Firenze, Italy

Florence is obviously best known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to work of Brunelleschi, Giotto, Botticelli, and of course, Michelangelo (some of our art world superstars). Therefore, it’s clear that it’s like a dream come true for anyone who is into art history. It is very well known though, so during the day (say between 10:30am and 4:30pm) the main tourists sties are packed with tour groups. The best time to see the sites is either really early in the morning or late in the afternoon. They won’t let you go inside past 5pm, but many of the sculptures and churches are just as beautiful from the outside. As with Rome, we had pre-paid tickets to see Michelangelo’s “David,” which saved us a bit of the hassle of dealing with long lines and elbowing tourists.

We decided to climb to the top of the Florence Cathedral and it was actually way cooler than expected. Its famous terra-cotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi and bell tower designed by Giotto are beautiful and highly worth checking out. With only one way up and one way down, it can be pretty claustrophobic to climb inside the small passageways that go up the curved dome tough. We also decided to climb the much-less-claustrophobic bell tower for the great views of the dome itself (oh the pictures!). Another fantastic panoramic view of Florence is from the Piazzale Michelangelo although the afternoon didn’t provide us with the best lighting for pictures. 

The nightlife here calls for cozy bars with dim light and servers with thick rimmed glasses covered in tattoos. There are also many youngsters drinking outside in the piazzas (yes, it’s legal). La chiesa di Sant'Ambrogio, for instance, is a well-known hangout spot. I just can’t help but say it, I love Tuscany! 

Lucca, Italy

Lucca is amazing, and it’s not at all touristy like many of the other places we’ve been to so far. It’s as beautiful as Rome but without any of the tourists! One of my favorite cities in Italy so far! The entire city is scattered with what seems like thousands of adorable piazzas, one of which used to be an ancient Roman Amphitheater. This uniquely round piazza is one of those places that you just have to see in person, because its magic simply cannot be captured using photos or video. Even the churches and cathedrals had a cool unique style. The columns were all different and playful.

The outer walls of the medieval fortified city were turned into a park that locals frequent for jogging, cycling, walking the dog, or simply to enjoy the breathtaking view with a bottle of wine. We found cute restaurants and bars in every corner while we walked the cobblestone streets of the old city. One bar was so packed, the bearded Italian hipsters spilled over to the street. When we asked why this particular bar was so popular we were told it was  2-euro wine night - I'm in! The short visit left me the strong desire to return to Lucca one day, and take the time to explore to really see what this quaint city is all about.

San Gimignano & Pisa, Italy

Tuscany is filled with those famous scenic landscapes of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves. It’s beautiful. The sun hits the ground in a way that makes everything glow. As we were driving through the countryside on our way to The Italian Riviera, we made two notable stops: San Gimignano and Pisa. Two very different places, but both prospering from their clear main source for economic development: tourism. 

San Gimignano is has a very unique quality that sets it apart from its neighboring medieval towns. Apparently, San Gimignano was filled with feuding noble families back in the day. Of course, each rich medieval finance bro needed a tower that was bigger and better than their corresponding “Mr. Jones” to protect and defend their families’ pride. This constant battling formed what is now known as “a medieval Manhattan” with 72 old towers standing tall (14 of which remain today). On the other hand, Pisa is just pretty much just a bunch of tourists looking really silly with their leaning poses and their selfie-sticks. Don’t do it. Don’t. Okay, maybe just one picture…

Siena, Italy

No amount of pinocchio-themed souvenir shops and over-priced gelati parlors can take away the charm from Siena. The medieval old city will transport you back in time. Walking around, you quickly notice the city is divided into different parts, each showcasing a different medieval house with their corresponding flag - noting by the dragon flag outside the window of the apartment we were renting out, it seems we were now officially Targaryens (or really just rooting for the Drago contrada or district, situated to the north-west of the old center).

In the heart of the old city, you find "The Piazza del Campo" with its beautiful half-circle-fan-like structure that leads up to the "Palazzo Pubblico". The piazza is unique in that it slants and actually funnels into the town hall with its big secular tower called "la Torre del Mangia” making it the focal point of the city. This must be the first old European city I’ve been to where there isn’t a church in the center, but instead a town hall, which makes me think ancient Sienese were quite progressive! In this piazza is where the people of Siena hold their biannual “palio” race (a traditional medieval bareback horse race). But that’s only two days out of the whole year. The rest of the time, the piazza is simply the perfect spot to sit in the tilted ground and enjoy a bottle of cheap-yet-amazing wine from the 24hr mini-market. So that’s exactly what we did. And trust me, after climbing up and down 400 steps in a tiny claustrophobia-evoking tower, there’s nothing better than enjoying a plastic cup of wine while watching that last strip of sunlight disappear though the sides of the tower.