As I type this you’re probably sleeping and I’m 30,000 ft. somewhere over Geneva (I only know that because the screen on my Delta monitor says so) So please excuse my typos it’s 2 in the morning somewhere. Ha! I wanted to get this post written while everything was still fresh on my mind, although I gotta say, vacation has a way of having you forget just about everything…what day it is, time it is, where you actually live and how to cook. Then add a 7+ time change and you’re all messed up. Am I riiight?! I will admit, it’s been mighty nice. Leading up to this trip I was burning the candle at both ends and quite honestly had more on my plate than ever before and I don’t think it’s gonna slow down anytime soon and I’m eternally grateful for all of it! Hello store. Hello book. Hello closet sale. Hello live show.
I mentioned before I left in my Packing For Italy + See Ya Soon! posts (also where I sourced anything you saw us wearing during the trip) that as a family, we’ve logged thousands of miles with Steve behind the wheel, had more potty breaks at truck stops than I care to remember, gotten all of our National Parks stamps and honked as we crossed those state lines in our RV over the past 11 years. Hands down the best vacation memories as a family we’ve made, my kids will tell ya. So, “What’s next?” was the question last year. Steve and I believe one of the best things we could ever give our children is travel and the opportunity to see the world. And for all their lives it’s been the beautiful landscape of United States and she did not disappoint.
We started the planning process last March. I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, Steve too. And now that we’ve checked off those 50 states, why not! Italy it was and the planning begun. Seeing that Steve and I are not world travelers (except for that school trip he took in 10th grade to Spain + France) we looked to our travel agent and friend, Judy Zirada. Funny story… about 7 years ago Steve and I were away on a work trip with his company, and during some down time we took to the pool for a little chill time and there sitting on the edge was this gem of a woman and we got to talking. You know me, I will make friends in a Walmart parking lot. Come to find out she was a travel agent and was checking out that particular property at the time. Fast forward many years later and we still use Judy when planning any vacations, especially when we both aren’t familiar with the area. She’s a pro and has damn near been everywhere. We love working with her.
I’ll be honest, this trip was all the magic of Judy + Steve. He’s always been such a planner and I’m the dreamer. We went over dates, wants, areas, attractions, history, must see, must do, must eat and tours. Then we let Ms. Judy get to work. Funny enough this trip was always about the cruise and then decided we can’t travel all that way and not spend a few days in each of those amazing places before we take to the seas, so we tacked on the the land portion before we set sail. There’s just so much to see and do and even being gone for 12 days, we still didn’t put a dent in that beautiful country.
The cruise… SO MANY questions about that. I think it will be best to spilt this post into two parts. So, for now, I’ll stick to our first week in Italy and share as many details as possible. Alright, let’s get started! Bags packed? Got your passport? Let’s go…..
We had an easy morning at home and didn’t need to leave the house until around 11am for our 12:45pm flight from BNA to ATL. One medium suitcase each and a small carry-on. We did good, but now that it’s over we could have brought a little less. I’d say there was about 4 outfits each that we didn’t wear. Nonetheless, we didn’t look like we waaaaaay over packed and had room for some souvenirs on the way home.
We landed in ATL at 2:41pm. Fed the kiddos and got them some snacks for the plane. Killed some time in the Delta Sky lounge until our 5:50pm flight departed to VCE (Venice). The flight wasn’t too bad. I watched a few episodes of Big Little Lies, can you believe I still haven’t watched that yet? What better time than a nine hour flight, right? I force fed us all some melatonin gummies and hoped we’d sleep. Steve and I did, maybe for about 3 hours off and on. Kids nada, not a wink they said. I think they probably did some, but either way…we were landing in Venice at 10 am and had a 3 hour walking tour at 2pm. I warned them, but they/we were all so excited, could you blame us? I read to just keep going and push through and DO NOT TAKE A NAP. Hold out and stay busy until bedtime. (their time) We did just that.
We took a private water taxi to our hotel, which was the coolest thing. I felt like we were in the movies, not like movies stars, it was the scenery. It was unreal. I just loved it. All the boats, colored water front buildings, brightly colored poles, canals and window boxes spilling with prettiest flowers. Venice was for me. We were all in awe. Arrived to our hotel by boat in about 15 minutes. Judy booked us at the 4 star- Hotel Palazzo Veneziano in a family suite. It was in a great location, waterfront, clean, beautiful decor, breakfast included and within walking distance to it all.
