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When we started planning our trip I wanted to see as many of the “major” Italy sights as possible. We quickly realized Venice wasn’t doable…as it was just too far away from everything else. All the other “must sees” for us were located within travel distance of Rome which is why we decided to book our hotel stay there. I used Tripadvisor some in my planning and even posted that we’d have 7 days to see the sights and listed everything we wanted to accomplish. Everyone said it wasn’t do-able, but we were out to prove them wrong!!!
I am a fan of taking tours while traveling. Zach prefers to explore on his own. I just feel like you learn so much about the local area when you’re on a tour. But I also agree with Zach that it takes up SO much time and it’s not fun being stuck waiting around on a bunch of other people. We came to many compromises while on our trip (5 years of marriage under our belt, we’re great at compromising!). We decided to book a few tours but to still do a lot of our own exploring. I used Viator to book two tours as well as our transportation from the hotel to the airport.
One of the tours I booked was for a day trip to Florence by bus. Florence is a 3 hour drive from Rome so it’d be a long day of traveling. We were still mega jet lagged and had to be at our meeting spot at 7:30! We got there and I saw a guy with a clipboard so I asked him where we needed to be and he pointed to a random guy and said to go see him. He wasn’t wearing anything official looking. He said we were the only people on the tour that day so we wouldn’t be taking a bus and he lead us to this Mercedes. Zach and I don’t typically have extremely good luck so we were mega shocked by this news. I didn’t trust it. I asked the guy to show us some id. I mean I’ve seen Taken…I know that junk could happen and I wasn’t about to ride off with some random guy!!! He didn’t have any official id which kinda freaked me out too but he mentioned that he was with Dark Rome. When he said that I felt better. We booked through Viator but the company who actually would be putting on the tour was Dark Rome. He called them to “prove” who he was (which really a phone call proves nothing!) but once he mentioned Dark Rome I felt okay about it. Zach later said he was a little nervous about the whole thing too…so why in the heck didn’t he question the guy?!?! 😉 Left the dirty work up to me!!!
This was our ride for the day! Our own driver and our own tour guide!!!
We stopped for some coffee (which was really a gas station but both times we got gas the tour guide said we were “stopping for coffee”?). Our guide bought us some Italian chocolates to try! He said they were what inspired Hershey Kisses! We ended up buying some at the airport on our way home as a treat for Kye 🙂 See, we’re cool parents!!!
It was really, really awesome having our own transportation. We got there WAY quicker than we would have by bus, we were much more comfortable, and we could kinda control how the day went. I was pretty nervous about how my pumping would go that day with a big tour group, but it worked out perfectly since I wasn’t holding anyone up when I had to do my thing 🙂 The downside of it just being us was that we were stuck talking to the tour guide the entire ride there (and back) and he was a douche bag. He’s originally from Michigan and said he got his degree in the sciences and is actually qualified to be a rocket scientist (then why the heck is he giving tours?!?!). Zach tends to bring up topics that most people know aren’t safe to talk about with strangers. We all know…don’t mention religion or politics right?!?! Well for some reason Zach loves to bring up politics. He and Peter (our guide) got into some pretty heated debates about Obama and all types of things about our country that I know nothing about. I kept trying to get Zach to stop talking! We were stuck with this guy all day and I didn’t want him to hate us. The guy even cut down Aflac…which you just don’t do. I mean he knew Zach worked for them (his reasoning for not liking the company was that we are based out of Columbus, Ohio. Duh dummy it’s Columbus GEORGIA).
We did manage to learn some stuff about Italy on our ride there as well though!
- They use sunflower oil over there for cooking and in the summertime there are sunflowers blooming everywhere around Florence. I’m sure it’s beautiful!
- Grazie! means thank you. It’s the only Italian word I used while there and Zach made fun of me constantly for how I sound when saying it 🙂 I get an A for effort though right?
