On March 31st I woke up to a very exciting email - I had been invited to a Women's Leadership Development Program at our company's University (Les Fontaines) in Chantilly, France. I've been with my company for 7 year and it was the first invitation to France - so needless to say I jumped out of bed wide-awake on that day! I made travel plans the next day and on April 23rd I caught my flight for Paris.
I was able to enjoy the weekend in Paris before heading off to my weeklong training. I arrived in Paris Friday morning and got checked into the hotel - Le Meridien Etoile around 11am. I took an hour power nap (to recover somewhat from the overnight flight from Houston, TX) and then ventured out for a day of sightseeing. It was a cold and rainy weekend in Paris, but I still enjoyed walking everywhere and experiencing Paris. The last time I was in France was in high school, 18 years ago, when I took a 2 week trip with my French Club. I'd definitely say the experience this time was very different, seeing Paris as a adult.
Friday - April 25th
On Friday afternoon, with my map in hand I started walking towards the direction of the Eiffel Tower. It was about a 2 mile walk. Along the way I found a sandwich shop, Pomme de Pain, where I grabbed a baguette to-go and continued to walk towards my destination as I ate. I got my first view of the Eiffel Tower from the overlook off the Palais de Chaillot. Took some pictures, and then worked my way down the steps and across the river to stand under the Eiffel Tower. I had been to the top of the tower as a teenager, so I didn't have the desire to stand in line and do that again - but I loved standing under and around the tower and taking more pictures. It was such a gloomy day that it definitely added to the challenge of taking a good picture. I had fun trying though.
After that I headed on my way....walked down along the river and crossed back over to walk back up the Champs-Elysees. It was fun admiring all the shops (especially the huge Louis Vuitton store...which I did not stand in line to enter) and just people watching along the way. My mind kept going to the thought of all the riders in the Tour de France riding along the Champs-Elysees, on those very treacherous cobblestones...especially when they were wet. Eek! I walked up to the Arc de Triomphe - had fun taking pictures while standing in the tiny median - cars coming at your in all directions. Then I continued down about another half mile back to my hotel.
I was pretty tired after my jet lag and walk, but since I knew it was probably going to be the best day without rain, I figured I better take advantage and not sit around the hotel room. I took the metro down to the Louvre. Stood around the pyramid for a while taking some pictures, enjoying all the great clouds and the sun occasionally peeking through.
From the Louvre I ended up walking through the Jardin des Tuileries and all the way down the Champs-Elysees back to the area around my hotel (about 3 miles). I found a small cafe just a couple blocks from my hotel to eat dinner - Le Maillot - where I sat at a small table on the sidewalk patio, enjoyed my dinner and the people watching of course. After a long day, I turned in for the evening, ready for one more day of exploring in Paris.
Saturday - April 26th
On Saturday, I didn't have much on my agenda, so I decided to just take it easy and basically see what I see. It was also a pretty rainy day, so I had to strategically think about how much walking I wanted to do. I started by taking the metro from the station closest to my hotel (Port Maillot) down to Concorde. From there, in the fairly heavy rain, I walked through the neighborhood to La Maison du Chocolat. I found some great souvenir chocolate boxes for friends and family and got a few treats for myself as well. Just from the free sample the lady gave me in the store - I knew this was going to be some of the best chocolate I've had. Now that I'm home and have eaten my few pieces I bought, I'm so sad I didn't buy more! I walked along the streets in the neighborhood for a bit, and then headed back to the metro station. I decided to take the metro a bit further to the Chatelet station, to go see Notre Dame. That turned out to be a great area, with neat streets to walk along, admiring the river from the various bridges, and then walking around Notre Dame. The line to get in was incredibility long, but again - I didn't have the desire to go in...I just wanted to look around the outside of the building.
After that I hit a few of the souvenir shops, walked back to the metro station and headed back to the hotel. Near my hotel I found a small cafe to stop in and enjoy a coffee and croissant. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.