Dropped off our bags and did a quick change and freshen up after a long flight. Then hit the streets to do a little exploring on our own. We were all getting hungry, so we found a little outdoor cafe to have a bite, it was good, not great. I can’t even remember the name to tell you either way. That was the end of just winging it on food. We only had so many days and we wanted to eat only ALL THE GOOD STUFF. Funny, because Steve is the king of reviews and finding the best food every place we go, even in Nashville, it then became his mission for the rest of the trip. He nailed it with the help of Trip Advisor. We ate like kings from there on out. Not to mention all the suggestions from all of you. We’d need to move there in order to try them all.
We then met our tour guide back at the Hotel and headed out on a private walking tour, just the 5 of us. If I can say one thing about the touring that we did this trip, it’s to go private. If you’re like me, I don’t want to be at the back of the line 30 people deep and miss a thing. I want to hear every word, learn everything and develop a relationship with this sweet soul for the next 3-5 hours. I love stories and I want to hear it all, theirs and the town gossip. Judy found us some gems and we loved each one so much I wanted to put them in my suitcase and take them back to Nashville with us. They knew the history like they were there or wrote it themselves. We felt really lucky, we passed lots of tours with flags, radio ear pieces and holding pamphlets that the guides were reading from. I was impressed by our guides, their knowledge and all that we learned along the way. One of my favorite parts. I love history.
Judy knew we couldn’t leave Venice without a gondola ride and she was right and let me say it totally lived up to the hype. I couldn’t get over how relaxing and quiet it was. I could have rode around for hours. It was about 30 minutes and it was perfect and very romantic, even with the kids included. Our tour guide pointed out a restaurant that was delicious and mentioned she’d be eating there tomorrow night with her family. Known for their seafood, it looked incredible even though I couldn’t read the menu. Ha! Kids were about to hit a wall, so we asked her to see if they had availability for two later that night. And they did, total local spot and they held it under her name, they hugged and we waved. Those were the types of places we wanted to experience.
We continued the tour and fell in love with every turn. Venice has to be the most charming place I’ve ever been. I could have stayed a week there, but we only had a day and we all said later, if we could change anything we would have stayed there longer, kids included. Grabbed the kiddos some pizza and got them all tucked into the hotel room. Then we headed out for an impromptu date night at Trattoria Da Remigio – we had whatever they brought us and a bottle of wine. They were lovely, food was simple and delicious, so fresh and was filled with locals, we were the only Americans in the whole place. After dinner we strolled those narrow charming streets, crossed St. Mark’s Square and fell in love all over again. One of my favorite spots on the trip. Back to the hotel, set our alarm for 6:30 am (or did we) to grab our water taxi to the train station- Venezia Sestiere Cannaregio for our 8:45am train to Florence.
We had trouble sleeping that night. Both Steve and I were up a few times in the night and almost decided to start our day at 4am, but must have drifted back to sleep only to be awaken by the front desk at 8:04 am to say our taxi was here. WHAT?!?!? We flew out of bed and started yelling at the kids to get up, get dress and be OUT OF THE ROOM in 10 minutes. We did it in 12 minutes. Holy sh** it was crazy and funny now. Steve had his alarm set to only go off on weekdays, it was a Saturday. LOL. When I tell you he’s never overslept, I mean… NEVER in all our years together. When he played there was a $1,000 fine for every minute you were late to a meeting. Yes, every minute. He was always 2 hours early to work. Not kidding. He’s the king of alarms, back up batteries, you name it. That’s why it was crazy. He’s Mr.10 minutes early… always.
Boarded the train, so much more fun than an airplane. Lily and I did our makeup in the bathroom together and then ordered a cappuccino. Gotta love that train life. It was about a two hour ride, enough time to read up on Florence a little and Luke to eat his 100th croissant. Arrived and met our driver outside the station. That’s another thing, transfers. Set up a driver/taxi in advance. It was a zoo and I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate that mess. Plus Steve has ZERO patience.
Next stop our hotel, Palazzo Magnani Feroni. Another great one. Different then Venice, but I loved it’s historic details, vintage decor and older rooms. It kinda had that B&B vibe and the lobby was to die for. You even got a real brass key to open your door and turned it in when you left for the day. Breakfast was included and it was adorable and set up on our table in the little kitchen. It felt very European and quaint. We all really loved how different it was.
We were a little tired but energized by the city and ready for another day of sightseeing. But first lunch. Right by our hotel was a little place called IL Santo Bevitore and it had a tapas style menu and good wine. Lily had a salad, Luke had spaghetti bolognese and Steve and I had the soup and charcuterie board. After lunch we met our next tour guide, Francesca. She was just as great as the last and really included the kids the entire time and made sure to point out the best gelato.
