Europe 2.0

Here we go again. Part two of our trip and my travel takeaways after our first huge trip together! It was a shock to head into Rome after the stillness of Tuscany, back to the bustling streets and pick pockets! I don’t have much to say on Rome, primarily because we chose to save a lot of money on our Airbnb, knowing we would not be spending much time there during our whirlwind two days in the city. We definitely got what we paid for. It dampens the experience a bit, to have a room you are not comfortable in; however, we are happy to say we’ve “done” Rome! We blitzed through the Colosseum and Pantheon (the ruins were our absolute favourite, unexpectedly so!) and spent a full day at the expansive Vatican Museum, complete with a quick visit in St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. I’m not going to lie: I think the most enjoyable part for me was how Rome brought to life all of the best and most memorable moments in my favourite book series, The Mark of the Lion (Francine Rivers). Jesse and I also thoroughly enjoyed overhearing a couple of ignorant tourists trying to figure out whether they were in the Sistine Chapel yet or not (we were definitely already in it).

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During all of our adventures in Rome, we made good use of Rick Steves Audio Europe App. You download the walking tours while on wifi and then let him lead you through the attraction. No uncomfortable headphones, short and to-the-point tours, and it’s free! Rick is a little corny but overall, he’s fairly engaging and tells you interesting facts, stories, and myths. Having an audio tour absolutely makes the experience. You could be just staring at old Roman courtyard ruins but with an audio guide, the scene comes alive and suddenly you are looking on this ancient courtyard of the Vestal Virgins, priestesses of the goddess Vesta, who would be buried alive as punishment if they broke their vow of chastity. It was also particularly interesting to have Rick point out features of famous sculptures. How Apollo Belvedere is sculpted with complete harmony and balance of body, the peak of masculinity – the ultimate specimen in Greek mythology. Or how Lacoon’s body ripples with movement and tension, lifelike and indicative of the sculptor’s intimate knowledge of the workings of the human body. You would just never know this history or notice the fine features and aesthetics without listening and engaging with the pieces in a practical way. Seeing such history in Rome was really quite surreal.

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And then there was Positano. Positano was the breath of fresh air my soul didn’t even know it needed. Crystal clear blue waters. Jagged cliffs. Restaurant owners in breezy linen shirts leaning up lazy against their door frames, calling jovially to their neighbours. Bands playing while we ate dinner al fresco as the sun set majestically over the water. Rinsing all the sand off after a long hot day at the beach and not even pausing to put clothes on before enjoying a glass of post-shower wine on our private terrace. Waking up to the ocean with coffee. We loved this place.

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We spent one day at the smaller, less busy beach (Fornillo) and one day at the popular Spiaggia Grande. While Positano’s beaches are certainly not the cheapest place to vacation, the town’s food was always delicious and reasonable and the atmosphere is out of this world. Walking lazily along the winding, steep, streets was picturesque and easy. We stayed at Pensione Maria Luisa where Carlos provides one of the most reasonable rates for an ocean view room in Positano. The private terrace is an optional extra splurge (very worth it, in my opinion). Seriously, you will not find another room with a view like ours for less than 120 euros. While it didn’t include breakfast, the room was clean and beachy feeling and Carlos was a delightfully sweet man. He lugged our majorly overweight suitcase up the staircase and provided an excellent recommendation for our lunch AND dinner. His smile just lit up what had begun as a fairly stressful travel day. Given that Positano is more about relaxation and quiet, leisurely exploration, a stunning room is fairly important. We didn’t really do much other than read on the beach and read on the patio with yes, more wine. We were ready to relax after Rome and trying to gather our strength for Paris. By this point, Jesse was also in dire need of more introvert time.

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The water was crisp and cool, but no match for these Canadian swimmers! When you’re used to lake water in BC, the Mediterranean Sea is a dream. We were mostly alone in the water, bobbing up and down in the waves, watching cheekily and occasionally calling out and taunting as those tenderfoot americans would stride up to the water’s edge, ready to be refreshed, and hastily retreat once their toes hit the cool water.

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These two days were like a vacation within a vacation. We can’t wait to go back!

