This is where we stayed in Florence…

This being reason #1 why I loved Florence more.

Reason #2…

When you dream Italy, isn’t this what comes to mind?

Reason #3…

You have to pass this to get there.  Firenze is Tuscany.  Enough said.

We took a high-speed train from Rome to Florence.  This is modern transportation at its finest.  Pay a little extra to get a First Class ticket and you get a reserved seat and air conditioning.  We all agreed this was well worth the extra Euros.

This didn’t stop me from having a bit of a panic attack in the Rome train station.  Paul and I made it our duty to avoid any possible problems in Rome.  Before taking any type of transportation, we scoped it out first, by ourselves, without the mothers and our niece.  While I think Paul and I could navigate any subway, train station, or airport in the safest and efficient of ways, adding three people to our party made us anxious.  So, if we were taking the subway, Paul and I mapped it out first, walked the route, just the two of us, analyzed the subway lines, and bought the tickets, all before bringing the rest of our crowd along with us.  The day before our train ride to Florence, Paul and I took a trip to the train station, read the schedule, found our train platform, even knew what color the train would be, all before we had to do it “live” the next day.  We didn’t do all this because we didn’t trust our mothers and niece.  We did it because we love them and because Rome’s transportation stations have a reputation for harboring pickpockets and scam artists.  Let’s face it-as a group, we looked like tourists, potential victims, exactly what those scammers look for in a train station.  Paul and I had a simple strategy: know exactly where to go and walk there confidently.  So why the panic attack?  Everything ran according to plan.  We got to the train station safely, despite the extreme road rage of our cab driver, and found our platform without any problems.  It was the pickpocket who tried to grab my mother’s purse while we were waiting that sent me over the edge.  But, who am I kidding?!  No one will ever swipe my mother’s purse.  She guards her purse and everybody else’s purse like this guy guards the Vatican:

All it took was one glance and my mother’s death grip on the purse to send that guy begging somewhere else.

Once we were on the train, I took a head count and breathed a sigh of relief.  We survived train station #1.

The train ride itself is lovely.  Its hard not to keep your eyes glued to the window as you pass quickly through the sunflower filled hills of Tuscany. It’s truly breathtaking.  It’s also amazing that my husband could get these pictures.  We were barreling through this countryside at a very high rate of speed.

Of course I worried about navigating another train station once in Florence.  However, Paul and I planned our exit strategy for the Florence train station before getting off the train.  We knew exactly where to go and as soon as the train arrived, we had the luggage off and I led the pack towards the taxi stand.  That was always our strategy.  I led the pack and Paul trailed them.  Sandwich them in between us and all would be okay.

Our hotel in Florence was owned by Best Western.  I struggled with this idea when we booked the trip and almost changed the hotel because of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I have never had a bad stay at a Best Western.  It’s just that, I associate Best Western with America and when I’m in Italy, I want an Italian hotel.  I’m so glad I didn’t change our reservation.  This was, by far, the sweetest and most beautiful hotel of our entire trip. We seriously felt like we had an apartment in Florence for three days.  What gave it that apartment feel?  The beautiful balcony.  We later discovered it was the only balcony on the street side of the hotel and the only balcony on the block.  How did Paul and I get so lucky?  We’ll never know.

Due to the large door underneath our balcony, I think the people at the hotel across the street actually thought this was our apartment in Florence.  But in reality, it was our standard double room at the Hotel Rivoli, owned by the Best Western brand of hotels.  Check it out!  The sign and the entrance was down the street.

And the flowers?  Gorgeous!

Our neighbors were especially jealous of our balcony.  They just had this measly window…

Amanda wishing she could have our balcony 🙂

Of course, that didn’t stop them from coming over to enjoy our amenities…

We couldn’t keep them away…

Just kidding, we love them!

