Travel on the Side

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After three weeks of touring Italy, I decided to jot some notes down on the things I learned. Some of these are tips, some are surprises. I’ve broken it down into daily life, transport, food/dining, and comments about the U.S. that we heard from Italian friends and co-workers. Daily Life How many things can the word “prego” mean? It’s so much more than just “you’re welcome.” The acceptance that daily Italian life… Read More

We had some great day trips from Florence with Venice and Chianti country being two of the best. But how could I neglect Siena? I need to add it to the top of my list of favorite places. Its lovely traffic-free center is filled with quaint shops, good restaurants, stunning architecture, and friendly folks. Just over an hour by car from Florence, it makes a nice day trip. Our shuttle bus dropped us… Read More

A short 35 minute train ride from Florence and we were in Bologna. I think tourists are just starting to discover the charms of Bologna. Of all the well-known places we visited, this was the most low-key and we liked it. No tour guides with their flags leading hordes of tourists. Just every day Italians going to work or university. In Piazza Maggiore, we met up with a local actress dressed as… Read More

OK, maybe the title of this post is a bit over the top, but it fully encapsulates my view on Pisa. I had a free afternoon in Florence, so I decided to take the 50 minute train ride over to Pisa to explore. Hopping off the train at Pisa Centrale, I followed the tourist markers to the torre. And there they were, loads of tourists trying to get that classic holding-up-the-leaning-tower pose…. Read More

To me, Milan is a bit like the Chicago of Italy. It has the skyscrapers, wide streets, and industry. It’s underrated, or maybe understated? I dunno. Sometimes in Florence I felt hemmed in by the buildings and the medieval alleyways–and of course, the hordes of tourists. In Milan, I had space and it was welcomed change. Milan can be done as a day trip, although overnight would be OK too. We had… Read More

You can’t go to Italy without sampling some wine, right? On our second day trip from Florence, we boarded a tour bus to escort us to up to the hills of Chianti country. Our destination: Castello del Trebbio, about a 40 minute drive from Florence. Here we toured a beautiful old castle – home to the wealthy Pazzi family during Renaissance Florence times. The Pazzi family were rivals to the well-known Medici… Read More

On our first day trip from Florence, we ventured off to enchanting Venice. Chaperoning students can be a bit like herding cats, but by hook or by crook we all made it to the Firenze S.M.N. station in time to catch our train. And this is one of the (many) things I loved about Italy: high-speed train service. We were whisked away from Florence to Venice, going around 200km/hr. Travel time is around… Read More

So for all of June, Florence was hot…usually 90 Fahrenheit or above. Abundant sunshine and blue skies every day. And dry. Not a drop of rain…until my second to last night there. Rain moved in during the afternoon and all of the sudden the tourists were nowhere to be seen. It was weird. After three weeks of battling the streets and sidewalks of tourists and tour groups, they had disappeared. Piazza del… Read More

In Florence, my home base was near Santa Maria Novella, one of the many historic churches. This basilica seems like an underrated tourist site to me. Its close proximity to the samely-named train station means thousands of tourists must pass by it each day. It’s definitely worth stopping in and taking a look. The first weekend I was in Florence, it was one of the meeting points for a large and colorful… Read More

Palazzo Vecchio (“old palace”) is the heart of Renaissance Florentine politics. Actually, it still functions as the heart of politics in Florence as the town hall. Located on Piazza della Signoria, the famous statue of Michelangelo’s David greets you at the entrance. However, don’t be fooled! It’s a replica. The original stands in the Accademia. Inside Palazzo Vecchio, it’s part art gallery, part history lesson, and part political intrigue as the seat of… Read More