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We had a blissful third morning on our terrace, reading and soaking in the last of the salty ocean breeze before hopping on a plane from Naples to Paris, France. I had a feeling Paris would feel like home to me and I was not mistaken! Jesse and I both kept remarking how this was the one large, metropolitan city we’d visited that we could see ourselves living in. We loved it. I fell in love with the vines and ivy winding their way through little wrought iron balconies and the window box flowers high up on old apartment buildings. Paris was definitely the most expensive place we visited and my one regret was not being able to eat like kings due to cost, like we were able to in more affordable Italy.

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We spent our first morning exploring Le Marais, a gorgeous and charming district where there are shops, galleries, cafes, and tiny alley ways to get lost in. We made our way to Rue Cler after and bought tender, salty, pillowy baguette, still warm from the oven, ice cold french white wine, fresh butter, fruit from the market, and a few varieties of cheese picked out by a very friendly cheesemonger. That afternoon on the Champs de Mars was without a doubt, one of the highest points of our trip. We just sat there in the glorious sunshine, nibbling away and commenting on the serious funk of the brie cheese. The people watching was fabulous and it felt surreal to be just casually drinking wine on the lawn in the heart of Paris. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to climb the Tour Eiffel with a little buzz! I was sticking my head through the bars at the very top to get a true panoramic view and Jesse kept telling me if I got stuck he would leave me behind. I would absolutely make this a must-do on your trip to Paris. The tower was amazing but to just sit there, relishing in beautiful culture and eating the rich food of Paris’ markets – c’est magnifique! (Shut up, Jesse)

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After the Eiffel Tour, we of course wandered down the Champs Elysees, making our way back to Le Marais to eat at a lovely little cafe called Les Philosophes. My duck confit here was crispy and salty on the outside and full of tender juicy meat on the inside. We also splurged on a couple of decadent creme brulees and a gorgeous bottle of wine! One of our favourite parts about eating in Italy and Paris were the tightly packed outdoor tables where you are forced to interact with other guests just by nature of physical proximity. During this meal, we were dying over the American lady next to us, patronizingly trying to translate back and forth between her English speaking comrades and the poor waiter who did in fact, speak perfect English. At one point she translated for them when the watier pronounced “mashed potatoes” with a little more flare than usual. We giggled about this interaction for days. It’s worth mentioning here that all the talk about French people being rude just doesn’t bear weight. We encountered probably less than five people during our entire European trip who spoke no English and only one of them was rude about it. We found that if we at least tried to speak their language or exchanged greetings in French, people were more than willing to continue on in English. We were sort of humbled by the realization that modern millennials in these countries speak a minimum of two languages – where most Canadians and Americans speak only English. Definitely impressive.  

Day two began at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (I just moved from bench to bench while Jesse perused the works). We then explored the neighbourhood of Saint Germain where there are tons of shops, boutiques, and the infamous Latin Quarter! I was expecting more street vendors in this area for international cuisine but again, most of the restaurants just were not affordable. We did find some amazing burgers and reassured ourselves that you couldn’t get French food more authentic than French fries. We hit Notre Dame next (haunting and absolutely gorgeous) and then explored Ile de la cite. We had our first rather large fight of the trip about absolutely nothing (pretty impressive considering it had been three weeks at this point) but it didn’t take away from the charm of this area. I would say it was probably one of my favourite neighbourhoods of our entire trip! We ate at an adorable little restaurant called Ma Salle a Manger in Place Dauphine, a very romantic square on the west end of Ile de la cite. There were people playing bocce in the grassy middle and the sound of wine glasses clinking and voices humming over shared meals all about the square. Such a magical symphony.

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After dinner we wandered back to Notre Dame with ice cream to see it lit up at night. I wasn’t kidding when I called this place haunting and beautiful. There was just something about Notre Dame that sort of stole my breath. 