The night before I had seen an incredibly long line to get into a restaurant near my hotel. So tonight I looked it up and figured out what it was. Le Relais de Venise. It is a restaurant that has truly taken to heart the motto - do one thing and do it well. The only serve steak and fries. Their doors open at 7pm and they fill up the entire restaurant, leaving the people at the back of the line standing outside to wait until tables turn over. I got there about 6:45 - stood under my umbrella in the pouring rain - and thankfully made it in for the first seating. You sit down and the only question they ask you is rare, medium or well. You pick how you want you steak cooked, order a drink - and then the rest just happens. They bring out a small salad, and then not far behind comes a tray of french fries, your steak that they slice into strips and topped with this amazing secret sauce they pour on. The neat thing as well is that they serve you 2/3rds of your steak, and leave the rest in a warming tray, so when you are almost done they come back with the rest of your still hot steak and some more fries. It was amazing! It is supposedly a pretty touristy place, but despite that - I still had a great meal.
After dinner, on a whim, I decided to go back out to the Eiffel Tower to get some nighttime shots. Starting at 9pm on the hour the tower twinkles with white lights for 5 minutes. I had my scarf, jacket, room key in my pocket and camera on my shoulder and headed on my way. I just missed the 9pm show, taking a few wrong turns and underestimating the distance - but it worked out OK because it wasn't quite dark enough at 9pm for good pictures anyway. The only snag though was just as I got down to the tower it started downpouring! And of course I didn't bring my umbrella. I threw my scarf over my head, tried to protect my camera as best as possible...took a few photos right down at the river and then ran up to a nearby building to stand under a ledge until it passed. It finally stopped raining and I walked up the steps of the Palais de Chaillot and found a prime front and center spot at the top to wait for the 10pm show. I had about 25 minutes to wait, and thankfully I got there so early - because I realized after a while that about 10 coach buses of tour groups had been dropped off! I took about a million pictures of the tower and when the lights finally started twinkling it was pretty amazing! 10:05 the show was over and I started my 2 mile walk back to the hotel. I was cold and wet, but sometimes getting that great photos makes it all worth it!
Sunday - April 27th
On Sunday I just took it easy. I had breakfast at the hotel, packed up my room and then around 1pm started my 2 hour train journey over to Chantilly, France for the start of my work training. I took the metro from Port Maillot to Gare de Lyon, and then took the RER D up to Chantilly...about an hour train ride. I got off in Chantilly, had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a taxi and then they drove me the very short distance to Les Fontaines...my home for the next 5 days. I got there around 4pm, checked into my room (very dorm like) but nice enough bed and bathroom. I wandered the grounds for a bit, got my bearings, and then started meeting and mingling with various people. That night we had dinner at the Chateaux at 7pm - I met 4 of the women who would be in my Women's Leadership Program for the week and we had a great time getting to know each other for hours at dinner and at the Chateaux bar afterwards. We knew it was going to be a great week when while waiting for dinner we looked out the window and saw the most amazing full double rainbow right over the lake behind the Chateaux. Beautiful!
Monday - April 28th to Friday - May 3rd
The rest of the week was very hectic - breakfast at 7:45am, then sessions started at 8:30 each day. We had a few full sessions in the auditorium with the 200 participants, and then the rest of the time was spent in our classroom with the 18 women in my group. One thing that I loved watching during the week were these artists. They would storyboard in real-time during some of the sessions, picking up on key words said and they would draw them out. By the end of the week the posters were all over and it was really neat to look back on them. Lunch each day was around 12:30, and then we were back at our training sessions until at least 6:30 each day. On Wednesday we had a social event with finger food and a DJ / Dancing, but other nights dinner was at the Chateaux around 7:30-8pm. We had a group presentation (4 of us in a group) to prepare for and give on Friday morning, so the last couple nights we spent extra hours after class prepping for that. It made for some very long days, but despite everything draining about the week - it was absolutely amazing! Not only was the content we learned great, but the people were just phenomenal. We had ladies in our class from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, India and Spain. What we all learned from each other can never be taught in a classroom. And the networks we have all now made across the world is just priceless. I think we were all pretty energized after the week and ready to see what awaits us in the "real world" with our new found knowledge and relationships. On Friday we all gave our 15 minutes presentations to the class plus four vice-presidents who attended our session that day, and then sadly had to say our goodbyes.
