Under The Tuscan Sun

June 21, 2019

After spending many semesters delving into the world of the Italian Renaissance, I was extremely excited to visit Florence, and it lived up to all my expectations.

Florence is smaller than Rome, making it extremely walkable, and if you are an art lover like I am you will find plenty of points of interest to fill your days. My mom and I spent three days here and I wish I had more time to soak up all the culture this city had to offer.

Here are the highlights of our time in Florence:

Spots To See

The Uffizi Gallery


As an art history major in college, the Uffizi was at the top of my list for this trip. The large museum, once the offices of Florence's ruling family the Medicis, features some of the most important art of the Renaissance, from Verrocchio to Caravaggio and beyond. 

You could spend hours in this maze-like museum, as there are hundreds of Greek and Roman sculptures (not to mention a ton of portraits) in the main hallway, and that does not even begin to cover the many famed artworks that are on display in each room.

The museum is arranged in chronological order, so you can easily see the artistic progress from the Middle Ages all the way to the Renaissance and Baroque eras. It felt like I was walking through my entire Renaissance Art History class, the text book come alive before me! 

Galleria dell'Academia

This museum is much smaller, but it is home to perhaps the most famous sculpture of all time: Michelangelo's David. I was incredibly surprised by how in awe I was, witnessing this immense sculpture in person. The David is completely ubiquitous in our culture, but it must be seen in person to work its full magic.

Standing quite tall at 17 feet, The David is monumental in every sense of the word. It is no secret that Michelangelo was a master at capturing the human form in marble, but this art work is a true masterpiece, and visiting the Galleria is worth it for this reason alone.

P.S. Make sure you reserve a time to visit in advance! They do a great job of limiting the number of visitors into the museum at a time, so that means if you try to enter standby, you could be waiting a long time! I'd recommend reserving all your museum tickets ahead of time, actually.

Pitti Palace


My mom and I had a few hours to kill in the morning before seeing The David, so we decided on a whim to visit the Pitti Palace, and I am SO happy that we did! 

Just a quick walk across the river, the Pitti Palace is a magnificent estate that served as the new home of the Medici family (after they outgrew the Palazzo Vecchio). With vast gardens that inspired Louis XIV's own at Versailles, this building gives you an immediate understanding of how wealthy and powerful the Medici were at the height of their power.

Inside the palace are dozens of ornately-decorated rooms that are covered with priceless artworks, sculptures, and furniture. You will get a great sense of what it must have been like to be a Florentine noble! 

The Duomo


As one of the largest cathedrals in Italy, the Duomo—aka Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore—is the bustling center of Florence. With an intricate marble fa├žade and large tiled dome, it is a testament to Renaissance architecture and engineering, so you should definitely stop by to admire it!

However, I will say that the interior of the cathedral is a total letdown, especially after the exquisite excessiveness of St. Peter's. I assume that the architects of the cathedral spent all their efforts on the exterior of the building, and as a result, the inside is disappointedly plain. Save your time waiting in line to enter the cathedral and grab a cappuccino at one of the nearby restaurants around the piazza instead. 

Day Trip To Siena and San Gimignano 


On our last day in Florence, we took a small guided tour (about 20 people) to the hillside towns of Siena and San Gimignano, with a pitstop at a Tuscan winery for lunch!

Tuscany is beyond beautiful, so if you have a day to spend driving through the countryside and visiting a medieval town or two, I highly recommend it! Siena was especially charming and has a fun city-wide competition each year that I loved learning about (and you can learn more here). San Gimignano was much smaller by comparison but just as quaint, and it featured the best gelato shop ever.

By the end of our day adventuring through the Tuscan countryside, my mom was already planning to open a bed and breakfast at an old villa, so be warned that this gorgeous landscape will win you over!

Where To Eat

Tuscany is known for several regional treats like wild boar and Chianti wine. Do yourself a favor and try out some of these delicacies while you have the chance. It's not every day you see boar on the menu, after all! Here are the must-try items while in Florence and Tuscany:

  • Chianti Wine: the signature red wine of the region, this wine has very specific standards for production, including that you can only water the grapes with rain; no sprinklers or artificial irrigation! If you are a red wine fan, grab a nice glass of chianti (no fava beans necessary) and enjoy
  • Wild Boar: Wild boar are like deer in Tuscany—they are everywhere. That being said, they have become an incredibly popular meal in the region. When I tried my plate of wild boar, I almost wondered if I had been served someone else's dinner, because it doesn't taste like pork at all! I'd say it's very similar to short rib or boeuf bourguignon
  • Gnudi: this came at the recommendation of our bartender at the hotel; it's essentially a gnocchi (potato pasta) that is stuffed with ricotta cheese. So yeah, it is heavenly
  • Florentine steak: steak in Florence is another go-to, so if you are a fan of red meat (I know I am!) be sure to treat yourself to a delicious steak! We ended up getting pasta when dining at Torcicoda near Santa Croce, but they had a fantastic selection of steak if you are looking for a specific spot!

Where To Stay


In Florence we stayed at another boutique hotel called Relais Santa Croce, but while the one in Rome was new and modern, this one was quite old—in fact, it was originally a palace in the 18th century! With just over 20 rooms, the service here was incredibly attentive, and they had a delicious breakfast...and cocktails!

It was also right by one of the other big churches in town, Santa Croce, which made for another fun photo moment even in the rain!


