Confusing title huh? Not that we’d want to forget our fun time in arguably the most popular city of Renaissance, Florence. Dana actually visited Florence almost a decade ago when his sister studied abroad. So smitten with the city he even picked out a spot for an engagement proposal! More on that later. Fast forward to our honeymoon – only 8 hours in the town where do we venture? Thank you so much to my cousin from Australia who helped make this optional excursion along with other memorable ones possible!
Well we knew that we definitely had to see Davidup close at the Academy of Fine Arts, and of course walk the beautiful streets soaking in the heart of the Renaissance. Johnny also recommended checking out the Uffizi Gallery. I didn’t see the spelling so I re-purposed that word as a pun saying “Ooooh (my) feetsies!” from all the walking we did. I had been training on the elliptical for the Duomo stair climb, and unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to climb the steps, but we did enter as the line died down right before we left for the day to enjoy the magnificent architectural design and artwork within.
Montecatini what a mouthful to say. Honestly we didn’t get to explore the Tuscan town we stayed overnight in extensively, but we had great time overall! I also became obsessed with the word Quirinale because it was part the name of where we stayed, Hotel Francia E Quirinale. (Plus it’s just fun to say.) It used to be where the president would reside so the word itself is associated with being presidential I guess. The hotel itself had an old world charm to it from those obnoxiously huge keys with a plastic tag. This may have been our favorite location in terms of food since the Swordfish one night was excellent. Breakfast each morning was consistently great! (They had this unique over hard egg in a Hollandaise-esque sauce.) We got to enjoy the outdoor pool on the last day! I didn’t notice any specific signage for their thermal spas, so perhaps if we return in the future we will seek them out!
Next stop: the historical town of Lucca for our adventure, hidden in the rolling hills of Tuscany. We were really en route to Montecatini, but of course we can’t check in until 3PM so why not take another side trip? (This seemed to be Gate 1’s itinerary strategy.) Our journey there by bus (and to all the subsequent locations) slowly lulled me to sleep by our wonderful driver, Stefano. For the parts when I was awake, I noticed narrow highways with large strips of farm land similar to the US. There were of course several olive and fig trees instead of the regular US corn vegetation. Never heard of it? Apparently that was the point! There was so much history in this lesser known portion of Italy that we both discovered! Our excellent local tour guide, Gabriel, explained that Lucca was one of the most secure kingdoms in Italy during the middle ages. Also it was one of the few stable currencies accepted across Europe, until the rulers decided they needed more of a low profile. Thus much of the city has been well preserved including the remarkable walls all around the city. As he put it, everyone knows that Switzerland is a rich country with a high standard of living, but try to name the prime minister. (Do they even use a PM? I don’t know, but they’re rich!)
On the same day we visited the glass factory, we also took a shuttle boat back to Venice! I couldn’t wait to experience my first Gondola ride, despite it being the most cliché activity. Johnny warned us ahead of time about the importance of “Church Attire” to show respect and to make sure we get into the Basilica. Shoulders and legs need to be covered. No short shorts or sun dresses with thin straps. The weather reminded us of New England since it was raining during the morning so I of course donned my trust black trench rain jacket. As soon as we reached St. Mark’s Square the hot sun burst through the clouds and I had to tie the jacket around my waist! Johnny pointed out the key locations for meeting in one of the corners of the square and across from the Corinthian columns. He made sure to let us know not to walk between them since that’s where executions would take place!
So American using Fahrenheit.
We met the first of our various local tour guides, Sylvia. She confirmed the info that Johnny had told us on the shuttle boat that the residential population of Venice itself is shrinking. Now it’s only about 50,000 when it used to be 200,000+. However, the tourism is still increasing. We definitely noticed this on Monday where bodies filled almost every crevice from the Pier to Piazza San Marco at 10 AM! We reversed our original plan of visiting Doge’s Palace first for our group appointment then to the Basilica. All the while Johnny was still coordinating the timing of the optional Gondola ride with musical serenade.
Gondolas along Grand Canal
View above before entering Basilica. No photos inside.
Travel Tuesdays now considering we still have yet to post a review about TV Shows from the schedule? Magical Murano because we had the pleasure of seeing live the process of glass blowing AND a Double Rainbow on our last day on the island!
