Venice

February 9, 2018 – February 11, 2018

Because we’ve never been to the real Mardi Gras in New Orleans, once again we decided to do the European version and partake in Carnival (last year was Nice). Luckily Tyler’s first weekend not working in 2018 (ugh, busy season) happened to coincide with the Venice carnival. We couldn’t take off work on Friday though, so we had to catch the late flight from Schiphol. Our dear friend EasyJet delayed us, per usual, and we didn’t get to Venice until around 1am, which is exactly when the water taxis quit running. It was an adventure to get to our hotel, but we did it.

fullsizeoutput_2bd6

Because of our late arrival, Saturday morning did not start off nearly as swiftly as planned, but we did manage to catch the 11am free walking tour to try to check off all the big sights. Although the tour skipped the main attractions (i.e. San Marco Square, Saint Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge, etc), it did cover a lot of the neighborhoods outside of the center that also had beautiful churches, canals, and houses. As a bonus, she led us through the less touristy and crowded parts and I fell in love with Venice.

IMG_0277

IMG_0392

During the walking tour, we encountered our first glimpses of the ornately dressed patrons partaking in the Carnival celebrations.

IMG_0273

IMG_0282

We also saw some churches.

IMG_2307

IMG_0291

And some more canals.

IMG_0281

fullsizeoutput_2bdb

IMG_2310

We learned some interesting facts about Venice. The list below shows the code words (aka Italian) for different streets:

Ramo – dead end
Corte – courtyard
Calle – street
Campo – square
Sotoportego – street through a building
Ghetto – originally a Venetian word meaning foundry. Venice had the first ghetto in the world for the Jewish population

We saw where the executioner used to live. His house was marked by a big head. His unlucky clients had to walk from San Marco Square to Rialto Bridge while naked and being whipped in the back. Shame.

IMG_0285

Also back in the day they used to bury bodies on the island of Venice, but since it’s all really underwater and consists of hundreds of islands, the bodies would float back up. So they decided to build a giant cemetery across the water. Here is it.

IMG_0289

That’s about all I learned on the tour. Pretty exciting stuff.

IMG_0284

My first priority after we finished the walking tour was to buy a mask so I could fit in. Apparently, the masks allow the wearer to participate in any scandalous activities they deem worthy and a lot of affairs used to happen while masked.

IMG_0316

Post masks, we visited the places that the tour hadn’t covered. The really freaking crowded places. We had to push through mobs of people just to get this picture.

IMG_0321

and this one.

IMG_0318

We then headed to San Marco Square where there was a huge stage and a costume competition going on!

IMG_2314

IMG_2313

The people we saw before were no match for the great costumes we encountered in the square. One of my favorite groups was about 8 gentlemen dressed up as the queen in different colored skirt suits with female Buckingham Palace guards. Hilarious.

IMG_0329

The sun was shining in the square and we were soaking it all up and decided to sit down at one of the cafes and proceeded to order EUR 15 Aperol Sprits… twice.

IMG_0338

But the people watching was great.

IMG_0324

IMG_0326

IMG_0331

IMG_0334

IMG_0343

Tyler even got a picture with his maidens!

IMG_0340

And we saw the cutest fluffiest puppies.

IMG_0344

Then I got pooped on by a bird. And it kind of ruined my mood. Thank goodness for the kind soul beside me who travels with baby wipes and immediately came to my rescue.

We walked back to the hotel so I could change out of my poop shirt and went in search of a gondola to ride. We didn’t have to search very hard because they congregated right outside of our hotel. So we hopped into the boat and ventured into the grand canal.

IMG_0362

Our guide told us the tales of how he’s had Tom Cruise in his boat and showed us where George Clooney had his wedding. He also told us that he liked us because we actually talked to him and didn’t just sit on our phones the whole time.

IMG_0367

That thrilled me and I proceeded to ask him as many questions as possible. Although it is pretty pricy (set by the city at EUR 80 / 30 minutes) this was something I didn’t do the first time I visited the city 8 years ago while studying abroad. Because poor college student. Definitely a once in a lifetime kinda thing.

IMG_0369

IMG_0376

Gondola was followed by dinner. I read a lot of travel blogs to make sure we got a good dinner somewhere not touristy, and while the restaurant was off the beaten path, it really wasn’t that great.