Stay tuned for the Milan recap, coming soon! Check out my Rome recap if you missed that HERE

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Roman Holiday

June 11, 2019

I have recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy and am so excited to share all my experiences with you! My mom and I left the States for 10 days and traveled to Rome, Florence, and Milan, seeing the historical sites, shopping at local boutiques, and eating all the pasta. We tackled so much territory over our trip that I'm splitting up my recap into 3 separate posts—one for Rome, one for Florence, and one for Milan—so today, I invite you to read more about our time in Rome!

Spots To See

The Pantheon

Our hotel was located right near the Pantheon, so we kicked off our first afternoon in Rome (our plane landed at noon) with a self-guided walking tour (meaning we searched for landmarks on Google Maps) and headed to the Pantheon.

Built during the Roman Empire as a temple to the gods, this structure has truly withstood the test of time, and it was incredibly impressive to see in person. With a truly colossal dome and giant opening at the top to the sky, it is an incredible architectural achievement. Standing under the dome and staring up at the blinding sunlight, it was the first of many times on this trip that I would ask, "How did people build this?"

It's also a great example of how the Romans constantly repurposed structures to fit their current needs. Once a Roman temple, the Pantheon was converted into a church with the rise of Christianity, and it still remains an active church. It's a little sad to know that many of the original decorations have since been removed and/or destroyed, but this repurposing of structures is also a likely reason why buildings like the Pantheon and the Colosseum still stand. 

The Trevi Fountain


The Trevi Fountain is a popular spot thanks to movies, but it is a fairly recent addition compared to other Roman landmarks; it wasn't built until the 18th century! How modern! Still, it's a beautiful plaza featuring dramatic baroque sculpture and makes for a great photo backdrop.

*Pro tip: when we visited the fountain, it was a busy Saturday afternoon and we were lucky to get as close as we did, it was that crowded! Still, my photo looks like I'm the only one at the fountain. The secret? Go to the sides of the fountain (especially the right side, if you're facing the fountain, where there are no steps). There are fewer people on the sides, and it will be easier to snap that gorgeous photo.

The Colosseum and Roman Forum


No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum. As a USC girl, this landmark was extra sweet to visit, but for true history lovers, be sure to visit the entire Palatine Hill and Forum as well! You'll be able to walk through the ruins of the forum and imagine yourself as a Roman citizen in 100 CE, and the Palatine Hill offers an amazing overview of the city.

If you didn't study the ancient Roman world in school like I did, and even if you did, I highly suggest attending these sites with a tour guide. Not only will you be able to skip long lines at these extremely popular landmarks, but you will also get key historical background that will help these monuments come to life.

For both the Colosseum and The Vacitan, my mom and I booked tours with Context Travel. Each tour is led by a high-level scholar, and they keep their groups extremely small (our Colosseum tour had 6 people and our Vatican tour had 4). I would highly recommend this company!

The Vatican


Whether you are devoutly Catholic or have little interest in religion, you should still make a point to visit The Vatican. Especially if you have an appreciation for art and architecture, you will find plenty to enjoy here.

For one, there is much more to the Vatican than the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. The Vatican Museum houses so much art that it is almost a little gross, thinking about how much property the Catholic Church has amassed over the centuries. But all that aside, there are great works to see, from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond. Our tour only visited a tiny portion of the museum; I could have spent days traipsing the halls and studying each piece.

Of course, the artistic highlight of visiting the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel, and it did not disappoint. I won't lie—I don't find myself to be a religious person—but I was nearly brought to tears upon entering the chapel and gazing up at the ceiling that Michelangelo obsessed over five hundred years ago. There is so much going on throughout the chapel that it is entirely overwhelming, and incredibly beautiful.

Again, without the context of an art history major, the Sistine Chapel may be too complicated to appreciate. Before entering the chapel, our guide broke down the visual narrative of the ceiling, as well as the paintings on the walls of the room, which was really helpful for getting the most out of the visit. 

Places To Eat

Obviously I ate plenty of delicious food in Italy! Here are a few of the places we visited while in Rome:
  • Ginger: this cute little spot was right down the street from our hotel and featured healthy Italian dishes like caprese sandwiches and even a juice bar!
  • Lion: While walking back from Piazza Navona, we walked by this very chic little spot and decided to circle back for dinner. The drinks were delish, and they had a really cool deconstructed tiramisu as well.
I also ate the most delicious carbonara by the Forum but I cannot recall the name of the restaurant. I'll try to research on Google Maps and see if I can uncover it!

Also, whenever you're in need of a break, be sure to savor time sitting outside and drinking a cappuccino or Aperol spritz. The Italians know how to sit back and enjoy an afternoon break, and it's something I think we need more of stateside! 


Where To Stay

Our hotel, The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, was—like the name suggests—centrally located near the Pantheon. It was the perfect starting point for our Roman adventures (seriously, I was pleasantly surprised by just how walkable Rome was) and was a lovely boutique hotel with attentive staff and a great rooftop bar,

Rome lived up to my expectations and exceeded them. I hope you get the chance to visit soon!

I also want to give a special shout out to Next Page Travel for helping my mom and I arrange this trip! There were a ton of moving parts with us visiting 3 different cities over the course of a week, and she made it so easy for us to plan our days!

Stay tuned for the Florence and Milan guides coming soon! 

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