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Day three was the absolutely stunning Chateau de Versailles. Don’t be fooled here by your pre-purchased ticket… you will wait for an hour in line just for security. It was a scorcher of a day so a bit of a rough start for these tired tourists. The main palace was so elaborate and grand but the real highlight for Jesse and me was the gardens! We decided to pay an exorbitant amount of money for bikes and honestly, I would highly recommend this to anyone visiting. We got to really make the most of our tickets by seeing so much more of the expansive grounds. And biking seemed to keep us cool with a nice breeze, meaning we lasted much longer! There are tiny palaces all over the grounds and the most charming little medieval village, imagined by Marie Antoinette. It sort of reminded me of the provencal village of Beauty and the Beast. Seems Marie Antoinette wanted to run away and live in a little fairytale of her own (I don’t know anyone like that…). According to Rick, she would run to her little village and “pretend” she was a farm girl, while the nation meanwhile crumbled all around her and King Louis (the 14th?). I clearly loved the history lessons from my audio tour at this place. Jesse had to give up listening to his tour due to the whole issue with multitasking (seeing and hearing don’t mesh well when you are a man) so I would excitedly pause my tour to tell him the most interesting parts! Another bonus to renting the bikes was sneaking off to hidden corners of the forested grounds to uphold the Italian “siesta” we had become so accustomed to! Versailles was a gorgeous little day.

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The first photo below basically sums up our trip. An athletic and fit Jesse striding purposefully through foreign lands, confident in his navigation and general place in life, while I half walked, half jogged along behind him, huffing and puffing and complaining about my hips, unsure which way was left and which way was right.

The second photo is the exact living proof of why I don’t believe in taking my own photos of monuments. Those poor people.

Day four of Paris was really quite comical. I think when you know you’re going home the next day, you just feel ready to go home. We tried to make Le Louvre happen but after standing in line for 20 minutes, we pulled the plug, acknowledging that we did not want to spend our last day in Paris in a line up. We opted instead to visit the Centre Georges Pompidou. My one regret would be not making time to see some more romantic paintings, such as those at Musee d’Orsay (I love Monet and Van Gogh!). Jesse loved the museums we visited and that was very important to him. I loved the art in the Vatican and Chateau de Versailles and probably would have loved those similarly classical paintings the most. Next time I suppose! After the museum, our time was a bit of a blur. Like I said, we were ready to be home and I was very grumpy. The plan was to explore Montemarte a bit and visit Le Sacre Coeur but we were just so exhausted. We managed to pop in to see Jardin du Luxembourg and then just dragged ourselves back for a quick nap in our room. Leaving things undone in Paris almost provides greater incentive to visit again. I just know that city is not done with Jesse and me! We had a gorgeous last dinner in a tiny restaurant where the owners did not speak a lick of English, walking distance from our room. More duck confit for me! The last photo here is my daring attempt to take a photo of Nick Jonas as I walked by his seat (three feet away from my thumping heart) in first class on our plane back to Heathrow. He looked at me and I had no chill whatsoever, hence the photo. I still consider this photo proof of our souls colliding in Paris, though. You can’t fake that kind panic.

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That sort of brings me to my last note about Paris. Our AirBnB here was also quite stellar. Maguy was phenomenal and welcoming and we felt right at home! There was fresh French bread from the bakery next door every morning with jam and coffee. We enjoyed lazy mornings there. The room was charming and spacious and Maguy checked in with us everyday to see how our sightseeing was going and to offer books, maps, and tips. She just created a true home-like atmosphere. We were relieved to collapse in her flat each evening. We were in a relatively quiet area but still completely central and a few minutes walking distance from the metro. We would both highly, highly, highly recommend this room for your next trip to Paris!

Jesse and I both still can’t quite believe this trip actually happened. We are so thankful to have had the experience and thankful for the circumstances that facilitated our trip in more logistical ways. We work really hard everyday and vacations like these make the grind so very worthwhile.

I wanted to share some of my tips, thought processes, and lessons learned in planning and enjoying our trip!