IMG_0395

We finished the night by stumbling upon a street party in the middle of a square with a band and many bars surrounding the square. We also followed this guy who had a loud speaker in a shopping cart blaring music to the Rialto Bridge. We weren’t the only one in his procession and he gathered quite a significant following by the time everyone disbanded.

IMG_0381

IMG_0386

Because we had seen a majority of the things in Venice on our must see list, on Sunday since we had a late flight, we hopped on a boat to the islands of Burano and Murano.

Burano is known for its lace making.

IMG_0408

But more importantly for the super cute brightly colored houses donning its streets. Purple. Magenta. Pink. Yellow. Coral. Another Pink. Blue. Etc.

IMG_0402

There were also some cool canals here as well.

fullsizeoutput_2c0e

IMG_2320

IMG_0406

IMG_0415

We had lunch at a pretty shitty tourist trap. Seriously, don’t go to Venice for the food. But we sat in the sun so I was content.

IMG_2324

After a little more exploring, we decided to hitch a ride to Murano.

IMG_0421

Murano is known for its glass blowing. I still remembered the demonstration I saw 8 years ago the last time I was on the island and I wanted Tyler to have the same fond memory, so we looked up the “Best Glass Blowers in Murano” and went with Veteria Artistica Colleoni.

IMG_0427

We saw the blower blow a glass vase and a glass horse. The glass is so hot afterwards that when the blower put a piece of paper in the vase it immediately went up in flames. I enjoyed the demonstration and as a bonus, we could use the EUR 10 each we paid for the blowing experience towards a glass souvenir of our choice in the store. Tyler chose a shot glass. I went for a cat. Typical.

We walked around Murano for a little bit to see all of the cool glass creations before heading to the airport and back to Amsterdam.

IMG_0424

IMG_2326

It was a great weekend in Venice and it really changed my opinion of the place. Before I was hesitant to recommend the city to travelers, but now I say it’s a must! Just maybe don’t go during the summer months because then it’s kinda hot and crowded.

IMG_0432

Second Honeymoon Part Due

I decided to break this trip up into two posts because I’m way behind on my blogs, and also because I read recently that the attention span of humans has now been surpassed by the attention span of goldfish and I’m pretty certain a goldfish couldn’t have made it much longer on my last post.

Florence

After leaving the beauty of the Amalfi coast, we took a train from Naples to the heat of Florence. Naples was just as I remembered it – a dirty city where I felt that everyone was trying to rob me. We ventured from the train station to look for something to eat and then decided we were probably better off just staying in the safety of the station. The train ride to Florence was pretty uneventful, we passed through the countryside and I was searching for Castiglion Fiorentino the whole time.

Florence is a city that both Tyler and I had been to previously, but after leaving this time we both decided it’s in our top 3 favorite cities that we have ever been to. I also decided that I am going to name my future cat after one of my favorite cities and singers (currently listening to Dog Days Are Over). I love the architecture, I love the smaller city feel, and I especially love the food and wine. If you are new to my blog, you may not yet know that our favorite way to experience a new city is by eating and drinking our way through it. Florence was no exception.

IMG_1200

Upon our arrival we lugged our bags from the train station to our hotel located near the Duomo. And then we lugged our bags up the 100 steps to actually get into our hotel. I’ll just say the luggage situation in the Italian heat was probably the worst part of the whole trip. Once we were situated and I had the comfort of knowing I wouldn’t have to lug my bags for three whole days, we hit the town.

Since it had been a while (7 years for me, 15ish years for Tyler), we went to see some of the standard attractions, the Ponte Vecchio, the fake David, the Church of Santa Croce, the Duomo, and the gelato. Some friends had recommended Zaza’s for dinner, and we had a great meal there where Tyler got the steak Florentine and I think it was about 5kg!

One of the things I was most excited about on this leg of the trip was our day tour of Chianti vineyards in Tuscany. We had a semi-private tour with just one other couple and our driver/guide. Our first stop was Ruffino, a large winery where we had our first glass of wine at about 10am. Our guide was an experienced sommelier who taught us how to taste the Chiantis using all of our senses. Although I had previously been to Napa, he definitely taught me the appropriate way to taste. We tried about 5 wines here and the pours were generous. Anyway, we ended up buying a few bottles to ship home. And we weren’t just drunk when we bought them because we tried one the other night and it was spectacular.

