It kind of makes me cringe to say this, but my sisters and I actually hated Venice–so much so that we cut our visit short. I was fully expecting to be enchanted by the colorful buildings, winding canals, and the romantic vibe that characterizes the small islands. In actuality, it lacked any true charm and seemed to be entirely catered to tourists.
While in Italy, we decided to use AirBnB for a more authentic feel rather than stay in Americanized hotels. Our apartments in Milan, La Spezia, and Florence were all functional yet cozy, giving us a true sense of European living. Venice was a different story. As soon as my sister told me that she had killed a bug on the bed, I was packing up my suitcase and rolling it down the cobblestone streets. Only one towel (that could barely pass as more than an extra-large hand towel) was provided for four of us, the apartment was visibly dirty, it appeared as if no one had stayed there in months, and it wasn’t even the same place we originally rented. I can handle an uncomfortable bed and even a shower with no tub, but bugs in the bed? Not gonna happen.
On our third try, we finally found a nearby hotel that could accommodate us and offered a clean room. Maybe it was the bad start, or maybe it was the smell that engulfed Venice, but we still couldn’t leave the city fast enough. I’ve been told that you’re missing “it” if you don’t wander and get lost, so maybe you can’t discover the hidden gems in less than 24 hours. Or maybe you need a significant other and a destination wedding planned at the Aman Canal Grande. George Clooney wouldn’t steer us wrong, right?
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Florence. Everything about it was mesmerizing–the shopping, the people, and the city streets were all charming. We arrived in the rain, but it didn’t stop us from exploring the city to its fullest potential. I’m already anxious to return…three days just wasn’t enough!
Uffizi Gallery // You can’t go to Florence and not visit the Uffizi Gallery. We spent three hours in the museum, but we easily could have dedicated an entire day to studying the work of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and da Vinci, just to name a few.
Piazza del Duomo // We passed by the cathedral several times a day, yet it still remained one of the most striking sights. Go early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds while getting a close look at the Gothic architecture.
Piazzale Michelangelo // Watching the sun set is one of my favorite things to do, especially in a new location. Piazzale Michelangelo offers one of the best views of Florence, so we made the hike about 30 minutes before sunset to grab a beer and enjoy the live music. Buy a bottle of wine on your way up, and snag a seat on the steps for an unforgettable memory.
Ponte Vecchio // The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, spanning across the Arno River. Stores line the entirety of the bridge, so take a stroll and go shopping for an authentic experience.
San Lorenzo Market // The San Lorenzo Market is an indoor and outdoor market with vendors selling everything from leather goods to truffle oil. If you have the time, get lost wandering the streets until you find the perfect handbag.
The Boboli Gardens // We visited the Boboli Gardens on a sunny afternoon, and it couldn’t have been more beautiful. The gardens are situated behind Pitti Palace, displaying antique and Renaissance sculptures.
Wine Tasting in Tuscany // Wine tasting is pretty much synonymous with Tuscany. We booked a half-day tour to the Chianti region and had such a fun experience. Our group was a blast, and by the time we finished the tasting at the second winery, everyone was sharing (and laughing at) their most American moment while abroad.
The style in Florence can vary quite a bit, mostly because you’ll see so many American students walking to class or stopping at one of the many cute cafes for coffee. It seems like the ‘college girl uniform’ is universal–North Face jacket, Longchamp bag, leggings, and riding boots. Just because you don’t have a fanny pack doesn’t mean you don’t stick out among the effortlessly cool locals. Comfort is always a concern when traveling, but I tried to wear pieces that didn’t scream tourist. A pair of distressed boyfriend jeans and a silk blouse was casual enough for a morning of museum hopping followed by an afternoon bike ride. Shoes are always key, which is why I religiously wore low-heeled booties. I bought these a few days before the trip and didn’t even need to break them in. A felt fedora and a coral lip pulled the look together.
Vini e Vecchi Sapori // Run by a couple and their son, Vini e Vecchi Sapori is a tiny restaurant tucked in a quiet side street. When a friend said she would travel nine hours just to eat there, I knew we had to try it. My meal ended up being my favorite pasta dish–tagliatelle with black cabbage and bacon–in all of Italy, and we loved their housemade wine so much that we asked to buy a decanter of it (unfortunately the wine wasn’t available to purchase!).
Gusta Pizza // I can’t tell you how many times Gusta Pizza was recommended to us by both friends and strangers. We almost skipped it because of the hype, but we eventually made our way there on our last day. It was difficult to find even with a map, so we made one final attempt by spotting a group of American students and banking on them going to the pizzeria. Beware; it’s messy and requirs a fork and knife, but it’s so fresh and flavorful.
Acqua Al 2 // With locations in San Diego and Washington, D.C., we’ve heard many good things about Acqua Al 2 though never dined at the restaurant. A travel agent based in D.C. suggested that we visit the original location and try the tasting menu. We sampled six different pasta dishes and three different filet mignon presentations–the blueberry reduction sauce was so delicious!
Vecchio Forno // We stumbled upon Vecchio Forno on our last morning in the city, ordering an array of freshly baked pastries. I loved the fruit tart! Our only regret was that we hadn’t found the bakery sooner.
Edoardo Gelateria // Hands-down the best gelato we had throughout the week. Edoardo only uses organic ingredients and is free of additives and coloring. We also learned to never eat gelato from a tin (only a canister!) because that’s usually an indicator that the ice cream isn’t authentic.
Mercato Centrale // The open-air market is the perfect place for a quick bite to eat. We stopped in a couple of times since it was close to our apartment and had a wide selection.
I try to eat healthy most of the time and maintain a balanced diet, but I especially like to eat clean before traveling. With a vacation on the horizon, I decided to try a one-day juice cleanse with Gundalow Juice, a new, local cold-pressed juice company in Baltimore. The company was founded on ambition, with the premise of fueling others to “sail windward” and push through anything that life throws at them.
I had never done a cleanse before, so I admittedly was a little unsure of what to expect. The package included six juices, with the majority of them being a shade of green—hence the nervousness. I was prepared to hold my nose while chugging the juices down as fast as I could, but I actually liked them all! My two favorite juices were “Sailor’s Delight” and “Green Tastes Great”—green really did taste great! While I didn’t find myself unbearably hungry throughout the day (I did eat a salad for lunch), I definitely felt the cleansing effects, like indigestion and a lack of ability to focus. I don’t think I will do a cleanse again, but the juices alongside a nutritious lunch would be perfect for a pick-me-up whenever I need an energy boost.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Gundalow Juice. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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I am not a registered dietician, and all posts related to fitness and health are my personal beliefs.
All opinions represented on Jimmy Choos on the Treadmill are my own.