulness of a Tuscan city known for it’s well-preserved Renaissance walls that encircle the city center, with a view of mountains all around. People walk, bike and run all along the tree-lined pathways that top the enormous 16th- and 17th-century walls. Downtown is filled with quaint shops, restaurants, cobblers, markets and even has an outdoor music venue where they welcome artists from all over the world. Bob Dylan and Nora Jones were a couple of artists on the summer festival schedule. We did a walking tour in Lucca to learn of it’s history. It was fascinating to learn that Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte, was Princess of Lucca and Piombino, then Grand Duchess of Tuscany. She was one of a few women with great political power. She promoted the arts in Lucca and even had a venue built were concerts are still held today called Piazza Napoléone.

    Throughout the city you will find fountains pouring natural spring water. People stop to drink from their hands, fill up their bottles and even jugs/gallons full. Our guide told us the water in Lucca has healing powers, especially good for digestion. Put Lucca on your list of places to visit in Italy!

    Here’s a view from riding bikes along the city wall:

    My Italian vacation lucca view from city wall

    A view from our hotel street, with a canal in the middle.

    My Italian vacation- lucca with canal in street

     

    The fountain were we filled up our bottles everyday.

    My Italian vacation- Lucca fountain

    Riding bikes along the ancient city wall

    My Italian vacation riding bikes Lucca

     

  • Viareggio

    Stop #3 was a place I had never heard of, Viareggio. I had requested some time on the coast, and Viareggio was only about a half hour ride from Lucca. Our driver told us many people from Lucca and Florence come with their families here to stay at the beach. It’s a vibrant, coastal city with a main strip filled with hotels, restaurants and beaches filled with umbrellas and lounge chairs. You have to pay to go to the beach, except for one very small area at the end of the strip where it’s free. But trust me, it’s worth the $17 for all of us to have a spot. The main street is lined with palm trees, giving it a bit of a Florida vibe. It was a really fun place with lots to do.  Taking a dip in the Mediterranean Sea was heavenly, and so warm. The sand is so fine it felt like sugar on your body.

    The side streets were beautiful, lined with fragrant, flowering trees. On one side of the city it’s all coastline and the other side, mountains. The city center was vibrant. with lots of young people riding scooters, plenty of shopping and great seafood restaurants. Every Thursday along the beach strip there is an open market, where trucks line up and offer everything from clothing to accessories.

    My Italian vacation viareggio umbrellas

     

    My Italian vacation viareggio rooftop

    My Italian vacation - Viareggio ferris wheel

    My Italian vacation =viareggio street

  • Pisa

    Stop #4- Pisa!

    While staying in Viareggio, we took a short train ride to the ancient city of Pissa. I had been told by quite a few people to go here, not just to see the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa, but to soak in this beautiful city. Did you know the Leaning Tower was already leaning when it was completed in 1372?

    Here, we had our most delicious meal! Well, a shared meal. While strolling around in search of a place for lunch, we wandered down a side street, that felt like an alley because it was so narrow.  We discovered a tiny restaurant that seated only about 12 people. It was run by just 2 people. One cook and one server. We shared a dish of  Carbonara Imperiale that was to die for. It was mostly egg, no cream, plenty of Romano cheese, fresh pasta, pieces of pecorino, spices and herbs, and it was perfectly moist. The owner/cook who barely spoke English was excited to show us his passport, as he was born in Springfield, MA! Both his parents were Italian, but for some reason spent a short time in Springfield. After we ate, he brought out his guitar and played some music for us! Truly, a special place.

    My Italian vacation pisa

    This was the dish! I can still taste it. (accompanied by a crostoni with prosciutto and mozzarella.

    My Italian vacation pisa food

    My Italian vacation pisa restaurant

    My Italian Vacation singer

  • Rome

    Our final destination: Roma!

    My first impression: Rome is truly an international city. Like New York, it’s very busy, very crowded, always bustling and full of arts, culture and restaurants. We had to visit the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the ruins. This ancient city stands strong and proud. We didn’t find the people here to be as friendly as the other cities, but the history is unmatched. It’s overwhelming to take it all in, in just a couple of days.

    We did have 2 private historical walking tours here, that were incredibly informative.

    The Colosseum

    My Italian vacation - Rome and colosseum

    The Trevi Fountain

    My Italian vacation and trevi fountain

    The Vatican tour

    My Italian vacation the vatican

    Michelangelo’s first masterpiece, The Pieta (which means pity) was completed in just a year. The artist was only 23 at the time he created The Pieta, portraying Mary holding her son, Jesus after he died on the cross.

    My Italian vacation - rome and the vatican

  • Things we learned: Fun fact #1

    You really can drink the wine and not get a hangover. We were told this but didn’t believe it until we put in into practice. By the way, if you do ever get to Italy, order table wine or house wine. It’s so affordable and just as delicious as any bottled wine.

    My Italian vacation wine

    My Italian vacation wine

  • Things we learned: Fun fact #2

    Dinner was so much less expensive here! For our group of 5, dinner with appetizer and a couple bottles or carafes of wine was generally under $150. We thought that was crazy good!

    My Italian vacation food pasta

    my Italian vacation espresso martini

     

  • Things we learned: Fun fact #3

    Cappuccinos flow like water. Everyone everywhere serves a fantastic cappuccino. And they are made quickly! Unlike the long wait at some chain coffee shops here, they churn out the morning must-have very fast. And they usually come with a froth heart. Oh, it did my heart good to have one every day (or two), and sometimes just an espresso!

    My italian vacation - cappuccino

     

     

  • Things We learned: Fun fact #4

    Italians are very fashionable. They dress well, always look put together and come off as not only fashionable but fit. After the first day of wearing common comfortable clothing, we felt like like we had to up our game, and at least wear sun dresses, and nice shirts. Women often wear heels, but I don’t know how they navigate those old stone streets. It’s a true talent. However, we did notice immediately that many more people in Italy smoke cigarettes than in the U. S.

    My Italian vacation- fashion

    (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images for Ermanno Scervino)

     

  • Things we learned: Fun fact #5

    Drinkable water is everywhere and free! (At least in Rome, Lucca and Pisa). There are beautiful fountains where water freely pours. And it tasted so good.

    My Italian vacation -rome fountain

  • Things we learned: Fun fact #6

    Iced coffee is not really a thing there. And when you do order it, they shake it in water and served it chilled, like a martini. Always ask for extra ghiaccio (ice) or a side of ghiaccio. It gets very hot in Italy.

     

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