- Prego means you’re welcome
- If you see a gh together the sound is “g” if you see a g then that sound is “j” as they don’t use “j” in Italian
- Cars are taxed according to the size of their engines so most people drive super small cars
- The Vatican is the smallest state in the world
- The largest college in Rome has 150,000 students
- 70-80 % of Italy is made up of mountains
- SPQR means by the republic for the people (I asked about this from my Latin days…I took three semesters of it in high school as well as in college! I was the “regina latina” aka Latin Queen and even the president of Latin Club in high school. Watch out for my Latin skilllssss)
- 753 BC Rome was founded supposedly when Romulus killed his brother Remus (according to their myth stories)
- 20% of the world’s wine comes from Italy
- Rome was the first city to have over 1 million people
- 476 was the year that Rome fell
- There are 20 Italian states and only one of them is land locked and that’s Umbria
- There are 940 Catholic churches in Rome alone
- There is a 10% tax built into everything you buy in Italy
- Italy has the lowest birth rate in the world (which SHOCKS me. You’d think this culture so rich in history would want to continue to pass along that history to future generations. I also thought many devote Catholics didn’t believe in birth control and since it’s mostly a Catholic country…how are they avoiding getting pregnant?!?!)
A three hour car ride and I sure learned a lot huh?!?! I told you he spent most of the time being a d-bag!!! Once we got there we were relieved to learn that he wouldn’t be giving us our tour of Florence! We met up with a super nice lady who gave us our tour. Do you ever watch movies that are in English but have a heavy accent? Like when we saw Snatch it took us awhile to understand what in the world they were saying. It just takes a bit to adjust to a heavy accent ya know? The first few places we went with her we weren’t quite sure what she was saying, so I’ll do my best 🙂
The library in Florence was built in 1910 and is the most “modern” building in the town
We were there during some HUGE race…our luck right?
Our first stop was to see the outside of Santa Croce. This church was designed in 1295 with the intention of becoming one of the largest churches in Christianity. It’s almost as large as St Peters in Rome. It is where Michelangelo and Galileo are both “buried” in their urns. We made a note to come back to tour the inside (we’re all about seeing some urns haha) when we came back to visit on our own later that week.
Locals call this church “the Westminster Abbey of Tuscany”
While outside the church we were approached by two separate women who we later learned were gypsies. Each woman that approached us had a picture of a boy and were begging for money and kept showing us the picture. It was funny because they both showed us the same picture! People came up to us a lot and it was kinda rude. We were obviously on a tour with our guide yet they kept asking her questions. Some were about things we were looking at. Some were for directions. Some were for advice. It was strange! I told our guide that she must just be very friendly since everyone seemed to approach her all the time!
The foundation of Florence is actually a Roman city. It was leveled and Florence was built on top of it. You can still see a lot of “hints” that show the history of the Roman city below. This building, for example, was built on top of an amphitheater which is why it is curved.
Carlo Collodi, who wrote Pinocchio, is actually originally from Florence. It was surprising to me that EVERY little souvenir shop sold tons of Pinocchio dolls. Actually it was that way everywhere we went in Italy. We ended up buying Kye and Brittlynn a pop-up Pinocchio book as a “prize” and we got Kye his own Pinocchio puppet. I was excited to buy all kinds of fun souvenirs while we were there, but there really wasn’t much to buy!!! We kept hunting for the perfect thing but the Pinocchio ended up being pretty much the only option for Kye out of all the places we visited the entire trip.
This building shows the different types of stone used in building. It used to flood so badly in Florence that water would flood the entire bottom story which is why they build things out of the different types of stone.
This street is called Via Dei Leoni (the street of Lions). To show the strength of the city they used to keep lions tied up all up and down this street.
This is the Palazzo Vecchio which is the town hall of Florence. It was built as a palace in the 13th century and was made to easily defend in times of war by having very few windows at ground level. It has been the town hall for 700 years.
Police car 🙂
I read a lot about Italy before leaving and one of the tips I read was to pack a water bottle as there is (cold!) water flowing freely throughout Italy especially in the major cities. Like it’s legit flowing…you don’t even have to turn it on or anything. Isn’t that crazy?!?! We’d consider that SO wasteful here!!! I know it replenishes and cleans and such but still, it surprised me. It was GOOD water too!!! Poor Zach had to lug a super heavy book bag all day. I had to pump so he had to carry all my pump stuff as well as a cooler with freezer packs to keep the milk cold. Since the hotel “freezer” didn’t full freeze my ice packs, I had to pack extra ones to keep the milk cold enough. He just hooked the water onto his book bag strap. It came in super handy!
Another AWESOME thing about a private tour, we could have our guide take pictures of us together 🙂
This monument of Neptune was sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammannati in 1565. The sea-god is an allegorical portrait of Cosimo I who meant to demonstrate his ambition to make Florence a great naval power. All around Neptune are bronze statues of sea-gods.
