Florence. Land of loveliness.

Florence, Italy is a dream. The colors, the art, the Arno River, the hills surrounding every side of this town…Its all just too much for my hopeless romantic heart to bear.

I had a slight suspicion going into our trip that Florence would be my favorite, but never thought I would love it as much as I did. It was an oasis of beauty and calm and deliciousness after a very stressful stay in Rome. It is no wonder that one of the greatest artistic movements in history began here. Its just downright inspiring.

Josh and I stayed in a tiny flat we found on AirB&B that was just south of the river in an amazing little area with tons of local workshops with people creating various things inside. Next door to us we even noticed a man in his workshop building a violin, with his assistant beside him playing one they had clearly just finished. Amazing. Everything was so accessible in Florence. No fussing with buses or metros-just us and our two feet and a million things to see and do.

We brought along a pocket guide that helped us decide where to spend our time and what options we had. Note to Florence visitors: 3 days is not enough time to see everything. But we did manage to pack a LOT into those few days. Here are some of the highlights:

4 hours at the Uffizi Gallery. // The largest collection of Renaissance Art in the world. Booked tickets online a few weeks prior to avoid the line. Once inside we used Rick Steves’ audio guide downloaded from his travel app.

Climbing the Duomo. // 463 steps to the top for an incredible view of the entire region. We bought a combo ticket that got us into the Cathedral and Baptistry as well. Go early to avoid crowds (and heat!)

Taste of Florence tour. // Recommended to us by friends. 4 hours of tasting the most delicious food and wine the city has to offer. A great look inside what authentic Florence is like, underneath the tourism facade. Fascinating and absolutely delectable.

The Ponte Vecchio. // Medieval bridge over the Arno River containing mostly jewelry stores. I have a particular fondness for the bridge, since Josh bought me a new wedding ring here on our trip. Swoon. (note: my original rings were tragically lost in 2011)

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The beautiful Ponte Vecchio

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olive oil and wine tasting

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Another great view of Florence at Piazza Michelangelo

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Tuscany from above

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High atop the dome

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Ghiberti’s uber-famous bronze doors on the entrance to the Baptistry of Saint John.

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Hunka burnin’ David

Nothing went majorly wrong in Florence. I felt we had planned enough, but also left a lot of room to decide much of where we’d spend our time once we got there.  This is the city to eat incredible food  and tap into the art history buff that hopefully is in you somewhere. There is also a huge assortment of designer shopping in this town, which we chose not to take advantage of. Why shop when you could eat? But if you’re into that, you’ll love the many streets lined with the very latest in brands i’ve barely heard of.

Tips:

*We encountered our one and only pick-pocket encounter in Florence at the train station. We were fumbling with a kiosk trying to get our tickets printed, and a girl came up to help us out. We were in such a panic because we were dangerously close to missing our train that we totally let our guard down. She ended up being what the station worker called a “gypsy” and we luckily walked away with all of our possession in tact. So sadly enough, be wary of people trying to help you. Especially when you look like a pathetic lost puppy carrying massive bags at a busy train terminal.  Needless to say, we missed our train that morning.

*My allergies were terrible in Florence. I don’t normal struggle with allergies back home, so I didn’t bring any meds. I was sneezing non-stop and really wished I would have brought some Claritin.

*Don’t miss Florence if you’re going to Italy. It is incredible and I will forever sing its praises.

 

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Roma-The Vatican and beyond

Per Rick Steves’ advice, Josh and I temporarily suspended our protestantism and spent a day immersed in the glory that is Roman Catholicism. We reserved a ticket and a spot a few weeks in advance on a guided tour through the Vatican Museum, and wandered the halls of the historic grounds for hours. The tour was found from the Vatican website, and it allowed us to skip the insanely long line that had formed around the entire outer wall of the museum. All that planning really does pay off.

The tour was alright, but definitely worth the extra money spent to skip the line and have a few of the artifacts and significant artworks explained to us. Our tour ended in the Sistine Chapel where we ooed and awed over Michaelangelo’s interior-masterpiece.

From the Sistine, we went next door to St. Peter’s Basilica. If you’ve never been to St. Peter’s, I would suggest you go ahead and scratch a note onto the ole’ bucket list. I mean, this place completely blew us away. It took two jet lagged, sore-footed travelers and transformed us into children. We were giddy at the grandeur of that church. It is the richest, biggest, most visited church in the world, all built on top of what is said to be Saint Peter’s resting place. Like much of Europe, this destination exceeded our very high expectations.

 

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Hall full of hand painted maps in the Vatican museum

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Outside St. Peter’s Basilica

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The size of this place is unreal.

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Sun rays peaking through the dome in the Basilica

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The baldacchino, designed by artist Bernino is said to be the largest piece of bronze in the world. It sits directly above the tomb of Peter.

It is safe to say we enjoyed our time at the Vatican. I’m happy we didn’t miss that important piece of Rome. It was mind-boggling to discover how Christianity evolved into the widespread religion it is today, starting with Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion right here in Rome.

