Ciao from Italy!

Hey…it’s me…in Italy

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This is not the start of our RTW romp, but Kate and I did tag along on a family vacation for- get this- 16 days in Italy. How’d we get so lucky!?

The main problem has been that we are way totally broke and the exchange rate sucks…that and the fact that Italian men are VERY forward. More on that later.

We started our tour in Florence, living for a week in a cramped little villa. We made that our home base and ventured out for day trips, with and without the family (two of my aunties, my grandma, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend, and auntie’s friend). We are quite the rag tag group with some of us quite a bit more “American” than others (read: loud, demanding, constantly in a state of panic). The great thing about Kate is that, like me, she tends to go with the flow. We pass our fair share of knowing glances at each other, but for the most part, we shrug our shoulders, pay the euros, and get on with it. I have learned, on this trip, that not everyone is as easy going, and it makes me rest a bit easier knowing this little factoid about myself- that I am an easy traveler; it will no doubt be an advantage come March.

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Above: Touching the boar in the market place in Florence, its legend says if you rub it, you’ll one day come back to the city!

My thoughts of Florence: I suppose, should one tour Italy, it’d be a “must see”, but for me, it was the worst food, the worst people, and the most cliché of sights. The Duomo is of course quite the spectacle, and of course I loved all the priceless art in the Uffizi and the Academia, but Florence is, I feel this is the best way I could put it for my fellow Floridians: a lot like Orlando. It is the Disney World, tourist destination of Italy- think Japanese tourists wielding cameras, bad food (no, really, the food was for the most part absolutely terrible), and locals who simply non piace the many travelers passing through. I did get some cool sneakers though when I ruined my shoes! Thanks, Florence!

My favorite part of the entire trip (no seriously, the entire trip) was the wine and food festival Boccacesca in Certaldo. Just an hour and a half train ride from Firenze, we took a gondola up to the old Etruscan city on the hill, walking through 11th century cobblestone streets with a 6 euro wine glass that afforded us ALL YOU CAN DRINK wine! There were stalls set up with samples of cheese, meats, desserts, etc. It was truly an amazing experience- the whole Kelley fam of course got extremely tipsy. It was light on our wallets, heavy on the wine and food, and a totally beautiful little town. It was, as my mama would say, molto bene!

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Above: “tasting wine” in Certaldo…I have no idea what I’m doing. 

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We took a day trip the following morning to Pisa and were in for one rainy afternoon. Here’s the thing about Pisa, and I’m just gonna come out and say it: it is totally missable. The leaning tower is actually quite pretty, but there are tourists everywhere (so of course the food was terrible), everything is quite expensive, and there just isn’t all that much to do. If you feel the leaning tower is quintessentially and that you absolutely must see it, of course, go. But honestly, the Coliseum is just as quintessential and in a city with lots to do!

On the subject of not lots to do, Grammy, Aunt Alice, Kate and I headed to Siena the next day to see the sights. Kate and I weren’t particularly excited about the trip, but Grammy and Aunt Alice had talked to two fellow American ladies who absolutely loved it and since they agreed to pay for our train tickets and buy us lunch Kate and I gladly obliged. Siena is really very pretty, but again…that’s about it. It’s very hilly and there are cute restaurants and shops, it would be a nice day to spend walking around if you like to do that (which I do, but my 78 year old grandma does not)! We had lunch, saw the bell tower, ate gelato in the square, and then headed back to Florence. Siena is pretty, but, again, nothing like…

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Above: Aunt Alice in Siena! 😀 Love her!

Venice! I LOVED Venice. I hear it’s a place you either love or hate, but after learning about Venetian history for years in school- the riches, the rise and fall, the amazing architecture, naval fleets, and gold that the city was and is so famous for, was really amazing. It’s literally all water! When you walk off the train at Venice St Lucia station, you head through the station and are immediately greeted by gondolas, water taxis, canals, and beautiful buildings. It’s really quite amazing and so small, you can easily walk the entire city in a day if you’re so inclined. We walked to St Mark’s Basilica in about twenty minutes, had an al fresco lunch (which was just alright, but in such a pretty piazza I couldn’t complain), and walked through the streets flanked by water and couples in gondolas.  If you get the chance to go to Venice, you must! St Mark’s Basilica is absolutely beautiful- gilded in gold and so amazingly old! That rhymed! What I’m trying to say is…I loved Venice.

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Above: a phot of me LOVING Venice! with Kate! 

