Crowdsource My Vacation

(***Quick website update: I installed the LiveFyre comment system about 2 weeks ago. I loved the features, I loved the quick support, I loved the design and I especially loved the ability to tag friends and other bloggers in the comments. Because I consider my blog a bit of a sandbox — somewhere I can try out new tools, review them for my readers, etc., I was eager to hear your feedback. And I heard you, loud and clear. Until LiveFyre makes it easier to sign in with just a URL and name, I am disabling the tool. It’s too bad, because it’s pretty freaking cool — if you want to see it in action, check out Ryan’s post at No More Bacon.***)

This fall, Lucas and I are taking a second honeymoon of sorts…the trip of a lifetime, and something we’ve been saving for and planning for 5 years.

image source: wikipedia

We’re going to:

  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Bruges, Belgium
  • Paris, France
  • Venice, Italy
  • Florence, Italy
  • Rome, Italy

It’s a 2-week trip, with most of the time being spent in Italy (three days in Belgium and just a day-stopover in Paris).

Now, when it comes to travel — this is the one area in my life where I prefer to give up control to Lucas. He is absolutely incredible at the details — from booking the transportation to making some daily itineraries and more.

But he’s asked me for a list of things I absolutely must see, or places we must go. Museums, restaurants, day trips, etc.

And I have no freaking idea what to tell him. It’s amazing that the more excited I get about the trip, the more anxious I get about choosing the “right” items for the itinerary.

So I’m hoping you can help. In those cities — what are the things we truly must do?

We’re willing to do some tourist-y stuff, although I’m not dying to go to every single museum and cathedral.By the way, I’ve been listening to an Italian 101 podcast every day (Let’s Speak Italian!) and it’s awesome. I speak great French and decent Spanish, but Italian is by far the hardest language I’ve tried to learn.

So far? Va bene. But I’m also bringing my iPhone, with translator app installed.

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  1. says

    The best pizza I ever had was in Rome. It was a hole in the wall place near the Spanish steps with outdoor seating and gelato. loved it.

    In Paris I loved eating crepes from the street vendors (nutella and banana).

  2. says

    First off, I think that was a good idea to switch back to the regular commenting, I like the idea of Livefyre but the sign on process was kind of annoying.
    You definitely picked 3 great cities in Italy. I’ve been 4 times and Florence is my all time favorite. I don’t know how much time you’re spending in each but on my last trip, we took a day trip (by train) from Florence to Sienna and I absolutely fell in love with that small little city on the hill. It didn’t hurt that I had the best tagliatelle w/ mushrooms of my life in the square 😉
    Like you said, I would avoid the millions of museums in Florence (go see David and that’s about it ;)) and just explore the city itself. It’s much more Tuscan feeling than you’ll get in Rome and just has this aura about it :)
    In venice, we took a book trip to one of the many surrounding islands (can’t remember which one) and loved the smaller/less touristy feel. Also, go to Harry’s in Venice and get a bellini!

    Have a great time! We’re celebrating our 5th anniversary in a month, wish I could’ve convinced my husband to take a trip like this!

  3. says

    I’m going to be all over Italy… I think about the same time you are, right? Florence may be the only overlap city though. I’ve gotten about a million suggestions there! I also have a Venice sheet someone passed along. I can email it if you’re interested.

    Florence Hotels: Hotel Loggiato Dei Serviti (built in 1557 old & beautiful) They serve full breakfast in the morning) Next door to Galleria dell Accademia)

    Restaurant in Florence: Osteria Natalino, Cafe Loggia, Cantina Barbagianna, Ristorante La Gralla Geuleta, Nerbone (a stall located in the Mercato Centrale – apparently the best sandwich ever. Big crowd of workmen, no line, just yell out your order…), Ristorante del Fagioli (lots of locals, cash only), and Trattoria la Casalinga (local spot, – unfortunately the web site is in Italian).

    Let me know if you’re going out side of the city – I have a ton of info on spots in the countryside!

  4. says

    How exciting! I would suggest (if you have enough time) to take a day trip to Pompeii from Rome. I could not get enough of the ruins down there. Oh and I also agree with the reader Gina — Sienna is SO picturesque and worth a day trip as well. Well I think any time spent in Italy will be magical! My all time favorite place to see is Cinque Terre — you could stop there on your way to Florence. It’s my absolute favorite place in the whole world and if you have never experienced the hike between all 5 cities you will just LOVE it!! I am so excited for you both!!!

  5. says

    Dawn and I honeymooned in Rome … you have to check out

    Remo and his son Daniele are incredible tour guides and in 4 hours they showed us more of Rome than we would have seen in 2 days if we were on our own.

    Driver In Rome is worth every penny!

    Have a BLAST … what an awesome trip!

  6. says

    In Venice I’d highly recommend St. Peter’s square, a gondola ride, getting a tour of a glass-blowing shop if you can(or even just going in a shop and looking around), and walking around over the various bridges across the canals. Florence has great open markets, especially if you’re there on the weekend. Going on the pont de vecchio is a must, and the Florence museum and cathedral are both pretty good, too. Rome, well, I could spend a month in Rome and not see all I want to. I think the Colosseum, the Vatican/the Vatican museum, the Forum, the Castle of the Angels, the circus maximus, the pantheon, and the Trevi fountain are the highlights.