Some other places we visited in Rome that I haven’t mentioned include:

The Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

The Jewish Ghetto

A few incredible restaurants I will pass on if anyone requests it. Yelp was most helpful in this department.

Like I said previously, we could have spent many more days in Rome and still not seen all we wanted to see. We also wasted a few hours on Vatican day making a long trek to the airport to retrieve our bags (MIRACLE!!) which decided to show up. I loved this city and can’t wait to return one day. In my opinion, every human needs to visit Rome if they can. The history is just too important to miss.

Roma, you were magnificent.

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 Next stop…Florence!

Roma! Getting acquainted with Italy.

So, in case I forgot to mention it…We are in Europe. And it is amazing.

The last time I was on this continent I was 18 and it was snowing and I didn’t have any walking shoes with me. This time around, the trees are blossoming, I don’t need a ski coat, and I am completely enchanted. There really aren’t words for the magic that is Italy.

Our trip started with 3 nights in Rome. Unfortunately, our bags didn’t come into the picture until day 3. But now that I have access to clean underwear I can truly say without hesitation that Rome WAS everything I had hoped it would be.

Thanks to Rick Steves, we spent most of our time in Rome wandering on our own listening to audio tours of the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum. We did the “Caesar Shuffle” on our first full day, and The Vatican on day 2. There was, of course, much walking, gelato eating, and phone calls to various airports to locate or luggage along the way.

Really two full days in Rome was not nearly enough. Especially when we spent so much of our time dealing with -get this- FOUR airports who were linked to our lost luggage. What a nightmare. The worst part about not having our bags was that our camera was in my checked luggage. Thank goodness for iPhones!

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Arche of Titus

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Ruins of the ancient Roman Forum

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Inside the Pantheon

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Piiazza Navone

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The Colosseum

 

I can certainly see why Rome is not everyone’s favorite place. It is overwhelming and can become a dizzying maze of poorly labeled public transit if you’re not on top of planning. I’m keeping a running list of little tips I wish I would have had when planning the trip. Here are a few of my top ones I’ll forever suggest to anyone visiting this amazing city.

1) Get on the Italian eating schedule ASAP. Like, don’t wait until you’re hungry to eat. Eat lunch at 1 or 2 pm, and dinner around 8. If you wait until your American tummy tells you to eat, NOTHING will be open. I mean nothing.

2) Buy a Roma Pass. Just do it. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble by having unlimited access to public transportation and getting to cut everyone in line at museums.

3) Stay near a metro OR close to all the action. We stayed way too far from everything for our own good. On the second day in Rome my pedometer registered a total of 11.5 miles of walking. That is painful, guys. When people say you’ll walk a lot in Europe they are NOT messin’ around.

4) Yelp is your friend. We found our only great meals in Rome through Yelp. The photos helped a lot.

5) Take Rome in stride. Love the beauty, appreciate the faster pace of everyday life, and just pretend you’re a Roman for the time being. Have an espresso standing at a bar, even if it tastes like drinking charcoal. Just have fun and laugh about how fun it is to be immersed in a completely different culture. We came to their country for good reason after all, so learn and grow and taste and smell and ENJOY!

I’ll keep listing tips as I think of them. It really is true that you can never be 100% prepared for what you’ll come across when traveling abroad. I have been planning this trip for months, but never could have predicted our luggage would get lost. You just never know. I’ll just take this as a chance to re-learn what it means to be flexible, and thank the good Lord that He reunited us with our stuff before I had a nervous breakdown.

Ciao!

It is happening.

I got in.

After almost 2 years of dreaming/studying/hoping/working, I finally get to start school in August to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. My acceptance into the small, competitive program was confirmed yesterday. I really have no idea what to even do with my excitement. I am absolutely in love with this field of work, and I am pinching myself at the thought of ME getting to do what THEY do. But it is happening. 2 years from now I’ll be taking a test to become Caroline Cody, COTA. Kinda has a nice rhymey thing going on, eh?

Here’s to my last Summer “off” before its full speed ahead to career-town. Hallelujah!

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I turned 26 last week!

On Tuesday morning, April 29th, I was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee after Josh left for work. It was shaping up to be a pretty boring birthday, seeing as most everyone else I knew was working. But then, a woman appeared in my front window. My mom.

Yep, she flew to Texas Tuesday morning to surprise me on my birthday. It was the best present ever.

We took Henry to the park, went to the Whole Foods headquarters, had coffee by the lake, and went La Condesa for dinner, and watched the bats fly out from the Congress Bridge downtown. It had been a long long time since my mom had come to Austin, and we had a lot of catching up to do. I’m so thankful for her!

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She unfortunately had to head back to Atlanta the following day, but my AMAZING friends helped the celebration continue all through the weekend. I’m so spoiled. Mexican food and beach volleyball at a bar downtown were my idea of a perfect evening. So much laughter and so many face-in-the-sand moments. I have much to be thankful for and I can’t wait to see what this next year holds. Cheers and happy Cinco de Mayo!

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