June 23. It has been exactly one year since our best friends’ wedding in Italy (Happy Anniversary, J&R!) Oy, so why has it taken me so long to write this post?! Yes we’ve been busy – but moreso, the task of trying to capture our experience through a few words and photos was daunting. People often ask what my favorite destination was while we were in Asia. My immediate response? ITALY. Don’t get me wrong – I may be Asia’s #1 Fan to this day, but Italy is one of the rare places that deserves every single bit of the hype it gets.
The wedding itself was a 3-day event in Tuscany, but anxious to take in as much as we could during our ten day hiatus from HK, we plotted out our journey: One night in Florence, a train ride to Certaldo to be picked up by the bride and groom themselves (I know, what service!) and taken to our villa in Gambassi Terme (Tuscany), three days of wedding festivities, an afternoon in San Gimignano, back to Florence for one more night, then hop on the train to Rome to meet the newlyweds (you read that right… we did crash PART of the honeymoon) before heading back home.
Each city was completely different yet rivaled the next, and in the end neither Jake nor I could declare a favorite. I WILL say we completely underrated Florence while planning. What we considered a stopover city became one of the most memorable destinations of the trip. The beauty is that its walkable – set off wandering and you’ll feel like you have a good grasp on its sites, its culture and its charm within a day or two.
And by sites, charm and culture – I mean endless outdoor cafes lining cobblestone streets and serving up full bottles of prosecco. Sun, free-flowing bubbly, and a cheese platter the size of Jake’s head… what more could a girl ask for out of her lunch?! Somewhere to walk it off. This’ll do…
We quickly realized that there was one part of Florence that’s inescapable. It’s always there – looming, peeking out from behind other buildings, residing in the distance…
THE DUOMO. A beacon not only for the Catholic Church, but also for visitors who are prone to getting lost.
Did I mention how beautiful the Italians are?! (As evidenced by that guy’s portrait). Their good looks are no well-kept secret, but coming from the streets of HK… I’ll just say, what a contrast!
We kept walking long enough to cross the bridge and head to the other side of the city, which was a little more quiet and after a short climb, afforded us a pretty spectacular view. (Of the Duomo no less.)
And with that, it was time to say arrivederci to Florence. ON TO THE MAIN EVENT!
I have a confession. I did a shoddy, shoddy job of taking my own photos during the wedding (I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – who has time to be worrying about snapping pics when you’re having that good a time?!). I’ll steal one of the photog Jody’s lovely shots because this post would not be complete without it. (And PS – if you want to get a real sense of how incredibly gorgeous the day was, check out Jody’s post.)
Miss them every day.
We had a few towns to explore in and around Tuscany before we departed, San Gimignano being top priority. A medieval walled city dating back to the 13th century and overlooking the Tuscan landscape, I had imagined San G to be a picturesque, yet more or less sleepy little town with the makings of a good history lesson on the Middle Ages. Picturesque it was with its squares, stone streets, tiny houses and palaces, wells and fountains…. but sleepy – definitely not. It was far less crowded and much more quaint than Florence, but with so many incredibly unique small shops, outdoor cafes, and fine people watching, it was hard to pull ourselves away at the end of the day.
As if anyone needs one more reason to go to Italy, here it is: GELATO. There’s no such thing as having enough of the stuff. Just be prepared to be thoroughly disappointed by regular old ice cream when you get back to reality.
Second nearby town on the list. That’s Volterra…. no vampires in sight.
And last… Certaldo. Or more specifically, Certado Alto, the walled portion of the city located high up on a hill and accessible via funicular. (A small tram that gets you to the top within 2 minutes. It’s the lazy person’s alternative to walking up hundreds of steps… but hey, we were in a hurry.) This portion turned out to be what I had expected of San Gimignano – beautiful with stunning views, but eerily quiet and walkable in 20 minutes flat. Which luckily, was all we had before our train departed for Florence.
Beats grabbing a coffee to kill time, no?!
One more night in Florence before boarding our last train to Rome to meet the newlyweds and other friends in the party.
Rome. Where to even begin on this one? It’s a must see city, no question. Its sites, history, culture and diversity did not disappoint. Unlike the other places in Italy we had been thus far, Rome felt like an actual city. It was expansive, and the feel of one district could be completely different to that of the next. There was a lot to take in, and at the end of four days there, I still feel like we just scratched the surface.
Trevi Fountain. Just like Vegas! Kidding… although it did look pretty surreal after having seen its twin so many times outside Caesar’s. The area near the fountain was one of my favorites, and coincidentally, where our B&B was located. Narrow, charming streets with an unbelievable amount of outdoor cafes (pretty obvious I’m a real sucker for those eh?)… definitely the place the stay.
Our first full day in Rome was dedicated to the Vatican. The lines to get in can be rough, so we arrived early and only had to wait about an hour to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. It may seem obvious (at least to anyone but me) that you need to dress VERY conservatively to get inside. Nothing an embarrassing encounter with the guards and being forced to wear my scarf around my legs the whole time didn’t teach me. Next time….. I’ll be prepared.
Scooting along in my makeshift skirt was well worth it. Do not do Rome without seeing the Vatican! It’s so much more breathtaking than my piddly pics could even attempt to capture. For the full experience, you can go beyond the basilica and do guided tours of the Sistine Chapel, the gardens and the museums. (Which we did, just no winners among my photos.)
After checking off the Vatican, we were a little more inclined to toss away the to-do lists and just go with the flow. Or the flowing prosecco… Case in point – the Colesseum. Very cool place. Spent an hour (tops) circling it, and the next four at a nearby happy hour we happened to stumble upon on our way to the next site.
Ruins at the Forum. (I think. Is it bad I had to Google what this place is?!) Glad I did though… I can now say with confidence we actually did hit most of the major sites of Rome, just not intentionally.
Bike racing to cap off this stupendous adventure… you can be sure we’ll be back. <3