At 1pm a coach bus took us to the airport and I checked into the Sheraton in Terminal 2 of the airport for the evening. Once I checked into the hotel the adrenaline of the week really started to wear off and I was just plain exhausted! It worked to my advantage though because I went to bed early and woke up at 4am for my 6:30am flight back to the US. I landed in Dallas, TX at 2pm on Saturday where my mom met me at the airport and the next day I did a 65 mile bike ride for the National MS Society at 7am. Talk about a shift from mentally exhausting to physically exhausting! But the ride went great, we drove back the 4 hours to Houston, where I was finally home for a whole 10.5 hours before waking up Monday morning to catch a flight to Los Angeles for the work week. Never a dull moment!
You can check out more of my pictures from France here - France Photos
This ended up being a fairly last minute trip. I hadn't planned to go overseas again this year (I'm usually lucky to go overseas once per year...not 3 times!) But I'm definitely not complaining! My friend Kylee had to cancel our weekend trip to Portland (which we will make up for next year!), so since I needed to use the vacation days I figured why not go to London. I booked the trip - basically had airfare and a hotel - and other than that I just planned on winging it once I got there. I got a few recommendations from friends, but otherwise I was ready to just explore and see what each day brought.
After a very long travel day from Los Angeles, I made it to London! The tube was undergoing maintenance, so it took almost two hours to get from the airport to The Park Lane hotel on Piccadilly St. After a very long day and 8 hours time difference, I took a long nap and then walked around to find dinner.
I headed out from the hotel about 9am. I walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. It was Remembrance Day, so they were getting ready for a big parade. After navigating through the various closed streets and parade traffic, I made my way through St. James park and over to Parliament square. I walked around the outside of Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament and then continued down to the river. I crossed the Lambeth bridge and walked up the river, crossing again at Westminster Bridge. I kept walking up the Victoria Embankment and over to Trafalgar Square and finally made my way up to Oxford Street for the shopping! My big purchase was some new black boots. After realizing how cold it was in London I knew I had not packed warm enough! It made for a good excuse to buy new shoes. ;) I continued with my shopping and window shopping, working my way down Oxford and Regent Streets, and then I finally headed down Piccadilly St back to my hotel. Later in the afternoon I decided to go check out Harrod's (wow!) - then had an early dinner and crashed.
I got out in the morning and took the tube to Leicester Square to buy theater tickets at the Half Price tickets stand. I managed to get Les Miserables tickets for that night and Billy Elliot for the next night. After securing my tickets, I got back on the tube and headed to the British Museum. I explored it for about an hour and then got on the tube to St. Paul's. I took the audio tour of St. Paul's cathedral and then grabbed a quick lunch in their cafe down in the tombs. From St. Paul's I walked in the very light rain down to the Millennium Bridge and crossed it to the Tate Modern Museum. It was a good museum, but some of the stuff considered "art" in modern museums just makes me shake my head. The Globe Theatre was just next door, but I decided not to take the tour. I walked to the Southwark Station and took the tube back to Green Park by my hotel. I decided to have afternoon tea in the hotel and then I got ready for the theater. I grabbed dinner at Kettner's and then saw Les Miserables at 7:30.
I started my day with a walk through Hyde Park, which was great! I walked along the Serpentine Lake until I hit the bridge at Kensington and then cut off back onto the street to head towards the Victoria & Albert museum. I have the say the V&A museum was by far my favorite! Really neat exhibits, but my favorite part was just the architecture of the building itself. After the museum, since I was near Harrod's I took another walk through the store. Grabbed some quick lunch and my easiest go-to-spot Pret a Manger. I then walked down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace. Today since there was no parade you could actually get up to the gates and see the guards, etc. So I took some pictures and headed on my way to Westminster Abbey. I took the audio tour of Westminster Abbey and wow...that place was must amazing! No pictures were allowed, but I stared up at the Nave for so long, I really hope it's ingrained in my memory forever. After Westminster I walked up to Trafalgar Square grabbed a coffee in a bookstore to rest my legs and warm up. I walked through the National Portrait Gallery and afterwards I stood on the top steps of the gallery for a while and just got a kick out of watching the various street performers in the square. On my walk back to the hotel I stopped in Fortnum & Mason and tried really hard not to buy everything! That night I went to see Billy Elliot and it was just amazing!
