Adventures in Italy: Week Four

DAY 22

Today began with a brunch date with my friend Maggie who had been studying abroad in Florence all summer! Maggie and I met at Camp Tecumseh many years ago and she has always been one of my closest friends. She’s someone that no matter how long we have been apart we can just pick right back up where we left off which made today so fun to catch up. She ate the biggest calzone of her LIFE and we had a blast getting to talk about our experiences in Italy so far. After brunch, I went with her to pick up her family from the train station! It was so sweet to get to see them reunite.

After we went our separate ways, I headed to the Uffizi Gallery to walk through the art exhibits there. To be quite honest, I really am not the biggest fan of art museums but I figured that while I’m here I might as well check out the most popular one in Florence. It really was so beautiful and there was something very peaceful about walking through the exhibit by myself and just trying to appreciate everything on display. The gallery was HUGE and there was no way I was going to make it through the whole thing but it really was interesting to walk through parts of it.

Afterwards I wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and had heard amazing things about Pino’s Sandwiches. As soon as I walked in I was welcomed by Pino himself— the sweetest Italian man who was more than excited to help me decide on what sandwich I wanted. He is super popular with study abroad students and hangs a bunch of college flags up in his shop. The food was fantastic and I would definitely eat here again. So yummy and so affordable!

The rest of the day was full of little adventures based on recommendations I had received from friends who had been to Florence before. Since I was by myself for the day, I had no plan or place I had to be so I got to do lots of fun things. I went to The Leather School and got to see how many of the leather artisans are trained and how they create everything from bags, shoes, belts, and more. After that I got gelato at Gelateria de Neri and coincidentally stumbled into a shop nearby that was ALL GLUTEN FREE. I finally got some gluten free foccacia and snacked on that throughout the day! Afterwards I went to Clet Abraham’s store where he sells copies and prints of his artwork. This artist does creative graffiti all throughout Florence on street signs and it’s super recognizable wherever you go. I didn’t buy anything but it was super cool to see!

I spent the rest of the night sitting in the piazza close to my hotel and listening to the street performer who was singing there. It wasn’t long until I noticed that the singer’s wife was sitting off to the side, listening and admiring all of the people gathered there to watch her husband perform. I don’t know what about that was so beautiful to me exactly but it was one of my favorite moments of this trip.

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Out of nowhere I heard someone yell “Julia!” and was so confused until I realized it was Maggie and her family! They were so sweet and invited me to join them for dinner and then we headed to the rooftop of Hotel Cavour for the most beautiful sunset views ever. I had so much fun with the Murin fam!

DAY 23

Today was yet another day in Florence to explore by myself! I am usually such an extroverted person that I am not a fan of alone time but these few days in Florence have taught me so much and truly given me a deeper appreciation for alone time and the things that I can gain from it. Since today was Sunday I began my day by attending mass at the Duomo and it was truly one of the most incredible services of my life! I have such a deep appreciation for my Catholic upbringing and loved that I could understand what was going on in this mass even though it was all in Italian. That was definitely an experience I will never forget. After mass, I got brunch at La Menagere and the vegan pancakes (and iced coffee for the first time in forever) were incredible!!!

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After brunch I headed back toward the Duomo to get Eduardo’s Gelato— it’s claim to fame is being Beyonce’s favorite! They even had gluten free cones which completely made my day. I’m gonna have to agree with B on this one, this is some of the best gelato I’ve had yet in Italy.

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After gelato, I made my way over to the Boboli Gardens. I wasn’t really sure what to expect here but it completely blew my expectations away. While the gardens themselves weren’t what amazed me, the views were truly breathtaking. There were people there just laying in the grass and admiring the view that overlooked the city. I sat for a minute and played worship music and just reflected on the incredible trip I’d been on so far + God’s goodness through it all. While this wasn’t initially what I saw my summer looking like, Jesus always knows best and knew I needed this experience to grow and change and deepen my faith. I am so thankful for this time and these views. I loved this day!!!

After spending a few hours wandering through the gardens, I got pizza at Mister Pizza yet again (it was that good) and then wandered around for a little bit before heading back to my hotel and getting some much needed rest.

DAY 24

Today was pretty uneventful as I spent the majority of the day traveling to Rome! I woke up fairly early to catch the train and once I arrived in Rome and got to my hotel I got settled and went to explore and find somewhere to eat for lunch! I had the most amazing pasta (with a view of the Coliseum) and wandered around a bit before I went back to the hotel to rest up for the fam arriving the next day. I ordered room service for dinner and watched Gossip Girl to end the day!

DAY 25

Today is the day my family finally got to join me! I woke up early and walked around to find some coffee before they arrived and saw the sweetest couple taking wedding photos by the Coliseum— can you spot them in this photo?

