We walk out of the train station with sleep in our eyes still trying to figure out what exactly just happened on the overnight train… and then BOOM we are met with the blue skies and winding canals of Venice, and suddenly we are bright eyed and bushy tailed. I mean cmonnnnn how beautiful is this place???
From the train station we took a water bus to Rialto, the central part of Venice. You can buy one way tickets which I would recommend doing because walking is the best way to get around once you get in the thick of things. Once you’re there, just start walking. One of the best things to do in Venice is to just get lost in the canals. It is nearly impossible to follow directions around Venice through the narrow and winding pathways, so there’s nothing directionally wrong with you when you end up getting lost, even if you are the world’s most experienced Google Maps user. It’ll happen so just embrace it. You know what they say, “not all who wander are lost” (Quite possible the only scenario when it is acceptable to use the world’s cheesiest quote).
As you’re walking, and trying to figure out where exactly you are, take a second to watch the canals. You will see gondola rides passing through, some looking like they’re fit for a King and Queen. You too can be paddled around for a half hour, at the price of 80 euro. Which is why we chose to live vicariously through the people we were watching.
Through your wandering you will eventually come to St. Mark’s Basilica in St. Mark’s square. Built in 1063 after burning down twice, it is known as one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture. If you want to tour the inside, book it online in advance to skip the lines, and make sure your knees an shoulders are covered!
Since directions are so difficult in Venice, instead of recommending specific restaurants, I’ll stick with specific foods, that are easily found most anywhere you go!
Espresso- It is fairly uncommon in Italy for people to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. Instead, you will see herds of people walk up to the counters of cafes, throw back a shot of espresso and get on with their day. Efficiency.
Pizza– Italy. Nuff said.
Gelato- you literally can’t go wrong with gelato. You will see it everywhere you walk, I definitely had it twice a day both days we were here and never tasted a gelato I didn’t like. The hardest decision with the gelato is if you want to go the chocolate route or the fruit route. I would recommend both 🙂
Seafood– since Venice is an island, seafood is their gig! I set out determined to get some sort of seafood while I was here, so for dinner I found a pasta with mussels. BEST OF BOTH ITALIAN WORLDS.
Venice is definitely a tourist’s town and most of the people you will see in Venice, chances are they aren’t locals. That being said, it’s not the absolute most authentic Italian experience you can have, but it is such a unique and stunning city that I would say it is worth the stop! I would recommend staying here for 1-2 days at the max and then carry on with your travels. And that is precisely what we did! From Venice we took a bus to Florence. Tip: when figuring out the best mode of transportation to get from point A to point B, Rome2Rio is an awesome site that will give you all the possible options.
When we first got to Florence you could tell right away that the vibe was totally different than Venice, being more of a metropolitan city yet still with a ton of Italian charm. I loveee that it has both the city component and the nature component in the river and greenery.
In Florence we had a fairly long list of things to do and to see, which was fairly contrasted to Venice where a lot of wandering around was done, making the two cities a good compliment to one another! One of the first things on that list was the Duomo, something that you cannot miss, visually and literally.
It is a stunning and massive church in the middle of the city. There is always a ton of people waiting to get in so I would recommend going in the morning right when it opens at 10am to beat the crowds. You can go in fo free (cha-ching) to see the main area of the church. At the top of the Duomo there is a bell tower that you can walk up to the top and see a great view of the city- it is usually booked several days in advance so be sure to book your hike to the top in advance. We didn’t know that #rookies, so we missed out on that one. So when you go, let me know how it is 😉
One of the very best parts of this trip was the Italian cooking class I took. It was seriously a real life dream come true and one of my favorite things I have ever done!! I booked this class through Florencetown, and they had several other classes and I wish I would have had time to do them all! Our class started with a tour of the central market where we got our fresh meat and produce ingredients to turn into Italian food deliciousness in the class.
In the class we learned how to make a Bolognese sauce, pasta, ravioli and tiramisu. It’s amazing the craft and skill that goes into making a pasta- something that we turn to for a quick and easy meal when we don’t have time to make anything else. Not the Italians. They find the perfect flour (00 flour) to be mixed and kneaded together with egg. Their hands being their main tool, evaluating the consistency and firmness of the dough to know when exactly enough flour is enough.