My first purchase in the city of Firenze was food.  Immediately after the wave of excitement over the balcony, I got hungry.  We made our way down the street and around the corner to the first cute little restaurant we could find.   We found Tre Merli, a restaurant focused on fresh Mediterranean cuisine with an outside eating area on the street.  Yes, you literally eat on the street in Italy.  The only thing separating you from the truck or bus barreling down the street is a thin plexiglass barrier.  I seriously held my breath and closed my eyes a few times while trying not to choke on my pappardelle with wild boar sauce.  By the way, wild boar sauce is AMAZING!  I’m so glad I took the advice of our waitress and ordered this dish.

Speaking of our waitress…we loved her!  In fact, we ate at this restaurant three times while in Florence and she took care of us every single time.  She even brought out a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to Amanda.  She was truly one of the sweetest people we encountered in Italy.

Our waitress posing for a photo with us.

Tre Merli was one of our favorites in Florence.  Unfortunately, we did almost get scammed at a restaurant nearby.  You do have to be weary of this.  If a restaurant refuses to give you a menu and just starts bringing plates upon plates of food your way, without mentioning the cost, run!  Luckily, Amanda and her award winning Oscar performance got us out quickly before we were charged hundreds of Euros for food that we didn’t order.  The night this happened, I lost my appetite altogether.  They tried really hard to take advantage of us.  Fortunately, they weren’t successful!

Anyway, enough about that…

My next purchase was at the local bookstore.  Not exactly the smartest purchase I’ve ever made.  I should have bought something a little smaller.  I started to regret it once I realized how heavy it made my backpack.  But, it was well worth the back pain.  A Tuscan cookbook, written totally in Italian.  I’ve already translated two recipes since being home!!

Love this book!

The soup on the front cover is called ribollita.  Ribollita has a variety of names, sometimes referred to as peasant’s soup or bread soup.  Its chock full of fresh vegetables and bread and is incredibly filling and delicious.  Every chef in Florence has their version of it and, you could probably judge a restaurant’s quality just by tasting their ribollita.  I had this twice while we were in Florence and you better believe I will be making it at home this fall.

After the bookstore, we took a walk around the Duomo.  This place was incredible!  The colors, the architecture, the size!  I just walked around this place in complete awe while Paul snapped a million photos!

After the Duomo, we set out on a mission to find Mom a new suitcase. Her thirty year old antique broke in Rome and, although it survived the trip to Florence, we were worried it couldn’t handle much more.  Suitcase shopping was a top priority before heading on to Venice.  Yes, it was time for mom to bid farewell to the old and say hello to this new bright purple monstrosity.  She looked like quite the trendsetter…

Mom and her trendy luggage.

Little did we know, this trendy piece of junk would break too.  Luckily, this wasn’t discovered until we arrived home.

After solving the luggage dilemma, my mother and mother-in-law took a trip back in time…

…to their childhood!  They found a carousel!  My Mom LOVES carousels!  Paul, Amanda, and I were left in charge of watching the purple suitcase while these two got to be kids again.  It was truly adorable!

Love those two and the wonderful relationship they have!

Now, let’s talk shopping girls.  If you love to shop, Florence is the place for you.  The only problem is the price.  Let’s just say, I did a lot of window shopping.  Most amazing to me was the jewelry!  I’ve never seen so much bling in one place.  This bridge is like Tiffany’s over water…

My husband had lots of fun with his camera here…

We celebrated Amanda’s birthday, our first wedding anniversary, and our wonderful trip to Florence by eating at the Michelin Star rated restaurant Benedicta Ristorante located just inside our hotel.  It was phenomenal!  The best meal we had in Florence by far!  We even managed to get a photo of the photographer while we were there…

Yes he was really with us!

And, just a little side note, Amanda’s father, my favorite brother-in-law, sent her 16 long stem roses for her birthday!  In Italy!  How cute is that?!

After a wonderful celebration, a beautiful hotel, and gorgeous surroundings, it came time to say ciao to Firenze and make our way to Venice.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I loved Firenze more!

Of course, not as much as I love this guy:

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