We saw the Central market (rubbed the wild boars snout for luck), Medici Chapels, Basilica di S. Lorenzo and the church of Medici’s Family, Piazza del Duomo and its dome by Brunelleschi, the bell-tower by Giotto, Saint John Baptistery with its Paradise Door, medieval quarters where Dante Alighieri and Beatrice lived, Palazzo del Bargello, Piazza della Signoria, the great “open-air sculpture museum, Uffizi Gallery, one of the most important museums all over the world, Mercato della Paglia (straw market) then walked along the street that leads to Ponte Vecchio, the “jewels bridge” after crossing that we reached the impressive Pitti Palace where the 3 hour tour ended.
It was informative and enjoyable. She did a great job of keeping us shaded, like I said it was in the 90’s. After that we were on our own. Back to the hotel to chill and freshen up for dinner. After touring around a few days we all decided we like a walking tour, a little downtime afterwards, dinner and walking the streets after dark. It was cooler and quite honestly so beautiful at night. Even ran into a few of you, which was so fun! Love that you stopped to say hello.
We had the best early dinner – GIANT sandwiches from Firenze Allàntico Vinaio. Oh my gosh…. fresh cibbiatta bread, mozzarella, basil and prosciutto- that’s all. You must go. A little later that night we found ourselves at Vetreria Ristorante Boutique It was out of this world. A steak the size of Steve’s head and the most delicious wine to date.
We didn’t sleep much that night. It’s funny, fall right to sleep and then up around 2 am for a few hours. Jet lag was kicking in and we were all starting to feel it for sure. But it didn’t stop us, we just kept on going thinking eventually we’d crash for the night. Today was a full day “Tuscany Jewels Tour” – Siena, Monteriggioni, San Gimignano & Chianti area. We headed out for our new breakfast obsession- cappuccino and a croissant. I could get used to it and noticed Italians don’t really do breakfast. They do coffee and coffee well. A light pastry and they’re good till about 3 for a light lunch and then dinner around 9pm.
This particular tour was a max of eight people with a private driver. We were four and there were two other couples, two sweet empty-nesters from Australia and newlyweds from New York. After that hour and half car ride we were zombies, that rolling country side is enough to make you fall fast asleep an most did. This wasn’t a guided tour per say, but more of a stop and see. Which was nice, it gave us the opportunity to explore on our own. We all rode together and it included seeing Siena, we didn’t care much for Siena. It was Ok or maybe we were just beat at this point. We walked for a few blocks and then made a beeline for the pharmacy. There’s one one every corner, I swear. In our best Italian, we asked to SLEEP! Ha! They handed us melatonin tablets and we gladly paid. Note to self, never leave home without them. We couldn’t wait to take them that night.
Next stop was Monteriggioni and WE LOVED IT and got our second wind. Oh my gosh, the most darling little village built during the thirteenth century and surrounded by its still-intact walls. There are 60 people that live within the walls and it was nothing short of precious. I could have stayed there all day. As a matter of fact you can stay there and they have a really nice hotel I guess, pool and all.
A short distance away, was a vineyard at this country estate surrounded by olive plants, we were served lunch and a guided tasting of wines. After lunch we hit San Gimignano, another cute town, famous for the still-intact medieval town with numerous and beautiful towers that has earned it’s nickname “Manhattan of the Middle Ages” and the BEST gelato Luke says!
Last stop was Pisa and of course we had to see if that dang tower was still leaning…it was. The kids loved this. I have to say, Its pretty surreal standing in front of all these incredible pieces of history. We were all in awe. Its really something to see with your own eyes.
That night we ate like kings at Buca Lapi and it was amazing! They served us like family and we got to try some really authentic Florence region type foods. Luke and Steve got steak and not just any steak, it comes from an all white cow called a Chianina and what they serve up is called bistecca alla fiorentina and it’s all the rage. Steve and Luke approved! Another thing we devoured was the tomato & bread soup and we couldn’t get enough. Lot’s of beans and vegetables. Hearty and delicious. We just loved our waitress too and the ambiance was very inviting and homey. We walked back to our hotel, took our melatonin and slept like babies all the way through the night.
Are you still reading this? HA! Gosh, I’m really going into detail, I better speed this up!
