If you haven’t read my first post about our travels in Paris you can find it here. After spending forever writing that one, I’ve decided to just cram everything else into one more so I can get back to regular posting, and to hopefully to limit my rambling as well.
After having an amazing time in Paris we were scheduled to fly to Rome, unfortunately the morning we were leaving Zack and I woke up within hours of one another with a horrible stomach bug. We seriously contemplated staying in Paris, but with only three nights in Rome we knew we had to force ourselves to get to the airport. It was truly one of the worst mornings of my life, I was so nauseated and delirious that I really don’t remember how we even made it through security. I’ve never flown while sick, and hopefully will never have to again. Highlight of the trip: me throwing up in a barf bag on the plane. Seriously. I never in a million years thought I’d be that person, but it was either throwing Zack’s coat over my head and trying to puke as discreetly as possible, or risk crawling over him and this sweet little old Italian lady and possibly having it all come up on them instead. Somehow we made it to Hotel Artemide in Rome, and went straight to bed. Fortunately we had nothing planned for the day we got in, so I guess if there was any day to be sick, that was it.
We awoke the next morning feeling quite a bit better for our tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. Just as with Versailles, I highly recommend doing a guided tour. Especially with the Forum and Palatine Hill I think a guide is helpful, it’s basically a ton of excavated ruins and if we didn’t have somebody telling us everything we were looking at I don’t think it would have been nearly as impressive to us as it was. This is the tour we did. After our tours we wandered around Rome to see all the other sights (Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, etc) on our own. Rome really is a great city for walking, and the weather was beautiful. Actually, the weather was beautiful for us our entire trip with not a day of rain, we were extremely lucky! That night we ate at what would be our favorite restaurant while in Rome: Osteria Barberini. If you love truffles like I do, then this place is like heaven. Reservations are necessary!
Visiting Vatican city was definitely my favorite part of our stay in Rome. Again, we had a guided tour (link here), which was excellent. Our guide was actually from Savannah, Georgia, although she’s lived in Rome for 15 years. She was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about everything we saw, so much so that she ended up spending an hour longer with us than what was planned! The Vatican museums are amazing, one of the highlight for me was seeing “School Of Athens”, which has always been a favorite of mine throughout art history classes. Really though, all of it was spectacular, and like I said before: pictures just don’t do any of it justice. You must go and see for yourself. Our tour also included the Vatacombs which Zack and I both loved, and led us right up to St. Peters Basilica. Coming up the stairs out of the vatacombs right underneath the dome is awe inducing. We literally just stared in amazement at the grandeur that surrounded us. Our guide told us anything that looks gold in the Vatican, is gold. I just can’t even put into words how magnificent it is. And one of the coolest parts about being at the Vatican while we were is that Pope Francis has declared this year a jubilee of mercy and opened the holy doors, which we were able to walk through. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
After Rome, we were headed to Florence, sadly for only one night. This whole trip came into existence due to the annual “boys ski trip” we go on which was happening in Europe this year. For years my Dad and a few other guys he’s known through work have taken their kids skiing together. It started off as a guy trip, that I insisted being brought on many years ago since I happened to be the only daughter and thought it wasn’t fair. I’ve obviously been welcome ever since my defiance, and proving that I can keep up with the guys. Anyhow the plan was to drive to Lago Di Garda to meet my Dad and brothers for a few nights prior to meeting the rest of the group for skiing. Florence was about halfway, so we decided to spend one night there on the way.
Little did I realize that Florence would capture my heart just the way Paris did. It’s an absolutely beautiful city, and the people were all so wonderful. We stayed at the Portrait Firenze and ended up being upgraded to one of their suites. It was truly torture only being able to spend one night there, because this was honestly the most beautiful hotel room and my favorite hotel I have ever stayed in. The room itself was featured in architectural digest and was huge, especially by European standards. The decor was impeccable, with a living and dining area, two bathrooms, foyer, generous bedroom, and a walk-in closet! Mark my words, I will return. Oh and that first photo of the Ponte Vecchio? That was the view from our room. Like many other rooms and tours we booked for this trip, we did it through our points with our Chase Sapphire card. If you don’t have one, sign up!
With only a short amount of time in Florence we visited the Duomo at the Cathedral of Santa Maria, went to Accademia to see David, ate some gelato, and of course did some more shopping! Just as with the Mona Lisa, seeing David in person was so much more thrilling than I had anticipated. Michaelangelo’s unfinished prisoners show you what a work of art David really is, and while Renaissance art always bored me in school…I quickly developed a true appreciation for it seeing it in person. I talked in my Paris post a bit about how shopping in Europe can actually save you a ton of money. So my mission while in Florence was for my mom and old family friend Lynn who’s like a big sister to me, I told them I’d pick each of them up a Louis Vuitton bag. I know I had just gone shopping in Paris, but it was sooo hard to not get myself one too! They each got a big Neverfull for under $1000! If you’re familiar with LV, you know what a freaking steal this is. Even though they weren’t for me, it was still fun doing some more shopping, as you can see from my big grin above!
