My husband Zack, and I have been wanting to travel to Europe for a while. So earlier this year, we bought flights to Italy before finding out we were expecting baby boy! It was the perfect one-year anniversary trip/ babymoon and last big hoorah before becoming parents this Winter. I had been to Europe once with friends after graduating from college and Zack had been with his family but we loved getting to experience it together. It’s not lost on us how rare a big trip like this is, and I know it’s one we will always cherish.
My first and most important tip is to pack light- in a back pack. Wash your clothes if you have to. You will thank me later.
Planning a big trip was a joint effort between the two of us and we learned a lot along the way. In attempts to help someone who is planning a trip, I thought I would share a little about our adventure with quick recaps and some details. But if you know me, and you plan a trip, call me! I’d love to share in more detail the things I may be missing here. For our trip, we spent 4 nights in Rome, 4 nights in Florence, 3 nights in Cinque Terre and 3 nights in Venice on our trip!
I also know, it’s a huge privilege to get time off work, be able to travel, and have someone to do it all with so what I am about to say is not exclusive to a trip like this. I believe it’s good for us to get uncomfortable / out of routine and around new people sometimes. I think more than ever, I have become such a homebody and really like the foods I eat and the bed I sleep in (especially while being pregnant). Getting out of your bubble can be done locally too, and maybe you do that better than I have lately. For me it’s easy to be reminded, how big God is and how small my world is when I am traveling to new places. I was convicted of sin in new ways on this trip, simply because I was uncomfortable at times and feeling impatient. I’ll spare you all the ways, but as a small example, I was irritable and mad at the guy intentionally elbowing me on a 12 hour flight home, after I finally fell asleep for awhile and wanted to retaliate.
Dallas especially can be marked by materialism, beauty standards, and measures of success that seem so insignificant when surrounded by people from cultures all over the world and I think God gave me this healthy heart check and reoriented perspective for viewing the kingdom of God, rightly and less with a western Bible belt mentality and for that and a million other reasons, I am really grateful for this trip with my husband.
So let’s jump in! We knew going to Rome would be our busiest stop because there is just so much to see in Rome and we had heard booking tours in advance would be a HUGE time saver and worth the added cost. We booked both our tours through Viator. The first full day we went to the Sistine Chapel, Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica on about a 4 hour walking tour and we still didn’t see it all. Zack really loved the tour and I mostly enjoyed it. They have a dress code and between that and the hotter outdoor temps and the lack of AC in a crowded building, this pregnant gal was really struggling. The art is all amazing and the history and consideration of Christian history that has all occurred there was pretty interesting and cool to experience.
My favorite gelato place was also near the Vatican next to Hotel S. Anna!
The next day, we had a tour of the Colosseum with arena floor access and Roman Forum the next day which Zack also really loved and naturally we had to watch Gladiator that evening. Our final morning we woke up at sunrise to go to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps before they were overcrowded with tourists and learned waking up early was the ideal way to do it.
Finally in Rome we had a 13 hour tour from Rome to Pompeii to Positano via Viator and I am glad we did it but not sure I’d recommend it. Pompeii was really cool and Zack was most excited about that, while I felt more excited about Positano, but although it is absolutely gorgeous, it felt very crowded with people and the steps/hills were a doozy.
We ate at Ginger several times for breakfast and I loved their Acai bowl, there is one near the Pantheon that we went to, but go to the Corta Laica location because it’s beautiful. We also stayed in an airbnb 3 mins walking distance to the Trevi and it was the perfect location. I’d include the link but our bed was rock hard so I can’t recommend it with a right conscience. ha
We really loved Florence! Our pace here was much more relaxed and slower which allowed us to really explore and the weather was amazing!! We lucked out by getting to see David of Michelangelo before they closed one evening, not realizing they would be closed the next day. We also missed out on all the Gardens because we didn’t realize they would be closed the last Monday of the month when we were trying to go, so that’s something to look out for. We shopped a little in Florence (this was the best spot for leather goods) and did a Rick Steves walking tour. We also enjoyed a sunset view over Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo one night.
