Part V : Florence, Day No. 2

Our day started with hunting for picnic supplies in the Mercato Centrale. After a few trips walking around each vendor’s stall, I just couldn’t bring myself to order food from a place with a sheep’s head in it. For all my moxie and well-traveled experience, I’m pretty squeamish when it comes to hunks of meat. Compared to Jeff, I’m practically a vegetarian.

Fortunately, the recently renovated upstairs of the market is a contemporary, gourmet food court. We saw plenty of both locals and tourists come for the quality, artisan-made food.  It had a great atmosphere and the whole place was decorated for Easter.

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We had panini and finished with cookies, biscotti, and drinking chocolate.

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This is not your ordinary hot chocolate. Think melted chocolate with a little milk added.

It was excellent.

Untitled-1_0018_Layer 2After lunch, we strolled through the rest of San Lorenzo Market. We were tempted by the leather bags and jackets, scoffed at the endless ways to make a joke and a profit from Michaelangelo’s David’s unmentionables, and finally caved into buying some scarfs.

I bought one for my sister, and Jeff got one for himself for the chilly Florentine nights and for our upcoming motorcycle trip.

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We continued to walk the neighborhood until we came to Piazza San Lorenzo.

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I noticed an artist at work and stopped to admire some of his watercolors and etchings. When I saw what he was working on, it really caught my attention.

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I found a watercolor of the Ponte Vecchio that I loved and it was such a good price, so I looked through his collection for one of the Duomo to match. We weren’t seeing any, so we asked if he had one.

“10 minutes,” was his reply.

We couldn’t believe how quickly he sketched and began to paint. All from memory.

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His quick, but steady hand made it look so easy.

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Even the way he packaged our prints was done with some artistic panache.

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He was smiley and friendly and it was such a pleasure to watch him create. If you go to Florence, do yourself a favor and buy a few custom paintings from Almas. You won’t be sorry.

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Today, our favorite souvenirs have a prominent place by our bedside in Athens.

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As the sky turned pink and golden, we walked a few blocks to see the Duomo again. And have gelato. Again.

Is there a more fitting way to end the day?

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Stay tuned for our next update: Florence, Day No. 3

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

Part IV : An Afternoon in Florence

The slow train to Florence was a great way to see the Tuscan countryside and allowed for some extra rest for my feet. The three hour ride also left plenty of time for some naps and time lapse GoPro footage taken from our traincar window. Here’s a 6-second loop of a 60-second stretch of track, at 10 times speed:

When we arrived in town, we took a bus to our hotel that was about a 10 minute drive away from the city center. Our amazing friend had arranged our room as a wedding present, and we felt a little spoiled with the plush robes, slippers, complimentary food and beverages in the lounge, and mostly the spectacular views from our hotel room.

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On the shuttle ride back to town, it was pretty clear just how different Florence is from Rome. Cleaner, slower, accessible. More intimate, elegant, and refined. It seems obvious that this was the perfect birthplace for the Renaissance.

We hopped off the shuttle near the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.

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We could see the top of the Duomo peeking out from behind the buildings and made our way down the cobbled lanes toward it.

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I’m sure so many others have shared my lifelong dream to visit Florence. The food, the lifestyle, the art, the architecture make it an obvious destination point for millions of people every year. But gazing up at the Duomo as the setting sun turned everything golden, I felt like we were the only ones around.

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The Duomo at sunset was the perfect introduction to Florence.

We lingered for ages in the piazza, eating pizza and gelato while continuously gazing at the Duomo like it was our long, lost love. It was dark by the time we figured we should head back to our hotel. But in a stroke of spontaneity, we boarded the bus that takes you to the hills above the city.

San Miniato al Monte is often overlooked by tourists. It’s twilight chanting monks, gardens, and cemetery (author of Pinnochio, Carlo Collodi, is buried here) shouldn’t be missed.

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Plus I think it might just have the best views of the city. Props to Jeff for knowing how to change the ISO settings for these breathtaking photos.

We got those stunning images just before the monks came out to lock up the gates for the night, but snuck in a few more shots before leaving.

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We strolled down the hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo for some more views of the city and my favorite, Ponte Vecchio.

An absolutely perfect first day in Florence.

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“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”  –  Giuseppe Verdi

 


Stay tuned for our next update: Florence, Day No. 2

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

Part III : Colosseum & Pantheon

After the miles of walking in Chicago and London plus more miles in wet shoes our first day in Rome, my feet were pretty sad. I luckily avoided any blisters, but I had the precursor hot spots and rather absurdly large swollen ankles.