After leaving Ruffino, we headed through the Tuscan countryside and stopped in the small city of Montefioralle to take some pictures. Also someone famous lived here, but I did not do my travel journal for this part of the trip so my memory has escaped me. [Editor’s note: Tyler informed me that the famous person was in fact Amerigo Vespucci – the man that America is named after.] Cute city though.

Our next stop was Brogiono Maurizio, a very small family owned winery that only produces about 5,000-10,000 bottles a year. The visit basically took place in the winemaker’s home. He showed us the grapes and olives and explained the wine and olive oil making processes. Then his wife made us a most delicious lunch of meats and cheeses and pastas and a fabulous dessert. We also sampled a few more wines and bought some olive oil. I really enjoyed the experience of meeting a winemaker who was so passionate and had a quaint production.

The last stop of the trip was at San Michele a Torri. This was a bigger production facility and we once again learned about the winemaking process. We even got to see the huge wine barrels that Chianti is known for being produced in. However, I think we were all kind of over it at this point because although the wine was good, it wasn’t a very memorable experience to me. After a long day of wine tasting, we went to dinner and were so out of it. That is until they gave Tyler an unlimited bottle of grappa for only EUR 5. Then we perked up. We ended up checking out a speakeasy type of bar called the Vanilla Club afterwards which was pretty cool. It reminded me of a Patterson House type of place. The owner might have been in the mafia though, and told us stories of his struggles of growing up in Italy. We ended the night by trying to spot all of the Ninja Turtles in the Uffizi. Still not sure where Rafael was.

I may have lied in my earlier statement, the thing I was the most excited about for in Florence was probably the visit to my old study abroad town of Castiglion Fiorentino. Seven years ago I spent a summer in Tuscany to study international business and eat lots of gnocchi. Ever since, I have wanted to revisit my old stomping grounds and I was really excited for Tyler to join. The morning started out pretty badly with transportation issues and I wasn’t even sure if we were going to make it there, but Tyler is a great husband and made sure that it happened, even if it wasn’t how we originally planned.

IMG_2567.JPG

I think it might have been the hottest day of the trip that we decided to visit the town on the hill. It was probably 95* when we got dropped off at the train station in the bottom of the town. I had forgotten how long of a hike it was to get to the top, but we made it. Just in time for siesta which is Italian naptime and everything is closed. We didn’t let that bother us too much and found a place to eat lunch. I showed Tyler around the city and remembered more about it than I thought I would! Unfortunately, the school was not in session, so I couldn’t get into the Santa Chiara to see if it was still how I remembered, but we did hit up one of the best local haunts, the Garden Bar. In fact, it’s so popular that all of my Facebook friends who have studied abroad in C.F. wanted to know if we made it there. We did and it was great. I’ve always had something pulling me back to the city where I fell in love with traveling, and now I can say that since I made it back with Tyler I somehow feel complete.

On our way back to Florence, we connected with friends who we knew through EY Nashville who happened to be staying in Florence for the night. We met up to watch the sunset  on the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was pretty crowded, but we still were able to see it well. We had probably the best dinner in Florence with the couple and then headed back to the same bar that we had been to the previous night because we liked it so much. We bar hopped a little longer before calling it a night.

I wish our time in Florence/Tuscany had been longer because there is still so much I wanted to see and do, but I guess there’s always next time!

Ciao!

Second Honeymoon Part Uno

The Amalfi Coast might be the most beautiful place on earth. Some say the best views are from a boat looking up at the town, but I also enjoyed the view from our hotel balconies. The picturesque hillside towns overlook sparkling cobalt blue water, and the sailboats dotting the ocean provide added character. Our trip to Italy was our first proper holiday by European standards, and we spent 9 days exploring the Amalfi Coast, Florence and Tuscany. I’m already missing my daily gnocchi and gelato.

IMG_2475

Amalfi Coast

Capri

Getting to Capri was a relatively painless experience involving a quick flight to Naples, cab to the port, and ferry across the sea.

