In 2014 I had the opportunity to travel to some of the most beautiful cities across the Eastern Mediterranean. For my master’s degree graduation gift my mom took me on a cruise with my aunt and 4 of her closest friends (hence known as my “Cruisin’ Ladies”- who will, in fact, be going on another cruise this August). We travelled to France, Italy, Turkey and Greece and I wanted to make sure to share some of my experiences with you! (Plus, it’s always nice to reminisce :p).
I wish I could remember the exact docking order, but for the purpose of this travel series, our first stop will be Florence and Pisa.
Walking through the streets of Florence, like walking through any historic city or town in Italy, has a magic and character that is unmatched in any other country. Each street corner has been maintained with such idyllically antiquated detail that if it weren’t for the 100s of DSLR cameras, securely draped around every tourists’ shoulder (mine included), you would indeed believe that you had stepped back in time. The art of the Italian ancestors is still so obviously cherished that the modern convenience of quick-builds has still not found Italian soil like it has in other European countries. Of course there are areas in Italy which were bombed during the war, and the utilitarian nature of the 1950’s rebuilds can be found in some places, but treasures like Florence and Pisa have luckily kept their old world charm.
If you’ve had the opportunity to explore Rome, you’ll know that with every slight corner you turn you are bound to run into an architectural or artistic masterpiece. Florence is very similar. It oozes the story of it’s past, written by those who built the city.
We stopped and had lunch at one of the oldest pizza restaurants in Florence. I had the Pizza Marinara, which was the best pizza I have ever had (with or without cheese!) It was topped with a gorgeous garlic oil and fresh oregano. And it was completely dairy free, making the rest of the tour much easier on me!
And of course I had to have an Italian espresso to follow (they really do know how to do coffee best).
ps- How adorable are the dried apple slices in the coffee shop’s barrel tables?
After we had lunch, we went to Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, where the statue of David is held (Warning! Uncensored photos shown :p) I feel like there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who will happily wait four hours to queue to see grand works of art like David or the Mona Lisa, and those who would rather google the image. We were lucky that with our cruise excursion, we could book our tickets in advance with an entrance time, so we barely had to wait in line. Still, I am one of those people who would happily wait to see any grand work of art.
Following our walking tour of Florence, on our way to Pisa (a short bus ride away), we stopped at a hill that overlooked the city. I feel like this is one of the highlights of doing a tour excursion, instead of just getting off at the dock and exploring the city by yourself (which I certainly did for other stops). Not only would I never have known about this stop, but I would have no way of getting there and would have missed out on the breathtaking view altogether.
In Pisa, there is very little outside of vendor shops, a few cafes and the bell-tower (plus some surrounding buildings). The building of the tower was originally started in 1173. It began to lean when the builders reached the third floor in 1178 due to improper foundation for poorly considered clay. Construction came to a halt for over 100 years. It was stopped and started several times over the next 200 years. The bell-chamber wasn’t even added until 1372. Various architects who worked on the tower tried to compensate for it’s leaning, and in 1964 to counter the lean a weight of 800 tonnes was added at the base. The tower was closed in 1990 to properly anchor it and was reopened for public tour in 2001. So when you are climbing to the top of the tower to once again see another breathtaking view, know that you are traveling through almost 900 years of Italian history.
And of course you have to do your part to help hold the tower up.
Whenever I travel to Italy, I always wish I had more time there. I wish I could have stayed in some of the glamorous antique hotels and devoured every pizza, pasta, espresso, bottle of wine and gelato I could get my hands on. Alas, while my time in Florence and Pisa was short, there will be many reasons for my return.