Having tender, sore feet on vacation is a burden and a bit of a letdown. But in what can be an overwhelming city like Rome, I definitely think it aided in our really experiencing the city instead of zooming around from one famous site to the next. Even though I had to hobble down the cobbled lanes, the slower pace allowed us to better appreciate the beauty and feel the rhythm of the places we saw.

On our second morning in Rome, we spent some extra time prepping. With items from one of Jeff’s first aid kits (yes, one of them) he carefully taped and bandaged my battered feet to mitigate any further damage. But that only did so much to alleviate the pain, so there was also plenty of popping pills, resting, and elevating throughout the day.

This day was a far cry from the damp dreariness the day before. It was sunny and warm and beautiful. The kind of weather you picture when you think of Rome.

We hopped off the bus at the Colosseum and it looked perfect against the bright blue sky.

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Since we lost a day trying to get to Rome (stay tuned for that story later on), and to save my feet, it made sense to do what I call The Façade Tour – only seeing museums and monuments from the outside. It is, of course, not the ideal situation to not go inside and experience more of the Colosseum or some of the other sites, but it worked for us at the time and for our needs.

It definitely wasn’t the plan when we arrived, but in a way I’m kind of glad it worked out like that. Plus we got to spend some of the extra money that we saved on entrance fees to then spend on souvenirs and more gelato.

We could have spent 3 hours in line just to get into the Colosseum, so because we skipped that, we also had time to admire the Arch of Constantine. It was dedicated in 312 A.D. after Constantine won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, an important travel route across the Tiber River.

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It holds particular significance as it is said that that battle marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. It is recorded that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision from God promising victory if they scribed onto their shields the sign of the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek. When the battle was won, Constantine felt it had been possible only through the divine intervention given, and so began his conversion.

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Since the Roman Forum is part of the Colosseum entrance ticket, we had to skip that too, but luckily we were able to see it from a path that winds up above. From that path, there are also great views of the Colosseum and Arch.

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One of the greatest things that I inherited from my mother is my love of plants and flowers and trees, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite parts of the Colosseum – the umbrella pines. As you can see in the pictures above, these pines are groomed to their quintessential shape all throughout Rome, but the thick grove surrounding the area around the Colosseum are among my favorites.

From there we jumped back on the bus and headed to Piazza Navona.

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Once an ancient circus arena where Romans came to watch the games. Now, unfortunately, you’ll mostly find pushy immigrant workers hawking their knock-off purses and, of course, the obnoxious selfie stick. Jeff joked about buying one just so they’d see we already had one and would just leave us alone. Luckily Bernini’s fountain was a beautiful distraction.

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It was nearing lunchtime as we made our way toward the Pantheon. We stopped for pizza and our first cup of gelato. I am so glad that gelato is completely deserving of all the hype and praise everyone gives it. It really is that good.

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As per our usual, I love the creamy and chocolatey flavors and Jeff is all about the fruity sorbets. Although I do think that lemon and dark chocolate make a pretty good pairing.

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The Pantheon is simply amazing. It’s sheer size makes me figure it would be a difficult building to construct in this day and age, but to know that it is nearly 2000 years old is almost unbelievable.

The numbers are staggering. The 16 massive Corinthian columns are 60 tons a piece. They were quarried in Egypt and drug 62 miles from the quarry to the Nile River. Then floated down the river and transferred to ships for passage across the Mediterranean. And then transferred back to barges that were pulled up the Tiber, and then drug another half mile to this site.

And that wasn’t even the hard part. The hard part was the dome. I could go on and on about how amazingly difficult this building was to construct, but you’d be better off Googling it.

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In its presence, I found it rather hard not to be overwhelmed by how old it is, how big, how complex, how intricate, how well preserved, etc. Jeff has said that he thinks that we use the word awesome to casually and liberally. That meal or new clothes might be nice, but they’re not awesome – they don’t inspire awe. This, however, this is the epitome of awesome.

We stuck around outside for quite a while. It’s a great place to people watch. Then we decided to head back to our guesthouse early to rest my feet and pack for Florence.

Our place was so lovely. My review of it on hotels.com may have sounded more like a love sonnet than a hotel review.

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Our room was perfect and relaxing. The stocked kitchen made for great midnight snacks of cake and milk. But the gorgeous views of the courtyard were my favorite. Okay, maybe the cake and milk, but I loved the courtyard too.