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Once the fam arrived they were hungry (and jet-lagged…) so we headed to the restaurant I ate at the previous night for a guaranteed good meal. It was so good to have them here and to able to begin to catch up on my adventures from the last three weeks and all that they had been up to at home.

After eating we headed to the Orange Gardens and the view was incredible!!! I love getting to share this experience with my fam.

Afterwards we wandered through Trastavere. This is a more artsy part of Rome and it was cool to see lots of different little shops and restaurants. We had an early dinner here and then headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime before tomorrow’s early morning/big day since everyone was so jet-lagged and hadn’t slept in so long.

DAY 26

Today started bright and early with a tour of the Roman Forum and Coliseum. Our tour guide was SO knowledgeable and reminded me so much of a college professor in the way he presented all of the information. It was crazy to see these ruins and imagine just how long ago this place was bustling with people and activity. I feel like I learned so much in just a 3 hour long tour.

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After the tour we were super hungry so we headed to Osteria da Fortunata for lunch! They didn't have any gluten free pasta options but the tomato and mozzarella salad was incredible! Afterwards we wandered around a little bit and explored more of what Rome had to offer.

Giolitti had been recommended to us as one of the best gelato places in Rome and it definitely did not disappoint. Even though the lines were super long it was worth the wait!

Next we went to the Trevi Fountain! I feel like ever since I saw the Lizzie McGuire Movie when I was little I had been dreaming of coming to Rome and making a wish in the Trevi Fountain. Cue “Hey Now!”. All of our Lizzie McGuire dreams came true today.

Next up we went and saw the Spanish Steps and then wandered around Rome some more. We stumbled upon a piazza where there was a man creating these G I G A N T IC bubbles and we stopped and watched for so long. So many little kids (and myself...) were enamored by them and it brought me so much joy just watching the smiles on all of their faces. It’s crazy how something as simple as bubbles can bring so much joy to people. This was one of my favorite parts of our day.

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We walked around the Villa Borghese before heading to dinner at Pizza in Trevi where we had the best waiter ever! He was so friendly and joked around with us the entire night. Not to mention, there were so many gluten free options here and they went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of— including gluten free bread as an appetizer!

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We ended the night with gelato and one more family picture (and selfie) in front of the Trevi Fountain. Today was SUCH a busy day but truly so so so much fun!

DAY 27

We started off today by heading to the Scala Santa. My friend, Grace, who had studied abroad in Rome told me that this was one of her favorite things she did while in the city. These 28 stairs are the stairs that Jesus climbed on his way to be persecuted by Pontius Pilate. They were moved to Rome in the fourth century by Saint Helena. Unfortunately while we were there they were in the process of re-covering the actual stairs after they had just been opened for the first time in over 300 years so we climbed a different set of stairs. Regardless, this was such a spiritual experience that I cannot even put into words. To imagine what Jesus was feeling and thinking as He climbed these stairs and the sacrifice He made was so emotional to me. What a great God we serve— that He took the weight of my sins and washed me clean. This was the best way to start the day. Before leaving we actually got to see the staircase and it was incredible.

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After the Scala Santa we headed to Vatican City for a tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica. The tour guide was super knowledgeable and I loved getting to learn about the history and artistry behind this aspect of the Catholic faith. Not to mention everything was just so ornate and beautiful. It was almost so incredible that things began to lose their grandeur because it was ALL just so unbelievable. We couldn’t take photos in the Sistine Chapel but I’ll include pictures from the rest of the tour below!!

After the tour was over we got some gelato and then headed back to the hotel for a relaxing last night in Rome. How cute are my parents?!

DAY 28

Today was our first day in Florence! After having been here and able to explore by myself for a few days, I was so excited to share it with my family. After taking the train from Rome and checking into our hotel, we got lunch at Mister Pizza right by the Duomo. This is the best gluten free pizza I’ve ever had!!!

After lunch we did some shopping and walked around before heading to our tour of The David! After having studied this piece of art in school and it always being discussed, it was amazing to see it in person. The tour guide gave us so many fun facts about the piece and about Michelangelo as well.

After the tour we got some gelato (in gluten free cones!!!) and did even more shopping and sightseeing. The leather markets in Florence are incredible and I had my eye on a purse that I finally bought!

For dinner I took the fam back to Pino’s Sandwiches and they loved it too! We stopped by a pub called The Lion’s Fountain that has college shirts lining the ceiling and we each found our school. This was a super neat place and fun to see! Afterwards we finished the evening with MORE gelato.

DAY 28

Today was one of the days I had been most excited about during this whole trip. We took a private day tour throughout Tuscany! I had always dreamed of visiting Tuscany and to be here with my family was beyond exciting. The day began in Sienna where we walked around and explored for a couple hours. The town was so cute and quaint and I loved going in and out all of the little pottery shops.

