From what I can tell, “Auguri” is a very celebratory word in Italian. (Which obviously means it would be one of my favorite Italian words, if I actually spoke Italian.) It is used to say “Happy Birthday” and in the case of the past weekend, was also used as a bit of a “Happy Easter” greeting.
I spent the past five days in Italy. With two public holidays surrounding Easter and an added vacation day for good measure, we embarked on my first ever European road trip. Aside from the sightseeing, I had two primary goals for the weekend: 1) to celebrate my friend’s 30th birthday in style, and 2) to celebrate Easter in Roma with some of my college friends. And celebrate we did!
The party started on Thursday when Car #1 left Vevey with good music and plenty of yummy snacks (homemade oatmeal raisin cookies, Pringles, grapes, and a variety of candy) – a must for any respectable road trip!
We drove to Florence, which takes roughly six hours. Unfortunately, there was an accident about 20 miles outside the city that left us sitting at a standstill for nearly an hour. We entertained ourselves with some car dancing and loud singing while we waited, which probably provided the neighboring cars, trucks, and buses with some laughs (or eye rolls, if they assumed (correctly) that we were “crazy Americans”).
Our hotel was in a great location – only a few blocks from the Duomo. We went out to dinner at Trattoria Al Trebbio, and of course, I had to have a small gelato on the way back to the hotel. The Duomo is magnificent at any time of day, but it kind of took our breaths away at night.
On Friday morning, I got up early to climb to the top of the Duomo before going to the Uffizi Gallery. It turns out that Easter weekend changed the typical schedule, and the climb wouldn’t be possible at any point during the weekend. So sad. Another reason to come back. I meandered through the city, which was delightful, since only a few tourists were up and milling about. At 10:15, I got in line to pick up my ticket at Uffizi. When I got to the ticket counter, he told me I had to come back later. I was so confused when he told me that my time slot was at 1:00pm. I requested 10:30am, but apparently, they assign you to whatever is available. I didn’t know to check my ticket when I printed it out. This change of plans altered my entire day, because I could no longer meet up with friends for the afternoon as planned. Oh well – on to Plan B. I strolled through several shops (shopping always happens when you leave me with time to kill!), walked across Ponte Vecchio looking at all of the beautiful jewelry, and then walked along the Arno River to Santa Croce – a gorgeous church where Galileo Galilei and some other famous Italians are buried. I loved the architecture and the stained glass windows. And I took the time to sit and read John 15 knowing we would be spending the next day in some Tuscan vineyards. I think Plan B worked out just fine.
[I think this sleeping dog is hilarious]
At 12:45, it was time to go back to the Uffizi Gallery to get my ticket. I visited Florence for the first time in 2008 with a friend from college. On that visit, we had less than a day to spend in Florence, so I had to choose between the Accademia (home of “The David” by Michelangelo) or the Uffizi. I chose the the Accademia, so this visit, I knew I needed to check out the Uffizi. In the past couple of months, I’ve experienced some pretty incredible art museums – Van Gogh (Amsterdam) and Musée d’Orsay being my favorites thus far. So, I had high expectations for one of the most famous museums in Florence. As it turns out, I apparently know NOTHING about the Renaissance period, because I didn’t recognize a single work of art. So sad. But, the building is lovely, and it has some great views. And I enjoyed the rooftop terrace café at the end of my visit.
[And another view of the Duomo, because I can’t get enough]
After a morning of art and beautiful churches, it was time for one of the things I was most excited about – a pedicure!! Now, you may laugh all you want, but pedicures are not only hard to come by in Switzerland, but they are really expensive. A bad combination. And one that means it’s been nearly 6 months since my last pedicure. In the States, they are relatively inexpensive, and I was a regular. I read some questionable reviews about a variety of salons in Florence, so I decided I had to go big to ensure I didn’t lose a toe in the process. Four Seasons Florence to the rescue! What a delightful time at their spa. They always have outstanding customer service, and this was some of the best I’ve received to date. The hotel sits on a park, which is lovely and so tranquil. And as for the pedicure? It was AMAZING! They don’t have the same pedicure chairs as in the States, and I actually received my pedicure while lounging on a massage table. Let’s just say that I definitely fell asleep! Utter relaxation.