Before heading upstairs, we lingered in the garden admiring the trees and flowers and architecture in the late afternoon sun.

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That top window with green shutters was ours. Lovely, isn’t it? We liked it so much that we decided that when we go back to Rome, we won’t even bother looking at any other accommodations.

With some rest and packing finished, we walked around the neighborhood for a bit and then settled on a place for dinner. After some pizza and a little hand lettering on my paper placemat, we ended the day as I feel everyone should, with a cup of gelato in hand.

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Stay tuned for our next update: Florence

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

Part II : Rome – The Eternal City

Traveling to Rome proved to be much more difficult and frustrating than we had anticipated, but in the end there were plenty of cherished moments that made that part of the trip worth remembering. Jeff is prepping a post all about that adventure, so for now, let’s head to Rome.

Our first day in Rome was dreary and drizzly. I love dreary. My initial memories of the city are of dewy orange blossoms and passersby huddled under umbrellas.

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After settling into our lovely room, we took some desperately needed showers and naps. It was mid-afternoon by the time we headed out to explore the rainy city.

We hopped on the bus and within minutes we were curving around the front of the Colosseum. We were tempted to get off, but decided to wait since we were coming back there the next day.

When we got to Piazza Venezia with views of the Il Vittoriano, I knew we had to get off. I was amazed at its size and bright whiteness, and couldn’t begin to fathom how they built it or why it looked so well preserved.

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Now I know that this monument is, by Roman standards, practically brand new. Completed in 1925 as a tribute to the first king of unified Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele, its presence is somewhat controversial. Many locals consider it too conspicuous and pompous and aren’t thrilled that construction destroyed a large section of ancient and Medieval ruins and buildings. It’s earned a few unbecoming nicknames: the wedding cake, the typewriter, and pisciatoio nazionale (the *ahem* national urinal).

When we were there I was joking with Jeff about how much I loved it. I said maybe it was only because it was the first thing I saw and that it was “probably the dumbest building in Rome.” Guess my instincts were right. Even after knowing all those negatives, I still love it – dumbest building or not. Plus it has a good view of the Colosseum.

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The drizzle had turned to a steady downpour with strong winds. If the rain didn’t succeed in dampening peoples’ spirits, the wind surely did. Every trash can we passed was jammed with busted umbrellas. Plenty more were in the streets either from the gusts of wind catching them or finally just chucked there by their former owners.

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We caught a nearby tram bound for Trastevere. Meaning across the Tevere (Tiber) River, Trastevere is considered by many to be Rome’s favorite neighborhood. It certainly is ours. It’s away from the buzz of the city, so Romans and tourists alike flock here for the great nightlife. You’ll find them dining in one of the many packed trattorias (taverns) or gathered in the streets smoking and chatting.

Besides a quick snack at our guesthouse, we hadn’t eaten all day and were ravenous. I kept reading really great reviews of one particular trattoria, so we made the extra effort to find it instead of just popping into the first restaurant we saw. By the time we got there, we were so completely soaked that I didn’t even bother dodging puddles anymore.

Shivering and famished, we were happy just to have a warm place to sit down. We didn’t realize at first that Trattoria de Gli Amici would turn out to be our favorite place in Rome. Hands down the greatest bruschetta we’ve ever had, mostly because of the addition of the warmed percorini (sheep cheese) you could spread on top.

Jeff had the lasagne and I had ravioli with toasted hazelnuts. I normally wouldn’t have made that pairing, but the rich, nutty flavors paired with pasta and cheese were excellent, and I think with a bit of trial and error, you could make a quite tasty version at home. To finish off our meal, we had one of my mom’s favorite desserts, pavlova with berries and Chantilly cream.

Every bite was perfect.

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The real treasure of this place is not the cozy atmosphere or impeccable dishes, but their mission and practices. The paper place mats tell their story:

Trattoria de Gli Amici (Trattoria of the Friends) is pleased to welcome you. This is not a regular restaurant. . . . People with disabilities work here together with professionals and friends who offer their time for free. We work together because we don’t believe in a world divided in two: and then we know that all best things can only be done with friendship. The work has been divided among us all: some work in the kitchen, others serve at the tables while some are caring to make the place a welcoming environment . . . All the profits of the Trattoria are used on the same project. Many initiatives were born from our restaurant: formation courses for disabled people in the field of catering, and conferences on the theme of employment opportunities.