Venice and Murano was our first stop after an overnight flight at 9PM from Boston with a connection in Munich. We we thoroughly enjoyed all the modern amenities of the modern Lufthansa Airline. I watched 2.5 movies (Moonlight, Trolls and half of Fantastic Beasts before falling asleep.) A woman next to us in the aisle seat also kept giving us her extra food so I had plenty of snacks. The meal was edible, but nothing amazing however we had as much wine and alcohol as we wanted. (Probably the standard for international flights!) The connecting flight with Air Dolomiti was much less impressive, since everything looked like it was from the 70s. It was only 1 hour but I slept the entire time!
“Beef” flight meal
Local connecting Airplane we boarded from Tarmac
Luckily for us just as we landed there was someone from Gate 1 ready to direct us and there was a Water Taxi ready for us! We encountered another couple too from New England area. The taxi driver dropped us off right in front of our beautiful hotel LaGareon the charming island of Murano! We were a bit early so our room wasn’t quite ready but they said it’d be ready within 30-45 minutes. We were both so tired from our red-eye flights so we stopped by the caffé next door for some caffeine and a rare find of NO COVER CHARGE. Dana ordered a hot drink and I had an iced drink. They came with complimentary biscuits/cookies for us to dip. The place was so beautifully decorated with colorful artisanal glass all along the walls. Feel free to check out my Yelp or Trip Advisorreview for more details about the hotel itself coordinated by Gate 1. Originally the travel documents said we’d stay within Venice, which would have been nice to explore however I did not mind the quiet charm of Murano.
We’re back from Italy ! If you haven’t seen our Honeymoon Travel Map yet, you can follow along with our journey! We have quite the treasure trove of stories to share with you (while we recover from jet-lag and procrastinate packing for the big move)! Overall the tour of Italy was quite memorable with only a few hiccups and surprises along the way. (We’ll get to those in more detail in subsequent blog posts.) When we revisit in the future, we will plan our own trip now that we are more familiar with the country! Thanks to our wonderful family and friends we were able to add all of the optional tours to our itinerary as well! For the Italy travel blog series/reviews this will serve as a landing page, similar to the engagement/wedding series announcement. Please subscribe on the side for updates!
We used the tour travel company, Gate 1, since they offered the most destinations we were interested in with a variety of departure dates.** I spoke casually with a fellow Yelper who had a very positive experience a few years ago for his Italy trip too, so we were excited for our honeymoon trip! We had a local Tour Manager the entire trip giving us live “tips”, sharing local culture, coordinating our accommodations, and answering our probing questions. Giovanni (Anglicized to Johnny) had a wealth of knowledge as he was born in Rome, traveled around so he also had an English accent, quite a bit of sass in his biting humor, and a strange obsession for Rick Steves. (Never heard of the guy until this trip.)
I know most other travelers my age tend to be more adventurous and plan their own trip as they go. I did not however, expect that the demographic of our tour group to be mostly affluent retired couples! The company’s website and social media photos did not reflect this at all. Not a big deal, and it makes sense that it’s difficult for most people to take 2 weeks off and spending a hefty sum for a vacation. All the other travelers were quite pleasant and a few of them even took candid photos and shared with us. I will add the in-depth stories about our adventures and reviews for the hotels we stayed at for each location as a separate blog post in the series! I’ve got a lot to say about several of them exceeding the review site character limit.
2 weeks away from our 2 week Tour of Italy honeymoon! We are eternally grateful for everyone who contributed to our honeymoon fund to make our trip even more memorable! In addition to uploading photos on social media, we will share details about our trip here since we don’t travel often enough to warrant a separate travel blog. Of course there will also be reviews and stories integrated for all the main stops!
I also created a Google Map, which you can browse of some locations we will visit on our adventure. Thanks to my friend MlleJia for sharing how she embedded the map while she’s documenting her adventures in SE Asia. I think that is an upgrade WordPress feature that’s not available for the basic package we have. You can just click on the image and it will take you to my Google Map for more details about each of the stops laid out over the course of 14 days!
If you have any recommendations please share we would love to add more places to check out while we are in Italy!