Florence & Venice, Italy

We got up early and were on the road by 8am. We headed north towards Venice and stopped in Florence around 11am. It took awhile to find parking, city was packed, but we finally found a garage and walked to the city centre.

Our stop in Florence was mainly to see the Duomo Cathedral also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”) over the Arno river. Unfortunately there was a huge line to get into the Duomo we didn’t go in. We could only spend a few hours in Florence because tonight was our only time in Venice. This construction for this cathedral was started in 1296 and lasted 140 years. The outside is beautiful layered with black and white marble.

Then we headed towards the River, the Ponte Vecchio bridge is famous for the shops lining the bridge which today are jewelry stores & high end souvenir shops, but they started as small merchants. This was the one of the only bridges in Florence not destroyed in WWII. The current bridge is the 3rd bridge said to be on this site after rebuilding rebuilding twice.

We grabbed calzones & panini’s for “take-away” and ate them as we walked back to our parking garage. Parking was 5 EUR per hour and we needed to get on the road. It took us another 3 hours to get to Venice. We had expected to have to take a train over to the island, but our GPS took us over a large bridge, then lead us to a parking garage. Then we just walked over a small bridge to our hotel after a short conversation with a few locals to figure out where it was. The hotel was very small and being run by a neighboring hotel so not many people had heard of it. It wasn’t too fancy, all the hotels in Venice are old, but to just sleep it was fine.

We headed out for a stroll around town. We crossed the famous Rialto bridge (the bridge outside the Las Vegas Venetian hotel is modeled after this one). And it is the oldest of the 4 bridges crossing the grand canal. and stopped in a few shops along the way. Here is the Rialto (it’s sad there is graffiti on parts of it.


Here are some fun pictures of the streets and bridges.


We made it to the other side of the island at di piazza San Marco and saw the Basilica Di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica). It had closed just before we made it there, so we just took pictures from the outside.

You could also see Isola (island) San Giorgio Maggiore from the square.

As we strolled along the street, we came across street artists. We found some beautiful hand-painted canvas pieces that we bought for somewhere in our house. Besides shopping (which we don’t have much money for :), going to art museums, and walking around, there wasn’t too much to do but of course eat awesome Italian food We walked away from the crowd and popular square to find a more authentic restaurant. As we were walking we stopped to take a few fun pictures. We took a photography class at Cedarville last year about this time and enjoy taking photos (Josh and Sarah are probably tired of me and the photos at this point!) But we are trying to teach Josh some skills so we can have some good ones of us too. 🙂 Maybe before our next trip we’ll send him to a class, ha! Here are some of the pictures.



Dustin wanted shrimp pasta for dinner of course, and Josh wanted mussels and we come across a restaurant that had both. Dustin enjoyed his dish although the shrimp came whole eyes and all….and it was more work to eat than expected. Sarah and I had a wonderful asparagus pasta dish, and Josh enjoyed his pasta with mussels. Here is a picture after dinner on the Rialto bridge.


The resturant did have free wifi so we we were able to check email and look up directions back to our hotel. Josh has been to Venice a few times and everytime he gets lost, this time was no exception. The GPS on the iphone doesn’t work too well without wifi. We were about 3 km from our hotel and it had all kinds of turns. We did get lost a bit, the GPS signal would come in and out so once and awhile we could figure out where we were. We had a map too but the smaller streets weren’t on it. It was an adventure…we were all a little slap-happy at this point so it was fun! Here is a picture that Dustin took of us, apparently another lady took one too.

We somehow ended up back at the parking garage and the boys grabbed their coats from the car. It got much colder tonight and we will be in jackets the rest of the trip. Our portions at dinner weren’t too large, so we were on the hunt for dessert, specifically chocolate cake. At this point in the evening we were all too cold to eat gelato. We ended up finding a cafeteria style place with chocolate cake and apple tarts. We were sold, a yummy end to the day.

We headed back to the hotel to sleep. We plan to leave for Veinna, Austria at 5am so we have plenty of time there. Our room was on the canal side of the building, and just after we fell asleep a man started playing the accordion right outside our window. I laid there for a bit and listened, it was a beautiful Italian tune, and then feel back asleep.

That’s the last of Italy for this trip. Such a beautiful country, excited for our next stop Austria!

Rome Day #2

We left our apartment and headed into Rome around 9 am, the treck to the metro was much less stressful this time around. We did have to squeeze into a very small parking space, but the boys are almost experts at driving and parking in Europe, a couple more weeks and they could be as good as natives.

Our first stop was the Spanish Steps in Italian known as Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti. They were constructed in 1725. They were built to link the spanish embassy and the church at the time. It was really crowded not ideal for photography, but here is a picture.