Woke up feeling like champs and headed to the train station and made our way to Rome. Checked into our hotel, Stendahl Luxury Suites in Rome. It was really nice and spacious, pretty marble bathroom and newly renovated. We had two rooms that connected to a foyer and just outside that was a private dining room with 4 tables. It was great because in the morning you would walk out and enjoy your complimentary breakfast served by the most darling little man and he would make it in the back. It was a small menu, but so neat the way they served it to you. They had soft eggs, cheeses, ham, pastries, jams, fruit and coffee. We enjoyed it very much.
Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we went a grabbed some lunch. Steve and I wanted a salad. I was starting to see that Italians love carbs and coffee. Who doesn’t? We found a great place near our hotel, Hosteria 87 a few blocks down and grabbed a fresh salad with chicken. It was DELISH. Made our way back and changed into our appropriate clothes, because today we had a guided tour through Vatican City, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters Basilica and you must cover your shoulders and knees when entering. Sadly, I was surprised by how many people weren’t respectful of that.
We met our tour guide a very energetic 30 something that came to Rome studying and stuck around because he fell in love with the city and all it’s vast history. His name was Seran and he was the absolute BEST! Man, did he know his stuff. Again, almost like he was there when it happened. We were all just blown away by all if it. You’ve truly got to see it before you die. It’s life changing and will bring tears to your eyes. I can’t say enough.
It was busy, but he navigated it so well. I highly recommend this. Do not leave Rome without going here. It’s truly incredible. Goose bumps typing this. After the tour we went back and the boys changed out of their pants and we left over scarves behind and did a little shopping. Dinner that night at the most AMAZING pizza place (thank you Trip Advisor). It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but WOW. The best we’ve ever had. It’s called Pizza E Mozzarella and the nicest man owns it. Line out the door, 3 tables and your order by the ounce. Allowing you to try all the different types her makes. You must go! And next door is the sandal shop, Sandali and Ballerinas were I got those killer custom leather sandals made. Talk about the perfect evening. Still taking melatonin. Sleeping like babies. Life is good and having a blast!
Woke up feeling great, really settling into our new time zone. Had another charming breakfast with that sweet man and headed down to meet our tour guide for our last day in Rome. Two days is not nearly enough, but we did clock some miles. At the end of this day, we had walked 47 miles on foot covering those three cities. Once I saw that on my health app, it was game one….give me all the pasta, bread and wine! We met Alfredo at our hotel and started our tour. When we booked we were under the impression that the Colosseum was part of the tour and it was not. Which was disappointing, and try finding a tour day of or even buying tickets that day was impossible. That’s one of the most visited places next to Vatican City and I can see why. No shade to our nice tour guide, he was really great, but by this day I think our kids were toured out and maybe we were too. It was only for 2 hours and we logged some more miles and saw lots off history, statues, fountains and churches. After we finished we all said, lets go back to the pizza place and he was happy to see us again. Picked up my shoes and did a little more souvenir shopping. This time down the fancy streets and not gonna lie….Chanel has pretty handbags, but maybe the best air conditioning. Ha! Even the boys were down with the idea. IT WAS HOT in Rome. Holy Hannah. We went back to the hotel and rested for a few hours and took a little nap. Our poor legs were tired. And I know you are curious, but our feet were great! Seriously, no complaints. Big props to those Beek sandals I wore daily! Worth the money and pretty on your feet. I loved those and they were perfect for all the sundresses I was wearing. I was cool and comfortable. Lily said the same for her Birkenstocks, Steve in his Asics and Luke sporting the New Balance.
Dinner that night was at another Trip Advisor spot that Steve found, Nannarella and yes we walked there. I loved that part about the trip…walking everywhere. We ate our butts off that night! After dinner we meandered our way through the neighborhoods and crossed over to the Ancient City, because this crew was determined to see that Colosseum and boy was it magical at night. It’s another one that will knock your socks off. It’s unreal to think what went on in there and to imagine the city thriving thousands of years ago. Crazy too how much is preserved. We couldn’t get in but we will come back and see it some day. But when we do I believe an evening tour would be pretty cool. I think we found a cannoli on the way home and more gelato. Tomorrow is the CRUISE!
Whew! Wow, that took me about 2 hours to write. I hope you found it informative. I did share some snaps as we went on stories, but I will tell you, I really enjoyed taking all this in just the four of us. If I didn’t cover anything let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. I can’t say enough about Judy for lining all this up. Everything went as planned and so seamless. It really was a fabulous week! Other than that, I’m going to get writing all about the cruise portion next.