Let's list some great things about Tuscany: rolling hills, vineyards, wine...CASTLE WINERIES! Castello di Verrazzano is one of many wineries located in an old castle, and it's the first winery we stopped at for a wine tasting on our tour of Tuscany. It's amazing to not only taste the amazing wine from this region, but to also get to tour awesome castles as well.
Since we are both huge wine lovers now, I wanted to take a tour of Tuscany, see the little hill towns, and go to a handful of wineries to try the local wine. Any organized tour seemed super expensive and only took you to one or two wineries. I did some research and found that the best thing to do was hire a Private Driver, someone who could drive you where ever you wanted to go, but didn't have the credentials to give you an actual tour of anything (in Italy, you need an official license to give customers an actual tour on top of the license you need to drive them around, both cost $$$).
After all of my research, I had my heart set on Alessandro Cammilli, a private driver with stellar reviews and what seemed to be cheaper rates! Luckily he still had one day available while we were in Florence/Tuscany, so I eagerly booked him up. His rates really depend on how many people there are in your group. We paid €300 total, which was cheaper than most, if not all, organized tours, and we ended up going to a bunch of wineries (where we most certainly needed a driver by the end of the day - could not have driven ourselves!) and stopped at 5 or 6 hill towns. Really, you can't find a better deal out there!
If you get tired of all the other tourists in Florence, take a bus to one of the hill towns surrounding the city. We decided to make our way up to Fielsole which overlooks Florence. It's a cheap way to spend your day, seeing Florence from a whole new angle.
Even a quick lunch in Italy can turn out to be good. We were hungry and needed to eat something quick before we were on our way so we stopped at basically fast food pizza right outside the Duomo, the most touristy area in Florence. I was happily surprised that the quality was not terrible due to trying to feed tons of people.
The slices were gigantic and oozing with cheese; although they aren't the most noteworthy food we ate, they were still delicious. It was a bit expensive for pizza slices, but they were pretty filling for just a couple of slices. We got a slice each of Margherita pizza, Pepperoni pizza, and Pepper pizza, yum!
My number one goal while in Venice was to find a shop that fills your empty water bottle with wine for only a couple of euros! I found these brilliant places while researching Venice and I knew I needed, not wanted, but needed to get me some water bottle wine! Only problem, all the addresses I had google mapped were just flat out wrong! We went to 4 or 5 that I had mapped out, and none of them were these wine places. Google maps failed me! I HATE Venice's addressing system - just stupid! It was nearing the departure time of our train and I still hadn't gotten my precious plastic bottle wine. I was desperate; we started asking shop owners if they knew where one was. And thank goodness, we eventually found one!
Venice has their own version of tapas and they are called cicchetti. When you walk around Venice make sure you stop into a few restaurants and see if they have a standing bar/food on display. You always stand for cicchetti or take it on the go, its small bites of food for real cheap and you'll also want to get an ombra. Ombras are small glasses of wine, also cheap. This style of dining is great for trying a lot of different things at a lot of different places!
On our cicchetti crawl we ended up stopping at 3 different places. It was lunch time, and the hours were a little weird at some places that we tried to go to; they just weren't set up for cicchetti yet. I'd suggest wandering around at dinner time to have the most options open!
So Venice is expensive, and the biggest rip off is a gondola ride! Yes, that is what everyone thinks they must do when they come here, but at a starting rate of €80 per 40 min (and €100 after 7:00 pm), we decided it just wasn't worth it. Also, it really doesn't look as romantic as in the movies. So instead of taking a gondola ride, we took a traghetto ride. A traghetto is basically a slightly larger gondola that taxis people from one side of the grand canal to the other. The oarsmen still stand up and paddle you through the water. As a passenger, you can sit or stand - we sat for fear of losing our camera into the canal. It costs €2 (it's cheaper for locals) and takes a couple of minutes to reach the other side. But it's one way to get the gondola feel for significantly less. I feel satisfied for having taken a canal ride that didn't break the bank.
We opted to do a day trip to Venice from Florence. We took the 2 hour train ride in the morning and then came back in the evening in time to have dinner in Florence. Talking with others who had visited, it seemed a lot of people thought that a day or two was sufficient to spend here. I'd have to say I'd agree - Venice is beautiful, but it can be a real headache and it's also pretty expensive. Venice is really just a maze of little streets and canals - the best thing you can do here, hands down, is get lost! And trust me, that's not hard to do, but you have to be in that mindset. If there are specific places you wanted to go, you may never find them. Venice has a weird address system, where places receive a number and a district (there are only 6 districts); nothing is by street name! Google maps is useless for finding the places you want to find most - isn't that lovely, ugh.
Florence is actually a really great city; it's got the historical center with tons of museum rich with history, and it's also got a lot of gardens. Before, I wrote about Piazza Michelangelo and its surrounding gardens, but the Boboli Gardens are another giant garden in Florence. However, here you have to pay. But, the gardens are huge! We spent a couple of hours just in the gardens and we didn't even finish.
One of the greatest things you can just stumble upon, as we found out, is a Gelato Festival! Europeans love gelato and who can blame them? When we were walking around Florence we saw posters for this festival and decided to go. It was great, only 10 euro for a ticket that included 3 gelato tastes of your choice, a nutella gelato, a gelato from Aglida (pre-packaged gelato company) and the best of all a gelato cocktail!
This festival lasted over several days and you could come any day to use your tickets. There was also a competition for the best gelato flavor, which were among the gelatos that you got to choose. We would've voted if the submission form weren't only in Italian and confusing. For some reason they must love pistachio, I like it too but they had at least 5 versions entered into the competition!
Katherine & Bradley
Two engineers with a passion for food and travel! Join us as we eat our way through the world!