I have longed to visit Europe for my entire adult life. I was always intimidated by language barriers, long travel times, and just not knowing where to start. I would get analysis paralysis when it came to planning such a trip and would end up just doing nothing. Last year, when I made my 21k trail run goal, I also had made a goal that I wanted to get over and see Europe…no place specifically but at least the intention was set. Well, I didn’t make the trip prior to my birthday, but with the extremely generous and thoughtful gift from my guy, my first trip to Italy was set in motion just after.
After hemming and hawing a bit over it, I finally decided that I wanted to explore, taste, and drink in the beautiful region of Tuscany. So, this was our starting point and we went from there. There really is a crazy amount to see in Italy. Each region has its own unique culture and personality despite being grouped together under the umbrella name of “Italy”. We didn’t want to do the tour group approach where you spend 1 day in a bunch of different locations, but we decided that staying 2-4 days in a variety of towns would allow us to cover a lot of ground within the 2 weeks. Once we scoped out the cities surrounding Tuscany, we decided that we would have to put off visiting the Southern and Eastern regions for another trip.
Planning this trip was so fun. We had a great time coming up with our loose itinerary. Before leaving we put more attention into the first 2 stays so we could hit the ground running. Between August and October, it was easy to let the excitement build without getting overwhelmed this way. I had lots of details to smooth out to prepare my kids and work to keep rolling without me around but it was all worth it. By the time Canadian Thanksgiving came around we were all set to take off!
To be honest, I did not arrange for the flights. There were plenty of options from Seattle though connecting through other main hubs in Europe. We ended up flying with British Airways with a layover in Heathrow en route to Venice. Everything was timely and the flight crew was properly British. This was the longest flight I have ever taken. It was like a time warp. We had 2 meals, several drinks and many many movies. I don’t do well with sleeping upright on planes and maybe napped for a little while. It was a strange combination of being tired from no sleep but not being tired because you are just sitting for hours on end and you have the excitement of a big adventure on the horizon. I actually didn’t find the long flight unpleasant but did experience some major spaciness the day we arrived. It’s a good thing I am a pro at powering through 🙂 Our only hiccup getting to Italy was that our plane apparently had a fuel leak once we landed in London, so they parked us out in BFE and had to shuttle us back over to the terminal so we could catch our connecting flight. It was a bit disturbing to think of a fuel leak and why we were parked so far away from our gate, but with virtually no sleep and the flight crew in no rush to evacuate the plane, it was fine. We made it to Venice with ease and started our sampler platter of transportation. It was interesting using so much public transport. I have never even taken a bus in the US (that is kind of embarrassing but true) and experiencing transit in Italy was a trip! It was chaotic but worked with relative timeliness and some form of order that was foreign to me. I will talk more on traveling around the different regions in the other blogs about each area we visited. Overall, getting to Italy was easier than expected and made for a great start to our trip.
Where we stayed….
We decided that it was most important to have our first 2 destinations booked while we got used to being in Italy, then booked most of our accommodations a night or two before leaving for the next destination. Overall, we had no issue finding nice places to stay by searching AirBnB and Google maps. We also lucked out in that the Euro was at a low in October, so the exchange rate made for fair pricing on the accommodations we chose. Some people might find this way of travel stressful but it was fun focusing on one thing at a time and not getting all worked up trying to predict what we wanted for every location before arriving in Europe. It was off season (though much busier than expected thanks to the previous years of pandemic shut down) so we were able to have several viable options to choose from. This might not be the approach to take during high travel times of year. It is worthwhile to know that the European Hotel Star rating system is on a 4 star scale rather than 5 stars in the US and Canada. Most hotels actually post it on their signage and they also usually indicate whether kids are welcome or not. I found it funny while researching stays in St. Ortesei that many hotels strongly post “For Adults Only”, as it invoked the idea of some XXX adult club or something. We found out quickly that this is a resort town that many families visit so there were family centric hotels and places that were less suited for hosting kids. It was nice to know and we readily chose Adult Options.
What we ate….
EVERYTHING…. When relying on eating out for virtually every meal you have the opportunity to sample a lot of food. Plus, Italy is famous for it’s cuisine so it was a pleasure to have to sample and experiment with what each region had to offer. Eating happens late in Europe and while recovering from jet lag, it took a few days to get used to. We typically had late breakfasts or lunch, midday snacks and a later dinner. Restaurant didn’t even open until 7:30pm. We would find a local market to stock up on some sort of sliced meat and cheeses, crackers, beer and wine for the room. We learned that most restaurants would serve a bit of a snack with each round of drinks you order. This is a very smart strategy as day drinking is normal in Italy, at least it seemed to be if you were on vacation. I did take a few cappuccinos at the coffee bars as the locals do. The travel blogs I read prior to leaving were correct in that Italians do not sit and luxuriate over Vente sized coffees (ie Starbucks). It’s in and out with a strong but delicious shot of espresso, cappuccino or macchiato. The wine was amazing and we never tasted a house wine that was bad. It seemed to be more economical to order a bottle than individual glasses, so many bottles we consumed over the course of this trip. Each region was very specific in its food culture and I will expand on it in the other blogs. Last note on food is that the service is not fast and when a server does bless you with their presence, be ready to order the whole meal. We had a few times where we wanted to order appetizers and drinks while we browsed the menu, and the server just gave us a look like we were confused and the most annoying thing they had dealt with that day. As a natural born people-pleaser myself, it was uncomfortable for me to feel like I was bothering someone by asking to explain something extra or fumbling with hand signals and broken English to communicate. After a while though, I came to appreciate the honesty of saying directly what I needed/wanted without a bunch of “I’m sorrys” and “whatever is easy for you” phrases. Tipping isn’t like it is here, so they have no reason to kiss your ass. That being said, we had ample wonderful and attentive servers in Italy, and dining out was one of the highlights of our trip.
What we did….
Walking, eating, people watching and marveling at architecture and art. Repeat. That pretty much sums it up. There is so much to see in Italy from nature and what has been made by man. Each region had a new and exciting offering for us to take in. From the spectacular mountains in the Italian Alps to the excavation sites scattered about the busy city of Rome. It was so fun to know you could just step out your door and immediately be taken aback by what was out there. We intentionally stayed in central locations so we could easily reach restaurants and sites by foot. We did have at least one or two must-sees in each place we visited, then allowed time for wandering and seeing what came our way. It was a really nice balance. Much more details are to follow in the regional blogs.
This Italy trip was one that will forever be a sweet spot in my memory. It met all of my expectations and gave flavor and color to how I had always imagined Italy to be. I have such an appreciation now for the cultural diversity that can exist within one country and with each new region we explored I was left with wanting to see more. My favorite spots were the Dolomites and Florence, but each spot we stayed had something that took my breath away or had something that I was seeing for the first time. Italy is a place I absolutely want to visit again and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone craving a European adventure.