  1. Photography. Don’t bring that huge DSLR you have kicking around and only pull out three times a year. You won’t use it. I remember saying to Jesse, “There’s no way I’m going horseback riding in the middle of the Tuscan hills and not bringing a proper camera!”. I had to eat crow on this one because we pulled the big camera out literally one time, mostly by obligation. Between pick pocket worries and the size they take up in your backpack, it’s just not worth it. We (Jesse) set up our phones to back up to Google Photos so we never ran out of space and we just clicked away.
  2. Footwear. I have to rave about our Teva’s! These shoes were incredible! I didn’t have a ton of time to break them in and I won’t lie and say I went without blisters. But now, these two pairs of sandals are our absolute go-to for any activity. They are perfectly molded to our feet and mine in particular offer a lot more support and cushioning than Birks. No rubbing, pinching, etc. If you are looking to purchase footwear and break them in before your trip, we can attest to the success of these shoes. I wish we were going on another trip soon just so I could enjoy how amazing they are again. Jesse’s shoes are no longer available but he got some similar to this pair. Mine were a bit more feminine and are still available here. Both pairs were a great investment and look really good too. I get tons of compliments! We’ll probably buy the same pairs when ours one day wear out. On a side note, we both also got new black Nike’s, knowing they could be dressed up or down, and wore the hell out of those too. We were so basic with our matching shoes. Haha.
  3. Pick Pockets. We learned that if you are aware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine. If I were a pick pocket, I wouldn’t go for the two young people who look fairly street savvy – I’m targeting the two retired folks with their hiking backpack who have their faces buried in a camera or map. I’m definitely generalizing here but it’s really easy to stand out like a sore thumb. We saw a couple French locals who quickly warned a tourist when a pick pocket was eyeing them and they really did stand out. Try to be aware of where you are, look at people as you walk through a crowd, and move quickly and with purpose. If we were standing in a crowd watching a street performer or something, I would stand just slightly behind Jesse so I could keep an eye on our backpack. I know it sounds silly but I think it made a big difference!
  4. Think like a local. Some of the most memorable moments for us were when we didn’t do anything particularly touristy. In Italy, everyone smokes. We loved sitting up on a bridge at night, watching the city lights dance on the River Arno, smoking a cigarette and reflecting on our day. Ew, gross, Olivia. I know. So unladylike. So unhealthy, you terrible nurse. But seriously, how many of us can say we smoked on the river in Florence? It was a cheap, uncomplicated, memorable, kind of poignant moment for us. Pop into a cafe and just sitsipping your cappuccino, with no agenda – nowhere to be. That’s what the Italians do and they do it for a reason! Our favourite moments of the trip were when we slowed down and allowed the world around us have a chance to sink in.
  5. Budget. Be prepared to go over it. Missed trains, overweight luggage, expensive dinner, forgetting that 2 for 1 admission waiver at Westminster Abbey… Buying bandaids, water bottles, umbrellas, double the number of bus tickets you planned for, shattering two wine bottles in a fancy shop and paying for them (yes, that happened). The list goes on and on. I’m going to guess that we spent probably $1500-$2000 more than I planned for, hands down. Unexpected problems arise and I had to just let go and accept the bumps in the road as they came along, acknowledging that we may not return to Europe for a very long time and I didn’t want to look back and remember stress and worries.
  6. Most importantly… buy a corkscrew and bring it with you wherever you go!

There are so many other things we learned along the way during this trip and I can’t possibly write them all down. We get asked a lot what our favourite stops were and for both of us, Positano and Tuscany were exquisite and on a completely different level. I’m thankful to have family in Europe who give added incentive to save up for international travel. We are intrigued by Central Europe and would love to do trips to places like Berlin, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Austria, and of course, England again! I welcome any tips, tricks, budget planners, and reviews. The internet is such a gift – we all get to share ways that we made Europe work for us and our lives and interests.

I hope you enjoyed reading through our journey. Since we got married, travel – whether local or foreign – has been one of my favourite topics to write about. Reflecting on all of the wonderful places we have been fortunate enough to visit is a joy and a blissful trip down memory lane. It’s also very reassuring to know that thanks to the joys of the internet, I will always be able to look back and remember the highs and lows of this once (hopefully not just once!) in a lifetime trip. That’s all for now! ❤

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Europe 1.0

How do you begin to tell anyone about travel in Europe? I truly don’t know how to start – it was that wild. Jesse and I didn’t exactly haul huge packs on our backs everywhere and traverse across the entire continent. Our trip was fairly contained. Three countries, eight cities, twenty-three days. And two very inspired and satisfied people. Well… satisfied until about a month later when we started thinking about Central Europe and all the places we’ve yet to visit! We truly had an incredible time. There is no way I can possibly write down everything we did, saw, ate, and drank. But I can write about the moments that still linger in my head, strong and bright and vivid.