DSC00121.JPG
Once arriving on the island, we were able to take a funicular (cable car) up to the town center and were immediately in love with the views of the ocean and town below. A short walk from the city center was Villa Helios, our first home of the trip. It was a quaint little hotel with great views and friendly, accommodating staff. We spent some time getting acquainted with the island and taking in the breathtaking views while enjoying a cocktail.
When we started planning our trip to the Amalfi Coast, my top priority was to go to the Blue Grotto. Seven years ago when I was last in Italy, it was my biggest regret that we did not do this. So we made sure to book a tour of Capri in advance and had Antonello as our Gozzo captain. He was very knowledgeable of the island and told us about the history and pointed out interesting places. I could tell he was not super happy to stop at the Blue Grotto while we waited for a little row boat to pick us up, but he was a good spot. After waiting for about 20 minutes it was finally our turn and we hopped into the little boat and had to lay on the floor to make it under the rocky opening into the grotto. The captain basically pulled us under the rocks with a rope, and it was pretty dramatic. But nothing prepared me for the spectacular blue glowing water. It was so intense. The captain started singing in Italian and explained the history of the grotto and took us around twice so our eyes were adjusted. I couldn’t believe how pretty it was. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Apparently we were also pretty lucky because a lot of days the seas are too rough to get through the hole. But in Tyler’s eye’s it was just expensive – about EUR 50 (including tip) for the 5 minute excursion. Oh well, YOLO.
The rest of our boat trip with Antonello was relaxing. We drank champagne and swam in the deep blue waters. We saw a few more grottos and I also got terribly seasick. Overall, the boat trip was great and I would highly recommend doing it.
IMG_1084.JPG
Our other activities while in Capri consisted of taking a convertible cab to Anacapri and riding the single-person chairlifts to the top of the mountain at Monte Solaro. The ride up the chairlift was pretty uneventful, especially since you’re by yourself, but the views at the top were pretty awesome, even if we were up in the clouds.

We also walked to Villa San Michele at the top of Anacapri to take more pictures.

On our last morning in Capri, we woke up early since there was still so much we wanted to do. We started off with a hike to Villa Jovis, a short hike but mostly uphill. The scenery was beautiful, and I kept stopping to take pictures of people’s intricate wrought iron gates and entry ways. There were such pretty flowers blooming everywhere and also several lemon trees with the biggest lemons I have ever seen. Upon our arrival to Villa Jovis, we were disappointed to learn that it didn’t open until 10am, and we had made it there around 9. Since we were on a tight schedule, we didn’t have time to wait to see the old Roman ruins and the views. So, we opted to take the trail to the woods to Villa Lysis. The trail turned out to be a steep, rocky pathway through the woods. We saw something moving in the distance on the trail that we thought was a dog, but upon closer examination turned out to be a mountain goat! We didn’t know if goats were friendly or not, so we approached hesitantly and he ran off into the woods with his buddy following him.
Villa Lysis is an old mansion sitting on top of Capri with amazing views. It was built by a man exiled from France for molesting minors and being homosexual. The house itself was kind of rundown, but it was cool to see the opium room and the views. After we snapped some pics we headed back down to town for some great pizza.
Recommendations
Hotel: Villa Helios
Restaurants:
Terrazza Brunella – 5/5 one of the most memorable meals of the trip
Panorama – 3/5 not the best experience or food, but great views
Lo Sfizio – 4/5 great pizza and atmosphere for lunch