  7. says

    There’s a restaurant in Florence called ZaZa’s and it was one of the best meals of my life! (Granted it may have been influenced by the great company and great wine at the time, but I still remember it fondly!)

  8. says

    Oh man, you’re in for an amazing trip. In Paris, I have to put in a vote for Angelina, the famous hot chocolate restaurant — seriously, even if it’s HOT, you must get the hot chocolate. It’s amazing. Close to L’Orangerie so you can combine the two.

  9. Lindsay H says

    I studied abroad in Florence during college and one day we did a Tuscan bike tour (through and it was awesome. Wine tasting, castle tour, vineyard and winery tour and traditional Italian lunch.

    Also I second going to cinque terre if you have time. The most gorgeous place ive ever been.

  10. says

    I have a gazillion suggestions for you for Florence & Paris! These are 2 of my favorite cities, you’re going to love them. If you want museum recs I’ll give those to you too but I’m just listing not so touristy things to do in Florence since you’re spending more time there…

    – Piazzale Michelangelo: Best view of the city! You can hang out on top, take a look at the belvedere gardens or catch the monks chant if you get up there at the right time
    – Catch the sunset on Ponte Vecchio: Tons of people come out for the sunset over the canals, it’s beautiful as it hits the Tuscan region. After the sunset the streets are happening with outside markets. Bring a lock to Ponte Vecchio & attach it to the railings around it as symbol of you & Lucas’s love for one another. You’ll see tons of them, cute little tradition to partake on
    – Visit the Florence market any day you’re there & rub the pig’s nose for good luck. The locals will tell you where it is, it’s tradition
    – Make sure to grab some gelato, it was invented in Florence & no one makes it better than Vivoli, great gelateria in town
    – Head out to one of the many Tuscan wineries close to Florence. One of my best memories was getting some wine, bread & cheese & spending the afternoon among the hills of Tuscany (the landscape is like nothing you’ve ever seen, so beautiful)

    I have tons more, let me know if you’re interested in Paris suggestions & I’ll send you a gazillion :)

  11. says

    When I lived in Belgium for a year, I started out my stay with 10 days of language immersion in a monastery near Bruges…incredible scenery, out in the middle of nowhere…the monks made a Trappiste beer there, ohmygod, to die for…sweet, bitter, thick and very intoxicating. Gardens, statuary, churches that all look like cathedrals, water…Brussels, look for the lacemakers, soak up the duality of the French speakers versus the Flemish speakers…don’t like to generalize, but when I lived there, we were looked down upon because we spoke Flemish…my dad’s only cousin, Sonny, died in the Battle of the Bulge, but you won’t be in that part of Belgium.

  12. says

    Glad you changed the commenting back. LOL

    And for your question – Cinque Terra, Cinque Terra, Cinque Terra!!!! You can easily get there from Rome and it was by FAR my favorite place when I went to Europe for two months.

    • says

      I AGREE! Cinque Terre is AMAZING and it’s less than a 2 hour train ride from Florence if I remember correctly. We traveled all over Europe for 3 weeks and Cinque Terre was by far my most favourite spot. It is breathtaking, and the hike through the villages is awesome!

  13. says

    This migth not be the most practical of comments, but as much as I loved the monuments and museums etc etc. The best times I’ve had in Rome, Paris and especially Venice was when we were “lost”. Just wandering aimlessly breathing in the city, this was especially magic early in the morning in Venice.

    I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time!

  14. says

    Italy is AMAZING. You’re going to have the best time. We spent 10 days there in Spring 2010 and it was so fabulous.

    Splurge on the Gondola ride in Venice! It’s very venetian and will be worth it! Also, don’t stay anywhere near the train station in Rome even though the hotels/hostels there are much cheaper. We had what we THOUGHT was a great hotel and when we were out visiting the Spanish Steps/out for dinner our hotel room got robbed! Luckily we had all our cameras (3 of them!) on us and our passports on us but my fiance’s visa and my iPod got stolen.

    OH, and splurge on the tours for the Colleseum. That was the first place in Europe that we splurged on a tour and it was super interesting and totally worth it!

    I can’t wait to go back one day :-)

  15. says

    Thanks for the update on comments. I actually tried to comment last week and when I loaded your blog basically half of the icons/elements in the comment section would not load. They were all little “X” marks. So basically I didn’t comment.

    Not sure if others had this happen but it looked like a bug to me.

  16. says

    In Paris: Buy some baguette sandwiches from a bakery and eat them on church steps. Simple, but some of my best memories were of our lunches just people watching around Paris. And climb part of the way up the Eiffel Tower.

    Florence, Italy: don’t buy anything in the main square – they see American tourists from a mile away and charge you triple. I think we ended up paying $20 for gelato.