We had dinner reservations at Aqua Al 2 per a friend’s recommendation and this was one of my favorite meals. We had the pasta sampler and the Balsamic steak. We also went to Milkeria alot (because they had a pretty good latte) and went to Cafe Italiano twice for dinner. We really like their pizza. Also service is super slow in Italy so be prepared to ask your server when you get a chance for anything you need if you are in a hurry.
Because Zack and I are apparently crazy people, we decided to rent a car (with an international driver’s permit) in Florence to drive to some of the smaller Tuscan towns for a day. You will learn quickly in Italy that people drive like there are no rules. We really only stopped in Siena but we both really loved it for the few hours we stayed there. It’s a much more hilly town but our lunch view at San Domenico, was incredible and we are really glad we went!
Pisa really doesn’t need a whole paragraph because the town is pretty underwhelming, but as a tourist you feel the obligation to make a pit stop here and get an iconic photo alongside all the other crazies with their hands in the air. However, it is also an opportunity to say, travel light!
We had several trains and connections during our trip and not every train is suitable for larger suitcases. On one of our 1 hour rides, Zack got stuck in between carts with his bag while I was mid cart with mine in his seat. I learned quickly that I should have more empathy for nervous/anxious travelers because anytime we were separated at train stations, I became nervous. (Mostly because he was the one with a working phone.) But to summarize a long story… Zack saw a man robbing a girl while on the train and he confronted the man before the large man aggressively shoved him and darted off the train. I saw him get shoved from the middle of the cart and gasped, thinking he himself was getting robbed. He was fine, but they aren’t wrong when they tell you to beware of pickpockets and don’t fall asleep on trains. Also just don’t pack in a large suitcase if you plan to hop around. (Every station only has stairs you will be forced carrying your luggage up and down multiple times.)
I loved Cinque Terre. The five towns are much smaller than I expected them to be but they really are so beautiful. We stayed in Manarola at Ca’ del Monica and I can not recommend it enough. It was the perfect location, clean, the host was amazing, the bed was comfy, the AC worked and it’s a two minute walk to the marina. We also LOVED enjoying time on the terrace both in the morning and at night.
Our first full day, we booked a boat tour through Viator, but the host had a discount that would have saved us $100 had we waited. That’s the only tour/thing I regretted booking in advance. But the tour itself was so beautiful. It was a few hours and the weather was amazing. The boat only had 8 total people and because the world is truly just so small, we met a couple from our mid-size church in Dallas on our boat. We explored 4 of the 5 towns while we were there, took a dip in the chilly sea, enjoyed relaxing date nights together and really relaxed here.
Traveling from Cinque Terre to Venice included 4 train rides and one had a crazy short connection that had us sprinting from one platform to the next, but we made it! Our airbnb was near St. Mark’s square which was a really great location. I laugh when I think about our first night in Venice. By this time Zack and I were getting tired of pizza and pasta and ate dinner at a spot called Old Wild West with a full on “saddle up your horse and ride” kinda vibe. However the next night I did have a veggie pasta (Tagliolini alle Verdure) at a spot called Ristorante Al Corner, that was one of my absolute favorites.
Venice was really beautiful and cool to experience. It truly is a winding maze. Zack humored me for an early morning to walk around the city before it was overcrowded so I could take pictures and we could get a few maternity shots. We obviously did a gondola tour, because I feel like it’s obligatory and it was really cool, but I may have actually enjoyed our longer water taxi ride to the airport just as much.
Tips for the trip
Lastly, I couldn’t be more grateful to my husband. I am thankful for life with him. I am thankful for the companion he is to me and that I can spend 24/7 with him and never get tired of it. I will cherish the memories, inside jokes, laughter, and fun we had as well as the ways he lead, protected, cared for, and loved me well while traveling (and every day.) I am thankful he is easy going, both strong yet gentle, willing to spend money on travel and mostly for the way he researches and reads reviews so I don’t have to. 🙂 Love you, babe.
Many of the photos you see below can be purchased online in the print shop.
The images below are of Italy, shot on film (Canon AE-1) with zero editing