After Sienna we stopped in Monteriggioni which was possibly the smallest little town ever! We climbed up to the wall surrounding the town and the views were INCREDIBLE. It was the perfect spot to stop and feel like I could see all of Tuscany from here.

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After Monteriggioni we headed to San Gimignano for a tour, lunch, and wine tasting at Palagetto Vineyards. The food was unbelievable and it was so cool to learn and see how they make their wine. Everything is grown at their vineyards and then made right there on site. This was hands down one of the best parts of the trip and felt like such an authentic Italian experience!

After leaving the vineyard we headed into the town of San Gimignano for a bit to explore. Again, the views were unbelievable and it was so fun to walk around and see what this part of Tuscany had to offer. All day, my mom had been on the hunt for a pottery set of oil and vinegar bottles but kept proclaiming that none of them had “spoken” to her yet. The rest of us kept rolling our eyes and joking with her that she would never find the perfect one and that she just needed to buy one before we had to leave. While in San Gimignano we wandered into yet another pottery shop and were greeted by the sweetest old Italian man. He didn’t speak any English but we were able to communicate through the little bits of Italian I had picked up during my month here. He was so enthused that we were in his shop looking at all of his work and to see how proud of it he was made my day. He called us “tutto familia” meaning “all family” and my mom finally found a pottery set that she loved. Had she bought one earlier we never would have met Bruno Corsini which was truly the cherry on top of our perfect day in Tuscany. He even gave my mom a bottle of wine to take home and gave us all big hugs before we left. I love this place and it’s people so so so much.

Our last stop before heading back to Florence was the Leaning Tower of Pisa!! It leans SO much more in person than in pictures and it was absolutely hilarious to walk around and see all of the tourists posing in funny ways with it. We, of course, had to be those tourists as well and it resulted in some pretty hilarious shots.

Once back in Florence we went to the Central Market and got to tour all the different restaurants who do business there! It was so cool to hear about how it all came to be and how chefs traveled from all over Europe to have a spot here. We had some amazing cheeseburgers to end the best day!

DAY 29

Today we headed to Sorrento! After having been in Rome and Florence everyone was so excited to see the coast. We had a blast walking around and exploring— this really is the cutest town!

Sorrento is known for their pizza and so to no surprise, I had some of the best gluten free pizza here!

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After walking around and exploring some more, we headed back to the hotel and watched the sunset from the rooftop. It was absolutely breathtaking!

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DAY 30

Today was hands down my favorite day from my entire time in Italy. We took a boat tour down the Amalfi Coast and it was truly unbelievable. Most of this vacation hasn't been super relaxing but more sightseeing and exploring so it was awesome to just have a day to relax on the boat and see the coast.

We stopped in Positano for a couple hours and I instantly fell in love with this little town. While there are SO MANY stairs, that didn’t stop us from exploring and seeing all that Positano had to offer! From the little shops to incredible restaurants tucked back into the city, I couldn’t have loved it more. This seemed like the perfect sort of romantic getaway and I definitely plan on coming back here in the future. We had brunch at a little cafe with an awesome view and then explored the beach a little before it was time to get back on the boat!

Next we visited Amalfi! While Positano was my favorite, it was still so fun to explore this town. We bought touristy sweatshirts, ate gelato, and walked through the shops there.

To finish out our time on the boat, the captain brought us to a little cove and we got to swim! The water is super salty here but it’s also so clear and fun to swim in. We swam for about 45 minutes before getting on the boat and heading back to Sorrento!

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After arriving back in Sorrento we had dinner at Taverna Azzurra along the coast and the food was incredible! I got the salmon pasta and it seriously hit the spot. This was definitely one of the best days ever and we were all so sad to only have one more day in Italy!

DAY 32

After leaving Sorrento we stopped in Pompeii on our way to the train station in Naples. I had always been interested in Pompeii and learning more about the history so doing a tour here was so exciting. We got to go through the remains of the homes and buildings that were left and it was incredible to see the murals and things that had been preserved by the volcanic ash. The tour guide explained that if the volcano had erupted in lava, everything would have been destroyed but because of the volcanic ash, it basically just encased the entire city and preserved it as it was when the volcano erupted. I loved the tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum but this was definitely my favorite historical thing we did. I feel like I learned and saw so much.

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After the tour of Pompeii we headed to the train station, ate lunch, and headed back to Rome! We had one more nice dinner and of course gelato before packing up to leave the next morning. It was so bittersweet but we reflected on all the memories made and experiences we’ve had these past 10 days. I am so incredibly thankful for my family and this incredible trip. Until next time, Italy!

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If you’re interested in seeing more of our trip, check out the two Youtube videos I made below!

Julia DeWolfComment