We fell in love with this place and knew we had to come back.

 


 

Stay tuned for our next update: Colosseum & Pantheon

To see more photos:

Wander the Wild on Facebook  |  Jeff’s Instagram  |  Allison’s Instagram

Wanderings : Teaser

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We finally arrived at our new home in Athens where we’ll set up shop for the next few months. On the way here we stopped in Italy to properly celebrate our late honeymoon. I thought I should share a few teaser pictures from posts to come to tide you over until we’re settled in our new place and can start tackling the task of editing photos and writing blog posts.

In the meantime, you can also check out our Instagram accounts for our latest wanderings:

https://instagram.com/allisontueller/

https://instagram.com/vgbnd.orgnl/

Stay tuned for more posts from London, Rome, Florence, and Athens. We’ll break these into a series of posts including photos and highlights from each city plus our take on travel tips, packing essentials, cuisine, and our favorite must-do’s.

Euros & Gyros

Since Allison and I got married, we’ve spoken with friends and family about our travel plans. A lot of this has been quite dynamic, with lots of factors having to come into alignment. For many years, she and I have both wanted to spend time living abroad. Not just vacationing, but truly living and “sampling” different places. Even if it’s only for a few months at a time.

Well, we’ve finally moved out of the day-dreaming phase and into the execution phase of our planning. We’re starting in Greece, via Italy.

And yes. We’re excited.

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We’re coming for you.

 

How it came about.

We’ve probably caused plenty of confusion in our circles, with talks of first moving to Cape Town, South Africa, then making our way through Zambia and Rwanda. She has a deep connection with some of those countries and the people there.** I, too, have always felt drawn there (in fact, I was researching apartments in Kenya and Ghana back in 2005—never dared to pull the trigger). But with more thoughtful planning, we determined that moving to Africa might be a longer-term commitment. Maybe we should start with other areas where we want to live that are more accessible; we’ve both wanted to experience life in and around the Mediterranean.

I wrote about my solo wanderings/motorbike-walkabout in Morocco back in 2012. On that trip, I spent precious little time in Madrid. I knew I wanted to go back and see more of Spain—specifically southern Spain. Allison, too, has wanted to live in the Andalucia region.

So we thought maybe Granada should be first. Maybe 3-6 months. From there, I would introduce Allison to some of the cities and spaces in Morocco that meant so much to me, then work our way around the north rim of the Mediterranean, stopping to soak up Italy for a bit before settling in Athens, Greece (where we have a lovely friend who has invited us to stay with her) for another 3 months or so. Utah would be our home base, where we would return for a time and gather our finances and resources before going to do the same sort of thing in Africa. We’re trying to do all of this on a limited budget, and in such a way as to allow us to work our web-media studio (VagabondOriginal.com) from the road.

Then reality hit: Visas.

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The Schengen Agreement.

All of this time, we thought our U.S. passports are good for 90 days in any of those countries. This is true. But there’s a catch.

Short version: The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders . . . . It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.

Traveling on a U.S. Passport, you can only travel anywhere within this entire region for 90 days out of any 180 consecutive days.

Meaning that after 90 days we have to leave the region for at least another 90 days. You can apply for a permit that does allow travelers to stay in the region up to a year, but the application process doesn’t work within our immediate time frame, goals, etc.

Well, pair all of this with other factors like budget considerations, being able to work from the road, the hot season and all the tourists . . . plus we’re flying stand-by when we can, and there are seasonal limitations affecting when we can fly from certain airports . . . BUT then add the extraordinarily pleasant surprise of our Greek accommodations opening up for us sooner than we thought . . .

And it became clear.

Let’s make this simple.

New plan:

  • Greece for 3-ish months
  • Travel by way of Italy, spending 8 days there on the way to Athens
  • Soak up springtime in Greece
  • Practice living/packing minimally
  • Maybe some weekend trips to neighboring countries?
  • Come home to Utah, work on applying for the Schengen permit (allowing us to stay up to a year in the region)
  • Work toward our next adventure

So it’s official. Tickets are booked. We leave for Rome in March, just after my birthday.

And yes. There will probably be a motorcycle involved.

 


**some of you will remember that Allison has traveled to 10 different countries in Africa on 6 different occasions in her outreach work. I think she left a part of herself there. I didn’t know her before, but I know her work there changed her forever. She needs to go back, and I can’t wait to go with her.

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