It’s safe to say that we are hooked on travel. I did everything I could to save money and now feel much more equipped to plan an efficient and budget friendly trip again sometime soon. It feels important to do so. It feels expansive, meaningful, and inherently valuable. Travel to these countries carries so much more value than I could have ever imagined and I don’t want to only do it once. I read somewhere once that if travel is a priority for you, it often takes a great deal of sacrifice to make it happen. I anticipate this sentiment will be a constant tension for Jesse and I as we move through different phases of life that typically include certain “milestones”.

Now, I’ve said it many times before and I’ll preface this post by saying it again: I really don’t believe in seeing the world’s greatest places through the lens of a camera. If I want a really great photo of Notre Dame or The Sistine Chapel, I’ll find a professional one online or buy a postcard – neither Jesse nor I feel any need whatsoever to take a photo in front of every monument we visit in life as proof that we were there. When we visited these amazing places, I didn’t bother with too many photos. I wanted to experience our trip with all of my own physical senses. The photos here are many of the thousands of little “moments” captured and I am so excited to share them with you all! That said, I won’t pretend that these photos are like, incredible. I’m not posing as a photographer here. They’re special to us and hold so many memories but to be honest, the whole internet/technology thing was a big problem for me tonight and I may have thrown the laptop into a pile of dirty dishes sitting beside me on the couch, released an epic sigh/swear/noise, and stormed off to the bathroom to pout/cry while Jesse looked on helplessly. I did not have the energy to edit these photos for your viewing pleasures. Enjoy them in all of their imperfections!

The first order of business on our trip was a delightful but far-too-short stop in the UK. As many of you know, my mom moved to Canada, away from her family when she was just 19 years old. Apart from my grandparents, seeing my UK fam has been more rare up until the last few years. It was a treat for Jesse and I to spend time with them on their turf. After a highly drugged plane ride to Heathrow, we hit the ground running, full of adrenaline and ready for a wee bit of a pub crawl with my cousins, Will and Ed, and my Aunty Wendy (whom I haven’t seen in EIGHT years!!) in Witney. They treated us royally that first night and we loved running around their gorgeous town. I have always delighted in English homes and hidden pathways and the romance of it all and I think I must have excitedly pointed out to Jesse every old barn, pathway, and stone house we passed by that evening as we moved from pub to pub! It was surreal to share this part of my life with him. The next morning, we began our first full day in a Cotswolds village called Burford. If you haven’t had a real British fry-up yet, you have not lived. Here would be a perfect place to try one!

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We spent the day meandering through Oxford, running into Jamie Wiebe (!), enjoying the side streets and popping into pubs. Book shops and cobblestone abound here and there are plenty of historic buildings, castles, and churches to visit as well. This day came to an end bittersweetly as we parted ways with two thirds of our company and made the drive to Derby to see Nan and the rest of the gang. The next few days were so special to me – I can’t talk/think about them without tears in my eyes.

Grampy passing away was one of my first true losses thus far in life. I hadn’t even considered when we booked our trip that it would be one year exactly since his death. I have tried for weeks to put words to the feeling of visiting the gravesite of someone you love. It is this: what a strange and empty feeling, to look at a mound of dirt where they lay in the ground, searching for a memory of the last time you saw them, inhaled their scent, felt their presence. What a heavy heart pain, to look at their resting place and feel anything but rest. To know that you didn’t know it would be the last time but it was. It was the last time. And that is your grandfather lying there beneath the earth. Distance may be one of the few select circumstances that make death harder than it already is. I said goodbye and I told him that I loved him, finding peace in the knowledge that whether he could hear me or not, he knows I love him. The beautiful cemetery was a tangle of greenery and the wild bluebells were blooming bright. I didn’t ever want to walk away from him but oh how I took comfort in leaving him behind in a place so rich in tranquility and lightness. That evening we ate Wastie Curry and I knew it would be, in recollection, a most sacred day of our trip.

We spent the next day exploring the glorious Chatsworth House and Grounds with the family, giving Jesse a taste of the English countryside that I hold so dear to my heart. It’s as I said. These days were not long enough. I had baby cousins to tickle and kiss and so much catching up to do but alas, we eventually hopped on an early coach to London.