I got up and took the train out to the London Bridge Station. I walked over to the Tower of London, joined the short 30 minute tour, and then explored on my own for a bit. The crown jewels were pretty great. After that I walked along and over the Tower Bridge. The best part was jumping up on the wall along the river and sitting there with my feet dangling over to take my feet picture. I was really glad I didn't fall in the water! After that I grabbed some lunch and then got on the train and went out to Kew Gardens, about 30 minutes away. When I got to the gardens I had about an hour and a half until closing, which I thought was enough until I realized how gigantic this place was! I raced my way through it fairly quick, didn't get to see everything - but what I did see was great. With all that green surrounding you it felt like you had been transported somewhere else. I headed back to the train about 4:30 and on a weekday with rush hour it took quick a while to get back to the hotel. The trains kept getting delayed with congestion at the stations. I was going to try a local pub tonight, but when I got to one that was recommended by the concierge and I noticed that the pub was so crowded half the people were standing out on the street drinking I changed my mind! I grabbed some easy dinner and called it a night.
I took a day tour with Golden Tours. I signed up the day before, so I was lucky to get a spot. The bus picked me up at 7:30, and after picking up a few more people and loading up at the bus terminal, we departed closer to 9am. I met a girl traveling on her own from Nebraska, so we stuck together for most of the day, which was fun. Our first stop was Windsor Castle, where we took a tour. Next we drove about an hour out to Stonehenge. It was crazy windy and cold, especially being out in the middle of a gigantic open field - but it was worth it! We walked around for about 30 minutes, taking pictures, etc of the stones. I didn't have any "wow" moment out there looking at them, but I felt like it was something you had to see to check off the list. Our last stop was Bath. In town we went to the Roman Baths and took the tour. Then we had a little free time so we found this glass shop where I bought a necklace pendant and then we admired the views of the Pultney Bridge over the river. We got back on the bus at 4:30 and made it back to Gloucester Rd station at 7:30 - a little later than expected due to heavy traffic. I grabbed dinner at a place near my hotel - Richoux - and headed back to the hotel afterwards.
My last day in London and I decided I had seen enough stuff, so I would just take it easy and enjoy the day. I started with a train ride out to Notting Hill. I walked up and down Portabella Road for about an hour looking at all the various market stands. It wasn't a Saturday, so it wasn't the big market, but I still thought it was pretty impressive. After that I took the train back to Covent Garden and spent the rest of the day walking around and window shopping, working my way through town over to Piccadilly Circus, up to Oxford street and back down New Bond street. On my way back to the hotel in the afternoon I stopped in a pub very close to my hotel that I had been passing by for days - Henry's Cafe & Bar. It actually ended up being great - got a pint, a snack and best of all they had free wifi. That night I took the train to Leicester Station for dinner. I was going to try a place Bella Italia, but the wait was really long. The hostess was so nice - knowing it was my last night in town - and she recommended another place Barrafina, but unfortunately the wait was over an hour there as well. I finally gave up and went next door to Siam Thai restaurant. It ended up being great food. After dinner I made my last walk through town back to the hotel and called it the end to a really great week in London! I definitely can't wait until I go back someday soon.
You can check out more of my pictures from London here - London Photos
This September I took a trip to Turkey. I had heard wonderful things about it from many seasoned travelers, so I figured I would go check it out. I went by myself and met up with an Insight Vacations tour. It was extremely fast paced - we saw so much in 7 days - but it was a great highlights vacation.
We started in Istanbul on our first night and had our welcome reception at the Barcelo Eresin Topkapi Hotel. The next morning after sleeping off some jet lag, we immediately packed up and headed to our second city. First we took a short ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara and then drove into Bursa. In Bursa we quickly visited the Grand Mosque (it was prayer time, so we could not stay long) and then we had time to eat lunch and walk around the Silk Market. Next we visited the Green Mosque (Yesil Cami) and the Green Mausoleum. The tile work in these places was just phenomenal! Lastly we stopped in a small village - Cumalikizik and walked through the cobblestone streets. It was like stepping back in time - very quaint and the buildings were just fascinating. That night we stayed at the Celik Palace Hotel in Bursa.