It was hard to leave the relaxation room at the end of my treatment, but I had something fun to look forward to – meeting up with another Miami grad! While I don’t think we new each other in school, we have A LOT of mutual friends, and I actually stayed at her apartment in Florence for a night in 2008 when I was visiting. We met in Piazza del Repubblica, and when I asked where we should go, she suggested the rooftop café just above us. (Note to self: look up more often!) We enjoyed a drink and some snacks at La Rinascente with an incredible view of the Duomo. It was wonderful to catch up and to start brainstorming when and where we can meet again!
I met up with the rest of our friends (including the passengers of Car #2) for dinner. We went to an adorable restaurant called La Giostra. It had a great ambiance, and though I was tired after a long day, the meal was wonderful.
On Saturday, we got up early for our day in the Tuscan vineyards. My friend gave us a recommendation of a tour company called Fun in Tuscany, who would pick us up in Florence. Our guide was named Sam, and he was hilarious.
We started off with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo for the most spectacular view of Florence! The rain subsided briefly for us to snap a few photos before jumping back in the van.
[With the Birthday Girl]
There was lots of excitement and really fun music in the van for our 30-40 minute drive to our first vineyard!
We were in the Chianti area near the medieval town of San Gimignano, and it. was. beautiful – even through the rain! We went to two different vineyards where we saw the operation, the wine cellars, ate lunch, and tasted some of their wines. We also walked through San Gimignano and had gelato at a world champion gelateria – Gelateria Dondoli! It was such a fun (and delicious!) day!
[Telling us about how his family has been producing wine in Chianti since 1720! And for the record, his mom’s lasagna was THE BEST I’ve EVER had! As was the 30 year old Balsamic Vinegar. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the equivalent of $60USD on a 250 ml bottle.]
[Clearly, I have no idea what I’m doing…and I think it’s hilarious]
[Clearly this green jacket from J.Crew is the way to go. Funny thing is that each of us bought it during a different season. Time for J.Crew to switch up their designs?]
After nap time at the hotel, we were ready for birthday dinner! A friend recommended Perseus, and the steak was really good! After dinner we went to SE-STO, the rooftop of the Westin Excelsior, for beautiful views of the city and a drink (well, a strawberry milkshake for me). I only lasted a little while longer after that, but enough to dance off some of the pasta and gelato a bit. Fun night with fun friends!
[An improvement from the birthday orange peel earlier in the week]
[How many people can fit in a European elevator to get to the rooftop?! EIGHT!!]
[An attempt at capturing the view]
Sunday morning was EASTER! I decided to take the train down to Roma to spend the day with some of my friends from college. The train ride is only 1.5 hours, so I couldn’t resist. My friends hosted brunch at their home, which was lovely. And I had my first ever bunny cake! The day was so relaxed. It was wonderful to be amongst old friends (and a few new friends)! After brunch, we went to church together. It was great to celebrate with them.
I was EXHAUSTED when I made it back to Florence, and I was asleep before the rest of the group got home from dinner. All the fun wore me out!
Today was the day to head home, but not without stopping to see one more sight – the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Now, the only other time I saw the tower was at 12:30am on a random weeknight in 2008 when I was visiting my friends. We unexpectedly tacked it on to our day in Florence and crashed at the apartment of some friends who were living in Pisa at the time.
Note the difference in the number of tourists when you go during the day! Fun stop during our road trip back to Switzerland. And a great way to end such a celebratory weekend!
[PHOTO BOMBED while posing with the Birthday Girl!]
[Jump for joy, if you thought the weekend was AWESOME!]