Only to be followed by an intricate folding and cutting process to create the noodle structure. Not only is it the culinary skill that makes authentic Italian food so beyond, it’s the ingredients they use and the history of the food. Specific areas of the country specialize in creating a specific item- for instance, you can only make true parmesan cheese in Parma Italy, and true balsamic vinegar in Modena Italy. This replicates the standard of excellence of the ingredients, making the food taste the same each and every time you create it.
The Italians take pride in their food, in the legacy that it holds and the story that it tells. It’s no wonder they savor their food, taking hours to enjoy a meal. Because in a way, their food is their own work of art. And just as an art museum should not be rushed through, neither should a meal.
AND TODAY IS YOUR LUCKY DAY, this is the real deal bolognese recipe they gave me during the class. Tuck it away to make for your family, take a few hours to emjoy dinner, and invest in your loved ones. The true Italian way.
Ingredients: ½ c EVOO, 1 medium red onion, 1 carrot, 1 stick of celery, 1.5 lb fresh ground beef, 1 c red Chianti wine, 1.5 c hot water, ¾ c tomato paste, 2 tsp salt
Directions: Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Heat the oil in a large steel fry pan, on high heat, and then add the onion, carrot and celery. Saute for five minutes. Add the beef to the fry pan, separate using a fork and brown for 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce, on high heat, until it has evaporated. Add the tomato paste, hot water and salt, and stir well to ensure the sauce is well combined. Reduce the pan to low-medium heat, and leave to simmer for 40 minutes, and serve.
Speaking of food….One of the best places we ate at was All’Antico Vinaio– if you are ever in Florence, put this on your MUST EAT list for lunch. Located a block away from the Uffizi museum, you will see two lines on either side of the street, and you will know you have arrived. The line goes super quick and is way beyond worth the wait. The menu is written on a board on the door going inside, word to the wise: read it quick and don’t dilly dally figuring out what you want because once you get inside, the men behind the counter demand your order pronto. For 5 euro you will get a huge crispy, delectable sandwich full of Italian cheeses and meat if you choose. They are definitely big enough to share, but no judgement if you finish one by yourself like ya girl did…..
Ponte Vecchio is another main attraction that would be hard to miss. It is the main bridge of Florence full of jewelers and vendors, and is yet another place to steal a stunna view of this beauteous city.
Located across the bridge across the river is Piazzale Michelangelo- a lookout point of the entire city. From the top you can see Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the church of Santa Croce and the Palazazo Vecchio. If you can, try and go a little bit before sunset and just watch the beauty unfold.
But I swear Florence is more than just a pretty face! It is the home to the Uffizi and the Academia museums. Recognizable pieces in each are paintings from Leonardo da Vinci in the Uffizi, and the David by Michelangelo in Academia. We chose to go through the Uffizi- I’m a one and done type of museum person, so that was enough for me. If you do it in full, this museum can take up to 6 hours to go through! So be prepared to potentially dedicate a large chunk of your day to the museum if you intend to do it in full. When buying tickets online for these museums, make sure you don’t do it through a 3rd party vendor, we made that mistake and paid a little extra for our tickets. Yet another #rookiemistake.
And finallyyyy, last but DEFINITELY not least, GELATO. We went to a bunch of Gelateria’s, but these two stick out as MVP’s of the gelato scene:
Edoardo’s gelato: right by the Duomo and super authentic. The whole trip I had gotten chocolatey flavors, but here I opted for the lavender and strawberry and oh my gawwwwwsh it was unreal!
La Cerraia: right on the other side of the river. The dark chocolate couldn’t have been darker or more delicious and I may or may not be salivating just thinking about it.
I was truly so sad to leave Italy, it felt like my homeland with pizza, pasta, gelato and the flow of red wine at every turn. Not to mention being with family! A trip that I will cherish for many reasons, making me all the more thankful that I have the opportunity to see a piece of the beauty that God has created. For another opportunity to learn that different isn’t synonymous with wrong. And a chance to simply go and do. Simply put, Italy, I adore you.
Have you been to Venice or Florence? What were your favorite parts??