Our next day started with a drive through the countryside. The Olive trees and Vineyards were just beautiful to look out at. We stopped at the Sardis Synagogue and Gymnasium, from the 3rd century BC. A lot of it had fallen and was recreated, which to me wasn't as exciting, but it was still impressive never the less. Next we stopped at the Altar of Artemis in Sardis from 2nd century BC. Finally our last stop was what I had been looking forward to the most - Pamukkale - the "Cotton-Castle". It was just as amazing as I thought it would be from looking at pictures before hand. We made it there late in the day and getting to see the sunset over the "Cotton-Castle" was definitely a WOW moment! That night we stayed at the Pam Thermal Hotel in Pamukkale.
After leaving Pamukkale we drove to Ephesus where we stopped at the Carpetium to look at Turkish Rugs. They gave us a fun demonstration of the rugs, let us attempt to weave one knot (crazy that they hand weave those!) and of course suckered me into buying me. Next we stopped at the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, we made a wish on the wishing wall and then drove to the Ruined City of Ephesus, from 550 BC. We saw the Odean, the Great Theater, walked down the Arcadian Way and took a group photo in front of the Library of Celsus. That night we drive to Izmir and stayed at the Swissotel Grand Efes Izmir, which had a great view of the port. We walked along the port for a bit before dinner, admiring the houses on the hill, fisherman and the sunset over the water.
The next day we drove to Asklepion (4th century) in Pergamon. I enjoyed walking around the ancient healing center. After that we drove to Troy and walked around the site. We were pretty tired of ruins by this point, but seeing some of the original stones (not recreations) was actually interesting. I have to say though, much to our guide’s dismay, our group enjoyed taking silly pictures with the gigantic wooden Trojan horse more than seeing the ruins. That was fun... After leaving our last ruins for the trip, we checked into the Kolin Hotel in Canakkale. After dinner a few of us took a walk along the water, and managed to get back just as it was starting to rain.
We got up early the next morning to catch our ferry back to the European side of Turkey. Our first stop was Anzac Cove, the Lone Pine Cemetery and Anzac Hilltop. The Cove was a monument to the Gallipoli landing during WWI in 1915. There were a lot of Australians in our group, so it meant a lot for them to see that spot. It didn't have as much significance for me, but it was still a very beautiful spot. We made it back to Istanbul that evening and had the night free. 8 of us decided to take the train down to the water for dinner. It was really neat getting to see the city at night, as we were pretty sheltered most of the trip - staying at our hotels for dinner. We found a nice place to eat along the water and had fun listening to the musicians near our table. That night we were back in our same hotel from the first night.
On our last day we did the crash course exploring of Istanbul! We saw Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Grand Bazaar and finally ended our day with a Bosphorus Cruise between Asia and Europe. Our farewell dinner that night was at one of the restaurants along Restaurant Row. We had a great dinner and all said our goodbyes from a wonderful trip!
Check out some more photos from my trip here - Turkey Photos
For my Mom's 60th Birthday I took her to Scotland. Her birthday was in November, but we booked our trip for March. We knew it would be cold, but apparently they were having unseasonably cold weather (January temps at the end of March). We just bundled up, I bought a silly but warm hat and we enjoyed the cold weather and snowflakes every day!
We arrived in Edinburgh and checked into the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa. We took it easy our first day - we walked to the Royal Mile, shopped a little (for my warm hat!) and then had dinner at The Beehive Pub.
The next day we walked to Edinburgh Castle. We joined a short tour and then walked around the various areas, buildings and Prisoner of War rooms...which were pretty creepy, but cool. We stuck around until 1pm so we could see the One O'Clock Gun go off. After that we grabbed some lunch and then walked around for a couple hours along the Royal Mile and the New Town area. That night we ate at a small family run Italian restaurant - Bar Frizzante. It was delicious food and the owners were so friendly. Great place!
