Florence, Italy in March - Bellissimo!

il Duomo:  This photo taken only a short walk from our hotel.
il Duomo: This photo taken only a short walk from our hotel.
La Giostra:  Excellent food and staff.  Would definitely recommend it!
La Giostra: Excellent food and staff. Would definitely recommend it!
Coliseum in Rome:  Incredible.
Coliseum in Rome: Incredible.
Trivi Fountain:  Throw in coins over your shoulder and one day you will return to Roma!
Trivi Fountain: Throw in coins over your shoulder and one day you will return to Roma!
Here I am enjoying a delicious lunch of lasagna!
Here I am enjoying a delicious lunch of lasagna!
Tuscany - an incredibly beautiful place!
Tuscany - an incredibly beautiful place!
Robert with our rental - an Alfa Romeo - ready to tour the Tuscan countryside.
Robert with our rental - an Alfa Romeo - ready to tour the Tuscan countryside.

Tips to get the MOST out of your trip!

My husband, Robert and I have been married for 33 years and just decided to travel to Europe for the first time. In early March 2014 we traveled to Firenze (Florence), Italy. It was an awesome eight day trip - and while I'm far from being an expert, I do have a few tips to share with you for planning your travel and might even save you a bit of money.

When to travel: If you're on a tight budget, then don't travel between April through October. The prices go up and so does the temperature. We traveled in March and had cool (not cold) days which made walking everywhere quite comfortable. A light jacket or sweater was all we needed. Our rate at the hotel was considerably less expensive because we traveled in March. Beginning April 1st, prices go up.

Where to stay: Stay near the town center. This way, you can walk to the churches, museums, shops and restaurants. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes for walking - but not necessarily sneakers. I wore ballet flats and boots the entire time and Robert wore comfortable slip-on shoes. We were warned that parking space is very limited in Florence - and found this to very true. This is also a great reason to walk.

We chose to make Florence our "base camp" throughout our entire trip rather than travel from one place to another. We really wanted to soak up all of the flavors of Florence during our trip instead of getting snippet here and there. I think we made the right choice. We got to know the staff in our hotel and also got to know some of the people in the area. For us, this was priceless.

What to do: You must visit the Uffizi and Academia galleries. The Uffizi is bursting with paintings and statues and should not be missed. After a while of walking and viewing, it is easy to get a bit overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of art. I suggest you stop and rest periodically as you wander through the gallery. I also suggest getting your tickets in advance to save time standing in line.

The Academia is a much smaller gallery and home to Michelangelo's David. This is not to be missed. This statue is absolutely magnificent - it gives me chills just to think about it. Not only is it perfectly formed - all the way down to the veins in the feet, it is colossal and will take your breath away. Again, I would suggest getting your tickets in advance.

As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in Florence for our entire trip. However, we did travel to Rome and Tuscany - Rome by train (1.5 hours) and we rented a car to tour Tuscany. This worked out beautifully for Robert and I. Our hotel concierge negotiated a private walking tour for us in Rome which was brilliant!

We were met at the train station by our English speaking (Roman) tour guide, immediately caught a taxi to the Coliseum and we were off on our walking tour! HUGE tip - if you don't have a tour guide with a pass to get you into the Coliseum - get your tickets in advance. We were there in March and there were probably 200 or more people in line to purchase tickets. We were able to walk right on past those waiting and get inside immediately. Funny, our guide said, "It's great that you're here during the slow season when it's not busy." NOT BUSY...I would hate to be in line when they are busy.

Tuscany was breathtakingly beautiful. Rolling hills, vineyards and villas are everywhere. I would say that driving is definitely the best way to tour Tuscany. Take your time and enjoy. Stop often for vino and try some of the local foods. I tried cinghiale, which is wild boar cooked into a thick stew. If I didn't know what I was eating, I would have thought it was beef stew. Delicioso!

Spend the rest of your time enjoying Florence. It is a beautiful place with beautiful people. You won't regret it.

Where to eat: I never had a bad meal in Italy. The food was wonderful. I will say that the portions can be large, so order as you go. If you want an appetizer, order and eat it first. Then, go on to round two and so on. There is a wonderful appetizer in Florence - a chicken liver pate served on top of a crostini. My mouth is watering just thinking about it - yummy! Check out La Giostra - and try the chicken liver pate. It is "to die for" good.

Make sure to have Pizza Margherita at least once or twice during your visit. We actually ate it three times! Again, my mouth is watering... The thin crust topped with fresh tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella cheese. Heaven. As for portions - Italians order one pizza per person and eat it with knife and fork. The crust is quite thin, so not as filling.

Gelato is another food you must try - it's everywhere and comes in many different flavors. This thick, rich ice cream is worth the calories. Make sure to try some.

Vino! Drink lots and lots of vino! The Chianti is wonderful and it's everywhere. You will notice the "Gallo Nero" or black rooster on the bottles of wine. This simply means you are drinking authentic wine from the Chianti region of Tuscany. It is smooth and delightful with all foods.

What to pack:

  • Bring a good camera with batteries/charger - remember, you will need an adapter to use the charger in Europe.
  • Hot rollers (for the ladies) - I found these on Amazon - Conair HS28X Instant Heat Compact Styling Setter. They are compact, heat up quickly and really hold a curl. My hair is long and thick - if these rollers work for my hair, they should work on yours.
  • Another tip for the ladies - bring a small, compact purse with a strap you can put over your shoulder and across your torso. I generally have a very large purse I carry around, but found having a smaller one - just big enough for a few essentials - worked out much better. Nothing heavy to lug around and no shoulder pain.
  • Don't bring your cell phone. Really. I didn't bring mine. I called my family upon arriving at the hotel and gave them information on how to contact me and ONLY if it was an emergency. This was the perfect decision. I was able to totally recharge and focus 100% on Robert and the beautiful surroundings.
  • Bare shoulders are a no-no in the Italian churches. Ladies, bring a large scarf or a sweater to cover your shoulders.

One final thing - I mentioned earlier that it's cooler in March. I've heard from multiple people about the heat during the summer in Italy. It can get so hot that walking becomes a chore. Honestly, for me, walking is half the fun of being in Florence. You can walk everywhere and no car is necessary. Yes, in March - there is more of a chance for rain, but perhaps it worth it. Just be sure to bring your umbrella.

Ballet Flats - very comfortable for walking

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