Neptune’s face was sculpted to look like the artist who created him. Many artists came about after Michelangelo and tried to copy his technique but always failed and this is one such copy.
Random side note: I don’t have ANY of those cross-body type purses. I’m not a big fan of them as they make your chest look funky and mess up your clothes. However, for this trip I knew I needed something to carry across my chest for safety reasons. I was going to just use my camera carrying case but thought it’d get annoying quick (SO glad I didn’t do that the whole time!). I had a Target gift card and ended up buying this purse with it. I used it every single day (and no, it doesn’t match all my outfits…annoyed me to death!) and it worked out well! My camera and many other little necessities could fit in it, it had a pull string to close it (which I could also tie for extra protection), it was comfortable, and I could easily drape my sweater over it and it wouldn’t fall off. A great purchase even if it will make it’s way to the back of my closet never to be seen again until our next international adventure 😉
Lions were everywhere, again a symbol of strength
Piazza della Signoria is a large square which is basically an open air museum. It was so neat just to walk up to all these famous statues! This one is of Judith cutting off someone’s head. It served as a warning to the dominate Medici family to never return. This family was the most influential family in Florence and were, at a time, the most wealthy family in all of Europe. They had a lot of power…and with power (as we all know) comes corruption! And they weren’t the most like group 🙂
In this square is where the original statue of David stood. This is just a copy now as the original was moved to protect it. Not from the elements, but from people. We were told a tourist once cut off one of his toes!!! They fixed it but moved him to protect him. Prior to coming to Italy I didn’t know much about David or Michelangelo for that matter but what we learned during this tour made me very interested to learn more! I’ll fill you in once we get to see the legit statue 🙂
This is a bronze statue of Perseus holding up the decapitated head of Medusa. It was mad e by Benvenuto Cellini between 1545 and 1554. The phrases on the bottom read “per aspera ad astra” which translated says “through hardship to the stars.” It is alluding to man’s spiritual vocation and his striving toward higher ideals. This was Zach’s favorite!
Another view of the David copy 🙂
This is the Rape of the Sabine Woman. It is said that a large party was thrown where the men killed the women’s husbands and raped them in order to populate Rome. It goes along with their myths about how Rome came about and the story is told in a way to show the power, strength and dominance of Rome.
This is the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Every inch of it was covered in detailed artwork!
Cupid with the dolphin statue by Verrocchio
We walked along the outside of the Galleria degli Uffizi (we did not end up going inside, we aren’t big “art” people…) and enjoyed looking at all of the different people trying to entertain tourists in order to earn some money! It’s really neat to me how these people will somehow cover themselves completely in these costumes and how they stand still for so long. I appreciate this…it’s much, much better than those gypsies rudely walking up and asking for money! At least these people are attempting to earn your money in some fashion.
Statue of what Michelangelo looked like. If you’re like me and have zero knowledge of this type of thing…then you probably picture in your head Michelangelo looking like the statue of David. Or am I the only one that does that?!?! He looked NOTHING like that statue haha
This man is someone who we never hear about yet our whole country was named after! His name was Amerigo Vespucci and he is the person who realized that America was a separate country and not actually part of India (as Columbus had thought).
Ponte Vecchio was the only one of Florence’s medieval bridges left standing by the retreating German army in 1944. Rather than destroying the bridge itself, they destroyed all the buildings on either side of it making it unusable. Isn’t it beautiful?
View from the bridge
We passed this Barbie and I had to stop for a picture…I’m a Barbie girl at heart 🙂
This church was originally a marketplace. They closed in the archways (you can see where they closed them in…) and moved the grain upstairs. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (which you KNOW irritates me to no end!!!) but it was neat to see the shoots they had build into the walls to allow them to pour the grain from the upper level to the lower level.
These were outside many of the buildings, used to hold torches back in the day!
I loved all the beautiful little streets
Stephen was the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death so his head is usually shown indented where stones had hit him. He’s considered the saint of wool workers.
Mary and Jesus as a young boy
This statue depicted when Jesus came back and they checked him to see if he was alive or dead. They put a spear in his side to see if he would bleed or not.
Do you feel like you’re getting a good history lesson yet?!? And this is only from the morning portion of our tour. 🙂 More to come!