Our next stop was Piazza del Popolo, in Italian this means people’s square. Historically this was the first area travelers would see when coming into Rome. It was also the area for public executions, the last of which was in 1826. Unfortunately there was a lot of construction in the area and not as beautiful as Sarah remembers.

Then we headed to the Trevi fountain, in Italian Fountana de Trevi. The fountain marks the terminal point of the Acqua Vergine, which is the revived Aqua Virgo one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to ancient Rome. It took 30 years to finish.

We had pizza at an Italian restorante and headed to Vatican City. Dustin and I took a tour of the the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel while Sarah and Josh headed off to the market called Campo di Fiori and a stroll around town. They have seen the vatican on past trips. The market had fresh fruits and veggies and nuts. We are set for breakfast tomorrow. Here are a few pictures they took.


The tour of the Vatican was definitely worth paying for, we skipped the lines and had a guide describing all the major highlights as we walked through. Here are a few shots from the Vatican Museam.



The purple granite in this last tomb is very expensive. It comes from an area in Africa that was completely excavated by the British once they found it.

We saw the Sistine chapel and our guide was great at explaining the paintings. Pictures aren’t allowed to be taken in this area and we did see a man get thrown out for taking pictures. The last stop on our visit to Vatican City was St. Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful, here are a few shots from there. There was marble everywhere!



We met up with Josh and Sarah outside St. Peter’s Basilica. Then we headed to the Pantheon, the Pantheon was rebuilt in 126 AD as a temple to all the gods. It is one of the best preserved of the ancient roman buildings, and since the 7th century as been a Roman Catholic church.

Afterwards we headed for dinner. We debated going back to the restaurant from last night, but decided to take a chance on something different. We ended up at Il Falchetto. Dustin had the lasanga and I had the gnocci. Both were wonderful! Here are a few pictures.



We love the Italian food except for the bread. The bread is so bland and hard at both restaurants we went to charged extra for it. We should have learned our lesson last night. But the menu last night said they charged and we saw after we dug in, and tonight no mention on the menu but they charged 1 EUR pp. Bring back the French whole grain baguettes! 🙂

We stopped by an Italian supermarket on the way home in our area. It was pretty similar to a Super Walmart or Kroger Marketplace except all in Italian. We purchased some gelato for dessert much cheaper than in town and some pasta making kitchen accessories for making pasta at home. Josh & Sarah have made homemade pasta before and we really want to try. Then back to the apartment to relax for the rest of the evening.

We are leaving early in the morning tomorrow for Venice. We are going to stop for a few sights in Florence on the way. One more full day in Italy. Rome is such a beautiful place with rich history, so glad it was part of the trip!

Orvieto & Rome Italy


We started off the day with breakfast at the hotel. This is the first time on the trip we’ve had breakfast included in our stay. We had yogurt, fresh squeezed juice, croissants, and fresh fruit. The kiwi was yummy!

Then we headed up the hill to the village of Orvieto. This area is just South of Tuscany, this provence is called Umbria. Here are some views from the look-outs.




Inside the village there is a cathedral dating back to 1200. I loved the black and white marble strips inside and out. Here we were able to walk in just as the mass was starting since it was Sunday morning. The pipe organ was playing, amazing! I took some video clips, hopefully the sound turns out. Then an Italian choir sang, which was also wonderful, we stood in awe and praise of our Savior for a few minutes in this beautiful cathedral. It was nice to be able to see the cathedral being used for worship. We didn’t stay for the whole service because we had plans in Rome today & it was in Italian. 🙂

We walked around the Orvieto Village for a little bit. I finally found a mortar and pestle at a cute shop. I started collecting them from different countries and I haven’t seen one on this trip until now. It was hand carved from olive wood. I hope to find one in a few other countries on our visit. There were all kinds of beautiful pottery, handmade tapestry, scarves, and woven items. Here are a few fun shots in town.

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We arrived in Rome and found our apartment outside of town. This was a bit of an experience, the apartments didn’t have numbers and the neighbors didn’t speak english. We finally were able to get pointed in the right direction. We found our host’s boyfriend and then he showed us to her. The apartment/b&b is very nice. The profile on airbnb said she had a hot tub but we asked about that she was very confused and after trying the words; hot swimming pool, jacuzzi, and spa I completely confused them. Her boyfriend spoke better english and he then tried to direct me to a full service spa, ha! I wish that was included. 🙂

The next challenge was getting into town. We followed her directions to the bus stop and we came to a bus/train station, but it looked deserted with 1 bus there & it wasn’t the number we needed. So after a few tries, we finally were able to locate a metro station in the GPS. The metro here in Rome is cheaper than Paris, it’s not as big either.