Positano

We took a ferry from Capri to Positano, and Tyler got to meet Jerome “The Bus” Bettis who was sitting next to us. They chatted for a few minutes and took a picture together.
IMG_1117
We arrived in Positano and completely ignored the suggestions of our hotel to hire a porter to take our luggage up and to take the bus ourselves. HUGE mistakes. Positano is all steps. I don’t even know how many flights I lugged my bags up in the sweltering heat, but I was sure I was going to pass out. No clue how we made it to the Villa Gabrisa, but we did, desperately in need of a cool off. The beach was a short ten minute walk (all downhill) so we decided to spend a few hours at the less crowded Beach Fornillo before dinner. This was the less crowded beach, but it was mainly black rocks so we opted to swim instead of laying out. We finished the night with some great food with terrible service. Can’t win ’em all!
IMG_2391
Because of travel time, we really only had one full day in Positano so we had to make the most of it… by leaving Positano and hiking the Path of the Gods and also visiting Ravello. We had plans to take the ferry to Amalfi and then continue by bus to Ravello, but mother nature had other plans and the sea was too rough for ferry travel. Which meant that we had to cram on the crowded, smelly bus from Positano to Amalfi. The roads are so windy and small that I was sure it couldn’t make the hairpin turns. The views were great but I couldn’t look because I was terrified. We made it to Amalfi and took a few pictures before doing the Hop on Hop Off bus to Ravello. This was a better choice because it was less crowded and open air and not too much more expensive.
Ravello is at the top of the mountain, and the views are out of this world. Seriously everything was beautiful. We wandered around the city, had some lunch, and then went to Villa Cimbrone because Tyler had read that a writer once said it was the most beautiful place he had ever been. I think the Villa is probably more beautiful in the spring when it isn’t so hot and everything isn’t dead. But we enjoyed walking around. Although it was only a short stay in Ravello, I really enjoyed the beauty.
The highlight of the day was definitely hiking the Path of the Gods. The trail is a 9km hike which we did from East to West from Bomerano to Nocelle. To get there we had to take a bus back to Amalfi and then a bus to Aergola to the start of the trail. The bus ride to Aergola still gives me nightmares so I won’t elaborate. We may or may not have gotten off the bus at the wrong stop to get to the path, but after stopping to ask for directions we figured it out. We started the hike around 5pm which was perfect because we still had plenty of daylight, the temperature was not too hot, and it was not crowded at all. We basically had the trail to ourselves. The hike was moderate, but rocky and a little treacherous at points. It started pouring halfway through the hike which made things slippery and my white t-shirt see through. I’ll let the pictures convey what my words cannot.
We arrived in Nocelle wet, smelly, and hungry, but felt like we had just accomplished something pretty cool. Nocelle was a neat little town that I would consider staying in if we ever made the trip to Amalfi again. It’s close enough to Positano to get to by non-scary bus, but is not nearly as touristy. We ended the night by eating at Saraceno D’Oro, a restaurant that had been recommended by two separate friends. I would like to pass the recommendation on to anyone who happens to go to Positano because it was incredible and cheap! Cheapest and one of the best meals we had on the trip. win/win.
Since we hadn’t spent much time in Positano itself, on our last day we hiked down the steps into town. It is such a beautiful town and is best seen from a bus or the water. I wish we could have spent more time by the beach, but we had to make it to Sorrento and decided to beach there instead.
DSC00386
Recommendations
Hotel: Villa Gabrisa
Restaurants:
Saraceno D’Oro – 5/5 great food for a great price

Sorrento

We stayed in a hotel right by the port and even got an upgrade with a badass terrace and view of Vesuvius. Since my only priority for the afternoon was to bask in the sun, we threw on our suits and made the short walk to the small, crowded beach. It kinda sucked. We rented chairs, but we were 4 rows from the water and there were a lot of screaming children. Oh well, the beach is the beach, right?

Sorrento was definitely a little different from the other locations we had visited thus far. It felt like a bigger city and I would say wasn’t as pretty. We explored the town and had some homemade limoncello in the organic lemon groves and then went to the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria to catch the sunset. This hotel was ridiculously nice, like nicest hotel I have set foot in. But it had a prime sunset viewing location and we were serenaded with the musical stylings of a pretty mediocre piano player, who had trouble finding the right keys. We had a few drinks until the sun went down and then headed to dinner at Pizzeria Tasso, a quirky place with sexual artwork displayed all over the wall. The service, atmosphere and food were great. I especially enjoyed when the manager brought his tie collection over to our table after Tyler complimented his cat tie.

IMG_2516

You can’t go to Italy without having amazing food and drinks, so here are some our our best meals.

If I had to pick favorites, I’d say Capri was my favorite location that we stayed in, the Path of the Gods hike was my favorite activity, and Terrazza Brunella was my favorite restaurant. Amalfi is so magical, but I was also super excited to head to Florence.