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London was an interesting one for us. An interesting dynamic as we navigated trying to visit places that held interest for both of us. My parents have taken us to London a few times, the most recent being around age 15. It was surreal being there without them! Jesse and I agreed to visit at least one grand English church and Westminster Abbey was my pick! After all, I needed to walk the grounds where my spirit animal, Kate Middleton, stole my breath in her lace gown and became a real princess. I figured if we visited, we would be practically sisters and there would also be the added bonus of increased chances of a marriage to Prince Harry. Unfortunately, I am still married to Jesse and no royalty in sight but all hope is not lost. I will press on.

During day one and two, we also enjoyed Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, and general meandering through the cool Soho district. One of my favourite parts of our time in London, as it always has been, was sitting atop the double decker tour bus in the open air, driving through all areas of the city. There are several companies with tour busses, all with comparable prices. I’ve been on the busses with a live tour guide as a teenager and they are so entertaining and enjoyable! Sadly, Jesse and I did not have a bus with a live guide but we still enjoyed a nice slow ride through the city. My mom and dad always pay for a tour and love it every time – they typically do a big loop on the basic route, and then go back through a second time, hopping off whenever the urge strikes! We did the same and would probably do it again! The Original Tour was well organized and accessible. Another favourite memory for me was pausing to hear the grand Abbey’s church bells ring jubilantly – a sound so foreign to us Canadians. It filled my heart up to the brim.

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Day three was also really fabulous. We made a short trek to The Design Museum (heaven for Jesse, essentially) and finished the day at Old Spitalfields Market. We had an early dinner of the best fish n’ chips from Poppie’s Fish and Chips (for real the best) and ended our time in London with a second dinner at Dishoom. The food here was out of this world. Bombay Indian food with a modern twist. We loved this meal and will make a point to come again next time.

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One of the best elements of our time in London was our accommodations. We found a stunning little room on AirBnB and fell in love with the owner’s flat. Given that Jesse is very proficient with public transit, we decided to save a bit of money by staying a short bus ride outside of London’s core. The room was far more beautiful than what our budget would have allowed downtown and our host was helpful and flexible – especially when I realized I booked us for one night less than we needed… oops! There was fresh baked raisin bread every morning which Jesse declared to be the best bread he’d ever eaten. Challenge accepted my love ❤ Would highly recommend Katie’s place!

Jesse loved this little radio playing in the kitchen each morning while munching on said bread.

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After a whirlwind few days in London, we boarded an early plane to Pisa – our entry point to stunning Tuscany. It’s worth mentioning here that if your travels have you jumping large distances in Europe, a short plane ride is often cheaper than the popular train travel option! While traveling on the train is probably less stressful, the plane cuts down on quite a bit of time when you’re hopping around countries. If you book well in advance and carefully read through the small airline’s luggage guidelines, you can save quite a bit of money on cheap flights. Oh and don’t expect the leniency of a large airline with carry on luggage. They will scrap you for every inch your bag is oversized. We learned that lesson the hard way and we have a hefty luggage bill to prove it!

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Florence was our first stop. To be honest, I didn’t have Florence on my list just because there are so many other places I would have liked to visit but it was a means to an end – that end being the Tuscan countryside. All in all, we enjoyed our two days in Florence, particularly an evening walk up to the Piazza Michelangelo that included a full bottle of wine from plastic cups, chats and advice from some Toronto “bros” we met, and the most glorious sunset you could possibly imagine. I remember saying to Jesse how if there was ever a way to know God truly exists, it would be in looking at that sky. How the colours shine and change, never once the same. After my 500ml share of the wine, I started to tell him how I thought it was so grand, the way those colours could never all be accounted for on the colour wheel – we could never name them all from day to day. They were too fluid, in constant motion as the clouds shift and change each night and the river moves beneath them, reflecting light and shimmering tones. It was stunning.