After Venice we took a day to explore Florence again, hitting up the sights we missed. Santa Croce was truly amazing for me because I love Dante, Michelangelo, and especially Galileo, all of whom are buried there. We visited my Mom’s good friends at the Leather School, who were darling! And then Kate and I visited the Boboli gardens, climbing all around to take pictures before settling on the lawn to read for a few hours. The gardens are what Versailles is based on, and it is truly beautiful. And, after one last Maso’ pizza (Kate’s favorite pizza ever, and definitely in my top ten), we left for a sojourn in Montepulciano.

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Above: being a Greek statue in the Boboli Gardens 

For those of you TwiHards wondering…YES! Montepulciano is where New Moon was filmed. Just ask them! This medieval city has posters, T shirts, and plates (which you know I bought) advertising that this was, indeed, where the Volturi lived in the second installment of the films. If you know me, you know I hate Twilight with a fiery passion, but I have to say, it is hilarious how much they continue to revel in the fact that a few scenes were filmed here. If only they knew…

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Above: KP and EK in Montepulciano! 

Other than that, Montepulciano is really amazing- the food is delicious, the views are spectacular, and pretty much no one speaks English, which was, surprisingly refreshing (for me moreso than the rest of my family).

From Montepulciano we took a day trip to Perugia. I got WAY car sick both ways (vomitous, guys- not cute). We went to a chocolate festival that Kate and I HATED- so many people, oblivious to everyone, spilling chocolate everywhere. There were no free samples, everything was expensive, and we sat down to a (totally awful) lunch at an “Irish Pub” because Kate was sick of Italian food. Sad, you guys, so sad- the hamburger they gave us was…a giant sausage patty.

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Above: just a modest slice of cake in Perugia at the choco-fest!

Overall, this trip taught me that family is forever, and I’m okay with that. With lots of group dinners, late nights talking and drinking wine, and strolling through streets while my grandma screams at everyone asking if they speak English, I love my crazy family and wouldn’t trade them for the world.

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Above: la mia famiglia! 

This trip also taught me the importance of packing light, because Kate and I thought maybe it was our last chance to look cute internationally for awhile, we brought dresses, jackets, make up, hair equipment and let me tell you it was so not worth it because at the end of the day we both wear pretty much the same three outfits every single day, not even bothering with our hair, and using about 3 of the 17 make up items we brought. I feel like traveling light should come naturally to me because I am surprisingly low maintenance for a girl (strange since I grew up quite the picky child). Over the years I have progressed into someone who is fine in jeans and a t shirt (which is what I’m wearing now), with just mascara and a ponytail to make me feel pretty. I like that about myself, and I’m glad I kept realizing over and over how little I needed. I kept saying, “Why the hell did I bring a BLAZER?! I NEVER wear blazers!” Live and learn, y’all, live and learn.

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Above: oh you know…just lifting 50 pounds of luggage over our heads onto the racks of the train…whatever.

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Above: it is also necessary in Italy to eat 3 gelatos a day MINIMUM.

Italy is a fantastic country with passionate people and beautiful places to see. I have to say the food is not all its cracked up to be. Though carb-o-licious, it isn’t all that amazing, you really have to get out to the small towns to truly enjoy the work people can put into a good ragu or a fresh loaf of bread. The wine, however, is delicious and quite cheap most of the time! Love that! The trains are pretty easy to navigate and the drivers are as crazy as you think they are, so for the most part transportation will get you where you need to go with no problems. We are off to Roma tomorrow morning, which I’m sure will warrant a separate post after tours of the famous places I’ll be heading to (in a dress!)

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Above: the best part of Florence- Maso pizza!

One last thing, as a warning to all my fellow gal pals traveling here: dress modestly. Even in a jacket, jeans, and boots Kate and I were constantly harassed by hoards of Italian men. If I heard “Ciao, bella!” one more time I swear I was going to start ripping throats out! I hate being hit on even by the most respectful of men, I think it’s really gross- so when men are staring at you as you walk down the street, leering and making kissing noises when you’re just trying to enjoy your gelato in peace- you will thank me that you didn’t bear cleavage, rock a mini skirt, or wear that extra eyeliner. It’s important to be careful in these countries because American girls are said to be “easy” and rape is apparently very common. Though we didn’t experience that even remotely, I was constantly warned by the women I encountered to please be careful and as always- better safe than sorry.

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 Until the next adventure- ciao, belle! 

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