On the following day we walked down to Holyrood Palace and did the audio tour. Then we walked over to the Scottish Parliament Building to look at the neat exterior architecture. It started snowing pretty hard on us, so we ducked under some cover to not get too wet. We found a little cafe for lunch - Serenity, and each had a sandwich. Next we took a tour of Mary King's Close...which was pretty awesome. Then one of my favorite parts of the day - the Whiskey Experience tour! The best part was probably seeing my mom's reaction to tasting a sip of whiskey. Ha! I did a tasting flight after the tour. Drank a little of it - some were ok, some (like the one that taste of burnt wood) was just horrible! We made our way back to the hotel after that, enjoyed the spa services at the hotel that evening and then had a late dinner at Nando's just across the street.
Our next day we got picked up by Timberbrush Tours for a day tour the concierge had recommended for us. It turned out to be one of our favorite days! They picked us up in the morning and we first stopped at the Forth Bridge for a photo op. Then we stopped at Dunfermline Abbey to take some pictures around the grounds...it was just beautiful, especially with the snow on the ground. Next we stopped at Glenturret Distillery for a tour and a taste of the Famous Grouse Whiskey. Another great part to the day was driving to the The Hermitage for a nature walk through the trees and along the falls. It definitely fulfilled my need for outdoors on the trip! Beautiful scenery - and such great contrast of snow, green and water! Our last stop of the day before returning to Edinburgh was the Dunkfeld Cathedral, from 1318.
March 29th was my birthday! I've never been out of the country on my actual birthday...I kind of enjoyed it!! We decided to take a bus to Leith to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia. We grabbed some lunch in Leith and took the bus back to the Royal Mile. We walked up the stairs to Calton Hill to enjoy the view, and I climbed up Nelson's Monument for an even better view. We did some more souvenir shopping on our walk back to the hotel and that evening we had a special birthday dinner at Wedgewood. Yum!!
On our last day we were running out of things to see, but we managed to visit the National Museum of Scotland and the John Knox House. We indulged in some more shopping and then headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon. We relaxed in the spa one more time and then grabbed dinner at the same place we went the first night - The Beehive Pub. And that ended a really great trip with my Mom!
For Christmas I surprised my dad with a business class ticket to Italy. (I fly so much I used my airline points). He was beyond excited, and in April my mom, dad and I took off for our trip! We were doing a tour with Tauck, but we also had an extra day before the tour started and a couple days at the end.
Pompeii – Amalfi Coast
When we arrived in Rome, we checked into the Hotel Majestic. We walked around the town for a bit just to help with the jet lag, grabbed some dinner and then turned in for the night. The next day we had a day tour booked and they picked us up around 6am. We went to Pompeii and took a guided tour of the site for a couple hours. It is a pretty fascinating place, with so much to see and learn about. One thing I thought was interesting was that in the ground you saw these marble chips. They acted as “night lights” when the moon reflected off of them. After Pompeii we grabbed some lunch and then proceeded on to Positano. The views from the winding coastal roads were just incredible. We stopped in Positano for a bit then went on to Amalfi before finally turning around to head back to Rome. We got home after 10:30pm, so that was definitely a long, but fun first day in Italy.
Rome – Vatican City
The next morning my mom and I took a Taxi to the Jewish museum in the Jewish Ghetto. We walked around that area for a while, seeing some ruins, the river, and a couple Piazzos. We walked back to our hotel in the afternoon then rested until our welcome dinner started with the tour.
On our first day of the tour we headed to the Colosseum. Next we drove over to the Spanish Steps and had lunch at Ristorante Ciampini. After lunch we went on a walking tour, stopping at Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and then the Piazza Navona. Dinner was on our own tonight and my parents and I found a place near the hotel for some pizza and chianti – can’t beat that in Italy.
