*I apologize in advance for the length of this post...hopefully the pictures will make it worth your while!
We flew into Rome on Saturday evening. Upon arriving, the baggage workers decided to go on an hour long strike. So typical. We finally got our bags and made our way to our B&B. Once we were settled, we decided to walk around Rome to get our bearings, and then found a pizza place for dinner. It was great, and so was the gelato :)
The next morning we attacked the Forum and the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and also the Spanish steps. They were all incredible, especially for myself because I hadn't seen any of them before. Apparently we missed Justin Timberlake by three days...I'm still sad about that. Can you imagine me running into him (those of you that know me know my affection for JT)? Ha! I digress...The weather was fantastic, so that helped as well. I think my favorite was the Forum. I have no idea how they were able to build such amazing things 2000 years ago. It still baffles me!
Monday morning we headed to the Vatican City. We rolled over and paid for a tour (still not sure if it was completely worth it...but it was informative). We toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica and we even walked the 400+ steps to view all of Rome from St. Peter's Dome. It was a gorgeous view, completely worth it! Vatican City was truly incredible. The amount of money in that small little city is mind blowing. I took quite a few pictures of all of our adventures in the Vatican...you'll have to check them out here.
We rented a car in Rome on Tuesday drove to Ficulle, a town in Umbria near Tuscany. Our friend Ava has a really nice home in this small village, and she was kind enough to let us stay there for a few days. The house had incredible views of the wine country...we spent quite a few nights watching the sun set and fixing homemade Italian food while we were there.
On Wednesday we drove 20 minutes to Montepulciano. This particular "mountain" is really famous for it's wines. We were able to go to a few wine tastings and visit wineries. It was really nice, and the wines were definitely great! We loved the small village feel of this city...but there were a lot of American/English tourists there as well. Can't really escape it in Italy.
While we stayed in Ficulle, we were in close driving distance to a few cool locations:
On Thursday, we headed to Pisa. This trip was rather comical. It took a little over two hours to get there, and we stayed less than 30 minutes. The leaning tower and duomo are the ONLY things to see in this town. However, I'm glad we went! It's one of those "must-see's" that I can cross off my list.
After leaving Pisa, we headed an hour to Florence. I have to say this was probably my favorite city. There was a rich Italian culture, it wasn't very crowded (major points), we didn't have to wait hours to see the David, we could tour the Duomo with having to pay, we had a nice dinner with little interruptions, we shopped...it was really nice. The weather was perfect, so we took some great pictures here. I would love to go back and visit Florence for a longer period of time. There were quite a few tourists, but more students doing semesters there, so the University feel was present. I liked the younger crowd. It was refreshing!
On Friday, we left Ficulle, drove back to Florence and caught a train to Venice. We arrived in the early evening, so we had time to get settled in our B&B and still have time to tour the city before the sunset. I was so shocked at this city. I think everyone has their preconceived notions about how it will be...and it was really nothing like what I had pictured. It's VERY quaint, the streets are so small and narrow, the water comes right up to the doors of homes, everyone buys into the gondola gimmick :), etc. I loved Venice, I just don't think I could stay there for an extended amount of time. It was too small for me...I felt a little claustrophobic to me.
However, I have some amazing pictures from these "small streets." They were very picturesque. We were able to get some sunset pictures from the Rialto Bridge, cruise around the city on the water bus (the cheap man's gondola ride, ha) and even let Gracie chase some pigeons in St. Mark's square (until we were reprimanded by a cop). We avoided the expensive restaurants like below:
...but we had some romantic meals and strolls along the water while we were there! It's really incredible, the whole idea of Venice...we watched an Ambulance retrieve someone from a house in a boat, the milkmen delivering their milk every morning by boat, a bride and her parents taking a water taxi to the courthouse...it's an interesting way to live. You have to see it once! If you aren't heading there anytime soon, you can live vicariously here.
Saturday afternoon we caught a train to Milan. We got settled in our hotel and then made our way to the center of town. We weren't able to tour the duomo here because we both had shorts on (we weren't really thinking about that one), but we did walk the major shopping streets (and drooled at most windows) and had a nice 'final' dinner together. Milan was really nice, but if you aren't a shopper, don't bother! Actually, let me rephrase that. If you don't have the money to spend at designer stores, don't bother. It was nice for an overnight trip, and I was happy to have seen it.
Our flight left Milan Sunday afternoon, and we were back in Brussels and then home by 5:30pm. I had a little "post-vacation depression" this past week...especially having to work on Monday morning. We had a great time, though. And I'm so thankful we live so close to these amazing places that we can visit with relative ease. We're lucky!