Monday, January 14, 2013

Our Italy Trip

 When I did my study abroad in Italy in 2008, Nick and I were dating/almost engaged and there were so many places I went to that I couldn't wait to show him. We had been planning to travel back to Italy together since then and hoped to go as my graduation present. However, when that time came Nick was going to school non-stop and we never had a break long enough to do an Italy trip the way we wanted to! Luckily he had a two-week break from school this year over Thanksgiving, so four years and lots of planning later we finally made it to Italy! We have sooo many pictures between our camera and both of our iPhones so this trip will be divided into several posts.
It took us three days to catch a flight out of Phoenix flying standby and we made a last minute switch to fly into Milan instead of Rome. It was quite the adventure to get there, but totally worth the wait!  
We had some amazing views of the sun coming up over the Alps as we were making our descent into Milan
Because we were so close to the Swiss border, we decided to check another county off of Nick's list and spend the morning in Switzerland. We drove up to Lake Lugano and the scenery was amazing!
Lakeside walking trail in Lugano
We loved getting to see some fall colors since we didn't get our "traditional" Utah fall this year in Arizona
Stunning views everywhere you look

After we spent a couple hours in Lugano, we started the long drive to Siena where we were staying with my host family for the night. It was about a six hour drive from the Swiss border but we basically drove through all of Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna, so it was certainly a scenic drive! 

Italy Part 2: Siena

Even though we had about 10 days to see Italy I still felt like we didn't have near enough time to see everything we wanted to! After spending three months living in Siena, there were so many things I wanted to show Nick but had to just pick my favorites that we could squeeze into a day.
Siena isn't one of the most popular destinations for tourists but it's such a gem.
It's a step back into the middle ages and it's still crazy to me how old everything is there! And not just the historical landmarks--but the houses and shops, too. 
It was so fun to show Nick all of the places he had just heard about via email and phone calls :)
We started the morning off by climbing the famous Torre del Mangia, which I actually never climbed while I was living there so it was a first for both of us!
No such thing as elevators in this building! Our legs were sore for days after.
View from the top was totally worth it. Siena sits right in the heart of Tuscany so the views of the countryside were amazing. Pictures don't do them justice!
View of the Duomo and San Domenico
We lucked out and stopped by my favorite gelato shop on the last day it was open for the season. Free gelato for everyone!
And I of course had to make a stop for my favorite ricciarelli cookies!
The next stop was to show Nick the school I went to--Dante Alighieri. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it to any of their cooking classes but it was fun to see a couple of the teachers that I had while studying there.
 Everything was pretty much the same except this little hallway (my Italy friends will appreciate this). They added desks! This was literally the only place we could get a decent internet signal while at school so we would all sit on the floor to send our emails and upload our pictures to Facebook. Haha.
No matter how many times I see this church, it's still so amazing! The facade is incredible and the interior is just as intricate. Nick was blown away at how much detail the church has--there really is nothing else like it!
All of the bright fresco in the library is still original. Because of the bright light coming in through the windows, candles weren't really necessary so all of the artwork was preserved.
The doors of the baptistry
 I was so lucky to live with a wonderful host family in Siena. We've kept in touch after all these years and they were so nice to invite us to stay at their house while we were visiting Siena. Ben (my host dad) was on a trip the first couple nights we were there, but Anna still made us wonderful dinners and it was fun to see the boys who have grown up so much in the past four years! We also got to meet two other BYU exchange students--Stacie and Rita--who were living there during their program.
This is just one of the many dishes Anna made--traditional pasta e fagioli.
Panettone for dessert--traditional holiday dessert.

Italy Part 3: Tuscany + Florence

After our stay in Siena we left to explore some of other favorite places in Tuscany. We left Siena in the morning, made a stop in San Gimignano and then finished up the day in Florence. The weather was beautiful and the drive through Tuscany was absolutely amazing. Probably one of our favorite days of the trip (if it's even possible to pick favorites)!
We made a stop on one of my favorite back roads I used to jogging on right outside of the city. Awesome views of the countryside and vineyards with a little castello in the background.
San Gimignano is another iconic little Tuscan town--MUCH smaller than Siena but with over a dozen towers! From a distance, the skyline looks just like a big city.
We were traveling in the low season so luckily there weren't really crowds of people. We've read that during the high season in the summertime it's almost like Disneyland here!
 Nick got his first taste of real European hot chocolate--looks just like a chocolate bar melted in your cup! 
I bought a spoon rest for my kitchen at this little shop four years ago and was so excited to see that they were still carrying the same set! I bought a cute little salt and pepper shaker to match as my one souvenir from the trip.
We found the most stunning view on a little side street while we were walking through town. Again, pictures don't do it justice but we probably stood there for about 20 minutes just taking it all in.
San Gimignano skyline in the background
The olives look cool but they definitely don't taste good! Nick didn't take my word for it and tasted one-big mistake!
From San Gimgnano we took the back roads up toward Florence. It definitely took longer but the scenery was incredible.
 Had to take this for all of our friends who are Twilight fans ;)
I'm so glad Nick was the one driving on this trip because if it had been me behind the while, we probably would have gotten in at least a dozen fender benders. This pictures pretty much sums up Italian drivers - they do whatever and drive wherever they want (not quite sure which lane this guy wants to be in). Nick was a champ driving our little rental car all over Italy--including downtown Florence and Rome--and we returned it without a scratch.
I was lucky to travel to Florence several times while living in Siena (about an hour away from each other) but never really got to see it at night. We got to our hotel towards the late afternoon so we had a few hours to explore the city before it got too late.

Inside the duomo
The famous baptistry doors
 First panino of the trip
Ponte Vecchio at night
And we couldn't stop in Florence without visiting the official store of Nick's favorite watch brand. This is the original storefront from the 1920s--lots of history behind this watch brand! 
Because our trip was so condensed we didn't really have time to visit all of the famous artwork that Florence offers. I luckily got to see LOTS of that while living there, but I figured it will give us a reason to come back to Florence in the future.