The next day we were off to the Vatican. We walked through the Candelabra, Tapestry and Map rooms. The funniest thing about that feet picture in the Map room was that my dad said the minute I laid down on the floor a security guard starting coming towards me. Thankfully I took my picture quick and was up before he made it there! After that we went into the Sistine Chapel. I could have stared at that ceiling for hours – it was so amazing. As many pictures as you’ve seen, it just doesn’t do it justice. Next we went to the Bascilica of St. Peter and finally out to the main Piazza. That night my parents and I made reservations at Osteria Allegro Pachino for dinner, very close to the Trevi Fountain. We had a great dinner and went to look at the fountain at night afterwards.
Orvieto – Assisi – Sienna
This morning we packed our bags and got on the bus to head to Orvieto. We toured the Cathedral (Duomo), had lunch in town, and then I walked up the 240 steps of the Clock Tower to enjoy some breathtaking views of the town and countryside! We slowly made our way through the cobblestone streets to the plaza where there was another lookout area that was just as amazing. After Orvieto we went on to Perugia where we checked into the Hotel Brufani. That night we had dinner at La Taverna and then called it a night.
The next morning we drove to Assisi and took a tour of the Basilica of St. Francis, and then drove to the town of Torgiano to have lunch at Tre Vaselle winery. We got back to Orvieto in the afternoon, and after our wine lunch I took a nap! It was raining outside, but we ventured out that night to check out some of the chocolate shops (Perugia is known for their hazelnut chocolate), then we found a pizza shop called Merlin’s to eat dinner.
Florence – Pisa - Chianti
This morning we packed and headed towards Florence. On the way we stopped in Sienna, where we walked around the town, went to St. Catherine’s church, walked through the Piazza del Campo and went in the amazing Cathedral (The Duomo). This cathedral had the most phenomenal black and white striped marble – just beautiful.
After lunch we continued on to Florence, arriving in the late afternoon. We went straight to the Gallerie dell’ Academia to see Michelangelo’s David statue, then checked into the Hotel Bernini. We had a really great Art history presentation at the hotel (sounds boring, but it was actually interesting) and then finished the evening with a group dinner in the hotel.
On our last day of the Tauck tour we started with a walking tour of Florence, followed by a tour of the Uffizi Gallery. Before lunch we went to a shop for an olive oil and wine tasting that was really fun. Then we grabbed lunch at Finesterrae Mediterranean in the Santa Croce plaza. After lunch I went with a few ladies from the tour to the Cathedral of Santa Maria, where we stood in line for almost an hour to climb the 423 steps to the top of the Cupola. It was definitely worth the wait – as the views from the Cupola were amazing! In the afternoon my mom and I did some shopping and then walked over the Ponte Vecchio bridge (from the 1300s), and we finally ended the day with our farewell dinner at Restaurant Frescobaldi.
Our last two nights in Florence, my parents and I stayed at the Westin Excelsior. Today we were taking a tour to Pisa. We met our tour guide at the Hotel Baglione and after lunch departed for Pisa. We toured the Baptistery, Leaning Tower and the Cathedral in the afternoon. The feet picture at the leaning tower was definitely a highlight! I normally have a rule that I am the one taking the picture of my feet, but in this case it was a joint effort! I was sitting on a pole, leaning back while my dad was supporting me and my mom was taking the picture. It took us numerous tries but we finally got the perfect shot! After our tour we made it back to Florence around 7pm. We had dinner at a small family restaurant, Profeta, very close to the hotel, that ended up being our favorite meal of the entire trip. After an amazing dinner they brought us complimentary limoncello, which just capped off a great day!
On our last day in Florence my parents and I did different activities. They took a cooking class in town, and I went on a bike tour of Chianti through the company Active Tours. Our first stop was Pappiano Castle from 1199. We toured the wine bottling and labeling area, the wine cellars and the olive oil drying and pressing room. Then we went up the watchtower for some more amazing views of the countryside. After the tour we got on our bikes and started our ride through Chianti. We stopped for lunch at Ristorante Il Ponte, and then continued on our ride.
I got back to Florence around 5pm, met back up with my parents and we went out for our final dinner in Italy at Cirghiali Bianco. It wasn’t our favorite, but we also think by this point we might have just been tired of Italian food and ready to go home. We grabbed one last gelato and called our trip complete. What an incredible vacation and memories made with my parents!