Since we only had one night in Florence we wanted to do a really good dinner. The concierge at our hotel recommended Buca Mario, which was hands down one of the best meals we had in Europe. The portions are massive and the prices were actually very reasonable I thought. Apparently Florence is known for their bistecca fiorentina, specifically the t-bone steak, so Zack was instructed that he must order one. It was the biggest damn steak I have ever seen in my life. The little old German couple at the table next to us watched in both awe and amusement as Zack work his way through the entire thing – which apparently was delicious, as was everything else we ate there. There is no doubt in my mind that we will return to Firenze, it was quickly one of my most favorite cities I’ve ever been to.
Like I said earlier, after Florence we were on our way to meet my dad and brothers in Lake Garda. Most everyone is familiar with Lake Como, but apparently my dad prefers Lago Di Garda, which is the largest lake in Italy. After traveling for a week with non-stop plans everyday, this was a great break before skiing. The lake is obviously sleepy in early March, so we stayed at LeFay resort which is up the longest windiest road tucked high up into the mountains. I expected Lefay would be dead, but it was actually very busy. I think a lot of people go here during the off season for a quick little spa getaway, and I could see why. The views and resort itself are beautiful, and the spa is amazing. Breakfast was included every morning, and it was an amaaazing spread. We were there over my birthday, and ate dinner at their nicer restaurant that evening, La Grande Limonaia, which was also excellent.
We ended up driving around the entire lake exploring. While Gargnano, where Lefay is, was very quiet, Sirmione and the east side of the lake was a bit more lively for this time of year. The picture above is of Scaliger castle which is in Sirmione. Above that is of Zack and I exploring Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, which was a very beautiful, interesting place. It’s the estate of famous poet/writer/WWI soldier Gabriele D’annuzio. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the estate really is worth a visit. It’s as eccentric as D’annuzio was, with his home, an amphitheater, mausoleum, a giant old ship resting in the mountainside, and beautiful gardens to explore. Lake Garda itself is worth visiting, it’s one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever been to. The water is strikingly clear and blue, and just as with the rest of Europe, there is history everywhere. I think one day we’ll go back in the summer to actually enjoy the water, although my Dad tells me that of course it becomes extremely busy!
After Lago Di Garda we drove to Cortina to meet up with the rest of the group to ski. We had actually initially planned to ski in Austria, but with it being their ski week we couldn’t find anywhere with enough room for all of us. So we ended up in Cortina D’Ampezzo. We’ve been all over to ski areas in the United States and Canada, but I’ve never skied in Europe before. I can only speak of the areas we were in, but it was a lot more work than it is here in North America! We ended up loving a ski area that was about a 45 minute drive away, where we skied the Sellaronda, which is a circular scenic ski route through the dolomites. The skiing wasn’t hard, but taking your boots off and having to hike through a town to the next lift on several occasions was a different experience, and a work out. It was a lot of fun, and the Dolomites are the most dramatic, scenic mountains I’ve ever seen. Everywhere you looked was a photo-op. Of course, skiing with a bunch of guys it’s a race to the bottom so we were lucky to get any photos at all! My favorite part? Skiing the “James Bond run”, which is the same ski run Bond is on during the chase scene in “For Your Eyes Only”.
Even if you aren’t into winter sports, the beautiful Dolomites are worth a visit in winter or in summer for some hiking. In downtown Cortina there is the best little wine shop, called Enoteca, with a delicious pizzeria next door called Porto Rotondo. Seriously, some of the most amazing carbs I’ve ever had, and perfect after a long day of skiing. Our favorite dinner spot was Ristorante Ospitale, which is at the end of a windy road outside of Cortina. One of the top five meals we had in Europe.
After skiing we all drove to Munich, which is where we were flying home from. We only had a day to explore, but since my Dad travels there often for work he acted as tour guide and showed us some of his favorite spots. The only picture we really got was of the Glockenspiel (above), because we were too busy trying to take it all in with the short amount of time we had. We stayed at the Kempinski hotel, which was really nice and in a great location. We also managed to fit in two meals, one was at this Italian restaurant called Guido Al Duomo that my dad always visits while in town. As if we hadn’t had enough Italian, but the food was great and the bottle of wine the owners son helped us pick out was excellent. For dinner we reserved a table for our big group at Zum Franziskaner for some real Bavarian food, it was good stuff. We all drank those huge German style beers, and felt pretty happy about life on our final night in Europe.
That concludes our recent travels, it was an amazing trip, and we both agree we’ll be returning sooner rather than later!