    Rome, Italy: two words: house wine.

  17. says

    I’ve been to Rome twice and Florence once, and I love both cities. Eat as much gelato as you can get your hands on! In Florence, make sure to check out the statue of David (there’s a fake one outside you can take a picture of, and the real one is in a museum), the cute little bridge, and the Duomo! Rome has SO many good things to see. The catacombs are really neat to walk through. The Trevi Fountain, Handrian’s Tomb, The vatican/ St. Paul’s Basilica, Colosseum, Pantheon, and the ancient agora/hill where the king’s live (I’m blanking on the name but it overlooks the agora) are all great places to go visit! There are so many good things to see, so make sure to check out a travel book to get some good sites!

    AND BE CAREFUL OF GETTING STUFF STOLEN! Both times I was there I watched little kids steal backpacks, purses, wallets, and cameras from people. When you sit at a restaurant, hold your stuff in your lap or through a leg, so you keep it attached to yourself! And don’t let someone jam a map in your face, because that’s how they distract you.

  18. says

    One day in Paris is hard! Obviously the Eiffel Tower is a must-see, but skip the climb unless you want to waste hours lining up. I was in Paris for three weeks and my favourite part of the whole trip was seeing the Basilique de Sacre-Couer. It’s a beautiful church and the view from the top (it is a big climb by foot so be prepared!) is better than the Eiffel Tower’s! The church is in the suburb of Montmatre, which is so charming and is also home to the Moulin Rouge. There are a lot less tourists here too, so makes for a much more romantic day!

    Also I would recommend going to Pont Neuf and standing in the middle of the Siene, although I may be a little biased as that is where I was proposed to! And hot chocolates and vendor crepes are a must :)

  19. Katy says

    You are going to love Italy. All three cities are amazing with the own charm and very different personalities. I would highly recommend a gelateria in Rome called Fassi ( It is off the beaten path but worth it. Have fun exploring and finding the places that will make the cities special for you. The other recommendations on this post are all great!

  20. says

    In Rome, definitely watch a sunset from either Castel San’ Angelo or the Capitoline Museum’s cafe. You get a wonderful view over the city and the sun sets behind St. Peter’s. If you visit the Trevi Fountain at night, you’ll have it practically to yourself. One of my favorite museums is the Villa Borghese, which has wonderful Bernini sculptures. (Another great sculpture museum is the Rodin museum in Paris.) And I found the Rome city pass to be a great deal, especially because it came with a subway and bus pass.

    In Venice, head out to Murano to watch some glass artists at work. Go to a studio away from the tourist crowd and they’ll likely let you watch for free, rather than paying for one of the tourist shows.

    Enjoy your trip!

  21. says

    I just returned from a trip to many of those spots. I’d highly recommend Rick Steve’s podcasts for travel information. Check him out on iTunes. He’s written a few books about Italy and I used a lot of his information in planning our trip.

    I’d HIGHLY recommend taking the train in to Venice. The moment of stepping out of the train station and seeing the busy canals was my FAVORITE moment of our trip. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie. It’s wonderful.

    Have fun!

    • says

      Oh I can’t believe I forgot – the very best dinner I’ve had in my whole life – in Florence, it’s called La Giostra. Have the brie ravioli. It’s not touristy, but the most fantastic food. Our travel agent recommended it and said it was her favorite restaurant in the world.

  22. says

    sounds like you maybe should buy one of those travel money packs that you wear under your clothing!! ack! but HAVE FUN!!! sounds like a dream trip to me. I would go to Valencia Spain if you are able to get into Spain at all. my friend went last year and said it was fabulous.
    big foodie region.

  23. says

    Ohhh, Italian trip!

    Where do I start… I love Cinque Terre because it is essentially a postcard in 3-D- I lived in the zone for two years. And I know what you mean- learning Italian can be a little painful. But it is so satisfying once you can start stringing a few sentences together!! You’re brave for trying! Most people think they don’t have a chance but Italians are very patient and helpful to new speakers!

    I love to chat Cinque Terre. You can email me if you have specific questions. All the best with your trip planning. It is really fun but lots of decisions to make. Bianca

  24. says

    I spent a semester in Brussels during college and we also went to Belgium for our 10th anniversary. In Bruges, if the canal boat tour is running, I’d definitely take that. Yes, it’s very touristy, but you get to see so much. We took a lot of great pictures from that vantage point. There are also some old windmills still in place near the original city gates. They are a bit off the beaten track, but nothing’s all that far away in Bruges.

    I know it’s cliche, but I just love the Pis Boy (Mannekin Pis) in Brussels. Sometimes they run beer through him instead of water. And maybe you’ll get to see him dressed in one of his little outfits. The City Museum on the Grand Place includes a whole section of outfits for him that I always get a kick out of seeing. If you’re into architecture at all, there are a ton of great Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels. There are all kinds of walking tours.

    If you can find a waffle stand that is cooking them up fresh, rather than reheating them, that is ideal. The chunks of pearl sugar get all caramelized and I’m going to stop now because I want to go to Belgium.

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