Italy and Switzerland
About 6 years ago I spent an incredible 5 weeks studying abroad in Italy, where Florence quickly became my home away from home. The one complaint I have is that it wasn't long enough! (Well that and the fact that I lost my wallet the 2nd day I was there, but that's a whole other story. :) Spoiler alert: I got it back, completely in tact, at the end of my trip!). Ever since I came home from Italy, I knew I had to go back someday. And I really wanted to go with my mom; to show her where I lived, where I went to school, my favorite gelato places, and all of the great sights of Florence, my home away from home. So after a few years and a lot of planning, we went! For two weeks we explored Italy and Switzerland- Florence, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Siena, Venice, and the Swiss Alps. We braved the crowds (and there were lots!), we had the most amazing food, we consumed copious amounts of wine (but there's no such thing as too much, right?), we saw some gorgeous sights, we suffered in the heat and hardly survived in the snow, and of course...we ate as much gelato as possible.
And on this trip, I learned some very important things (and took way too many pictures)...
Walking up and down 7 flights of stairs each day to get to your apartment in Florence is 100% worth it when there's a gorgeous terrace view waiting for you at the top.
And on that note, stairs are unavoidable. In fact, we actually sought them out. Wherever the highest point in a city was, we went there. The dome and bell tower in Florence, the bell tower in Siena, and the bell tower in Venice...we hiked to the top of them all. And it was no piece of cake. (Word of advice- if you don't like tight spaces, it's probably not a good idea to do these)
But when we made it to the top to see the gorgeous views, it was worth every step. And an added bonus? Getting there just in time to hear the ginormous bells ring. I don't even mind that I'm deaf now.
Eat as many delicious meat and cheese sandwiches and pasta dishes as possible. And don't go a day without gelato!
And speaking of food...Gusto Pizza in Florence. Just go.
Make it a point to see every sunset with a glass of wine or a cup of gelato in your hand.
Walk until you physically can't walk anymore. You'll stumble upon so many gorgeous churches, cute side streets, cafes, and gardens that soon you'll forget all about your aching feet.
Cinque Terre is easily one of the best day trips from Florence. And probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. But when you go and you stick your feet in that freezing cold, crystal blue water, at least make sure your picture proves that that's what you did. I may have failed on that part.
Skip the train between the towns and instead do the hikes. Some of them are long and of course, there's a ton of stairs, but the views of the colorful coastal villages next to the water are incredible. I can finally say I've hiked to all of the towns in Cinque Terre, and the view of Manarola is easily one of my favorites.
Another must do day trip while in Florence: Tuscany for wine tasting. Just make sure you aren't the one stuck driving.
Get lost in Venice.
Also, find a way to take a boat ride. It's more magical from the water.
May in Grindelwald is not quite the same as May in North Carolina. You have to really use your imagination to see the Swiss Alps through all of the clouds, and if you're really lucky it'll snow. But despite all that, this place is beautiful! And making snow angels in the Swiss Alps is kind of cool.
There's a sweet little town called Lauterbrunnen that's about 20 minutes by train from Grindelwald that's totally worth a visit. Waterfalls cascade from the mountains (and there's one that you can hike too that flows through the mountain!), and there are plenty of wide open fields with goats or cows. And I sort of love hearing the cow bells. And I can't imagine what this place looks like on a clear day, with layers of mountains behind it.
But when an escaped goat starts following you around like a lost puppy try not to get too attached. I don't think customs will approve of a new pet from Switzerland.
Say yes to fondue and raclette. Calories don't exist on vacation.
The Top of Europe CAN be done in an hour or less, although it's not exactly ideal. But when the sun finally clears on your last day in Switzerland, you have to go to the place you've been longing to go, despite the fact that you will have 40 minutes at the top before you have to head back down to catch your train to Milan. The freezing wind in your face (it was 14 degrees up there), may sound miserable, but it was totally worth it to be at the highest point in Europe, overlooing these views.
Now it's time to plan a trip back! and soon.
All photos copyright Brittany Hines Photography.