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Now, how to describe Tuscany. The best and only way to explore this utterly holy countryside, in my opinion, is by car. If you stay outside of a little village on an agriturismo, the busses are really limiting and inconvenient. We payed a reasonable amount for a tiny FIAT and knew within minutes it had been the right decision. Jesse loved whipping around those mountain roads and we were able to take the long way from Florence through Chianti region, soaking up all the green. We stopped for lunch at Bar Ucci in Radda and munched on fresh sliced meats and cheeses and tomato crostatas. I think this was one of the moments where we truly felt as though we were living in a dream. The owners were authentic, joyous, generous people – they were larger than life. I almost can’t put this little stop into words. It was a welcome to Italy like none other, nestled in the rugged mountains of Chianti. If you want to know what Italy is all about, make this your first stop.

From Radda, we weaved our way through vineyards and farms until we reached a small town called Montepulciano. We stayed at Agriturismo Le Caggiole where the owner, Giacomo, manages to maintain the authenticity of a rugged working farm with the elegance you hope for on vacation. Agriturismos really are hit and miss in this area (mostly hit). Some are operated purely with tourism in mind, with all the modern amenities and luxuries you could hope for. Others are trying to keep their farms viable and running. Their families have worked the land for generations upon generations, and taking in guests is a way to avoid selling the land they have nurtured and loved for hundreds of years. While the agriturismo was one of our “splurges”, when you see a rugged old stone house that has been standing since the 1300’s, it became meaningful for us to put our money towards a family that truly values tradition, hard work, and family legacy. Giacomo was a gracious host and we would definitely return! We spent many hours curled up on the terrace with a glass of red and a book, breathing in the freshness of a valley filled with vineyards and olive trees. Rosemary and sage grew wild on this farm and the birds fairly beamed their morning song. Giacomo’s mother served fresh pastries and fruit each morning and we would stuff our faces with deli meat on ciabatta for lunch. Agriturismo Le Caggiole was our home base for exploring the medieval-like stone walled village of Montepulciano and for venturing out to horseback ride for three hours through the Tuscan countryside.

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We partook in the two hour cooking class, learning how to make fresh pasta from scratch and following along as we prepared herb and garlic crusted guinea fowl – slow roasted to crispy perfection – and decadent tiramisu. The meal was stupendous and we came away with a recipe book for all our fares and a hearty ragu that Giacomo had had simmering for hours. Giacomo was also really deliberate in sharing his only strict rules for cooking passed on from his Grandmother: use fresh, local, good ingredients and choose organic whenever possible. I’ve always loved to bake but since we’ve been married, I have developed a deep love and passion for cooking. I absolutely adored this class and took away a great desire to pass on such a rich tradition of food to my own children and grandchildren one day – in the same way that Giacomo has embraced the legacy passed on from his family. These simple principles for cooking stand alone in the sea of online cooking how-to’s and advice out there these days. They stand the test of time! We’ve had such a busy time since our trip, given that we came home to summer, that I haven’t yet had an opportunity to try my hand at these recipes. Soon! Oh and I might also mention that watching a couple of engineers from San Francisco separate eggs for tiramisu was a real treat in and of itself!! Anyway… We enjoyed the meal with wine, more meat and cheese, and two other couples from the states! All of us were of different ages, stages, and walks of life but we sat and talked and laughed for hours and came away knowing it was one of the most fun evenings on our trip. The next evening, all of the couples decided to meet in town at Pane vino & Zucchero for another stupendous meal. Monica and Marco were endearing, attentive, and modern in their style of Italian food. Jesse and I each enjoyed an appetizer of fresh pasta and had salty, juicy, steaks for entrees with tender roasted vegetables. We shared a few desserts amongst ourselves at the table and there was plenty of wine! I think once we split the bill, Jesse and I only paid 70 euros total… just over $100 CAN. I was so impressed with the food and atmosphere created by the owners that the experience felt like a complete steal! This area of Italy was definitely reasonably priced for food and we felt as thought we truly got a taste of the highest quality local fare. This restaurant will be high on our list when we one day return to Italy! Based on Monica’s delightful demeanor and their incredible food, we would even consider staying at their own agriturismo one day.

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Tuscany was healing and invigorating. We left feeling fulfilled in so many different ways and eager to return one day.

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That feels like a wonderful place to stop for tonight. I’m on vacation this week so Europe 2.0 should be up sometime in the next few days! Rome, Positano, and Paris all to come… and a few of the best travel decisions and purchases we made!