We parked and took the metro into Rome and took a much needed food stop! We just had a cheese pizza flatbread to hold us over until dinner. Dustin and I took a tour of the Roman Colosseum for 1/2 the price of the tours we almost booked on-line. We got to skip the line and go right in. It was a very good Roman history refresher and we learned some new things as well. Did you know the word arena comes from the latin word for sand? This is because there was sand in the bottom of the arena to soak up the blood after the fights. Here are a few pictures.



Josh and Sarah joined us on the tour of the Roman Ruins and Roman Forum. It’s amazing to see pieces of architecture so old, some areas dating back to 8th century BC. The largest palace on the hill was formed by the emperor Domitian, and was built in in 81 AD. Much of this area was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1800’s and then a large amount of marble was repurposed to build churches including parts of the Vatican. At least it didn’t go to waste.


Here is a picture of the Arch of Septimius Severus. It had been damaged due to erosion and It was refurbished later. The area right underneath the archway is original. This is the arch that the Arc de Triomphe design was based on.

After the ruins we headed towards the pantheon, which we learned used to be a place where pagans worshiped, but when Constantine was emperor (first Christian Emperor), he converted pagan churches to Christian churches. Unfortunately the pantheon was closed early since it’s Sunday.

We took another restaurant suggestion from the airplane travel magazine and it was awesome! The resturant was called Antonio al Pantheon. We were able to sit outside to eat along the street on the cobblestone street, it was up into the 80’s today which made the evening still warm at 70. We had insalada verde & pasta. The green salad was topped with local olive oil, it tastes so much better here! I had ravioli with meat sauce and Dustin had spaghetti with olive oil, red pepper, and roasted garlic. Here is a picture to make your mouth water.

After dinner we walked around the Piazza Navona. This is a city square that was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitaion in 1st century AD, it follows the form of the open space of the stadium. Ancient Romans would have come here to watch sporting events. The piazza was lined with artists selling their oil paintings and sketches.

We walked around for a bit, then ended the night with gelato and headed back to a metro. There are not many metro stations in the city, so we had to walk about 15 min back to the Colosseum, but that was ok because we were able to see it at night.

We came home to relax and we were able to use our iPads to iChat with our moms and my grandma. Happy Mother’s day again to the women who have invested so much into us & to all the other mother’s reading!

Nice, France to Orvieto, Italy

We left Nice, France around 8:30 am and headed to Èze, France. This is a historic medieval village dating back to 2,000 BC sits high above the Mediterranean sea, up on the cliffs west of Nice. We learned about Èze from the travel channel show Passport to Europe. It was definitely worth the stop since it was right on our way. We parked in the newer portion of town and walked up to the medieval village. It was fun because the stores there hadn”t opened yet and the tourist buses were not there yet so the small narrow streets were empty. Here are a few of our pictures.






We had breakfast just below the village in a small cafe. Dustin and I split a warm panini with chicken, cheese, and tomato & a tarte with egg and cheese. We all wanted to take apple beignets on the road but they were out. 😦 We walked across the street to the market and bought granola bars, a baguette, and a few apple turnovers for the road.

Our next stop was a drive through Monaco. By going through there we added another country to our trip. Monaco is the second smallest country next to Vatican city, and it is the most densely populated country in the word. We were able to drive most of the way into town, but the main roads were blocked for some reason and the police were directing traffic back up the hill. Here are a few pictures from Monaco…not the best photos since we were doing a drive-by…but it will give you an idea. We did see that we could have taken a train ride through the tourist spots for 8 EUR pp but not sure if we could have even gotten to the start of the tour because of the roads being closed.




This area is known as Côte d’Azur or the French Rivera. All along the coast there are beautiful cities where the mountains meet the ocean. It’s a bit hard to capture on film as we drive but let me just stay its breathtaking.

We did stop in an area near a portion of Italy called Cinque Terre. A town named La Spezia was there. The coast here is beautiful and has the mountains in the background. 20120512-223017.jpg

Then we drove up the hill to La Gratzia & La Portovenere, here are a few pictures. Absoutely breathtaking!




The actual Cinque Terre area is not accessible by car, but there is an 8 mile trail that connects the 5 villages that we could see only a few from afar. That might have to be on the bucket list if we are ever back in Italy!

We got back on the road headed to Pisa. There isn”t much in Pisa besides the infamous leaning tower and cathedral. We walked around and then got our pictures taken with the tower…here are a few of our fun shots!



We arrived in Orvieto around 9pm, we thought our hotel was actually up the hill in Orvieto but it turned out to be right by the highway. We will head up to see Orvieto tomorrow morning before heading to Rome. We had a nice dinner at resturant a few doors down. We had a coupon from the front desk! 🙂 Dustin was so excited to have authentic italian pasta, it was yummy!

I”m not sure our place in Rome has wifi…so it may be a few days til you hear from us again! Hope you are all having a wonderful weekend. Ciao!