Venice + Florence: Northern Italy in a Whirlwind

To be honest, it’s never been a *dream* of mine to travel Italy. Of course, I wanted to try bona fide Italian pasta, gelato, and pizza… but I think I’ve had some pretty amazing Italian food in my life (to my Minneapolis peeps—Tucci Bennuch at the MOA will CHANGE YOUR LIFE). I’ve never had this ~romantic dream~ to float down a canal in a gondola, to walk across the Rialto Bridge, to worship in the Duomo, to dance down cobblestone streets (yeah, I know, I’m ridiculous).

Venice & Florence

I knew I wanted to experience Rome during Easter (hellooo, religion major here!), but I had about a week and a half in between my trip to Munich and the tail end of Holy Week. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what else Italy had in store. I asked around and Googled articles. Milan seemed beautiful—not to mention the home of the Last Supper painting—but I don’t have a lot of money to spare for shopping… and who can travel to Milan and /not/ shop?!

After some research, I decided that Venice and Florence would be my two stops. Friends gushed about the beauty of Venice, the shops in Florence. I found some cheapish hostels and buses, so I planned it out. My total itinerary in Italy became strolling through Venice for three days, shopping in Florence for five days, and worshipping in Rome for four days.

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Gondolas and water taxis in Venice.

Soooo, remember how I said I’ve never dreamed of Italy?

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Venice at sunset.

Well, I will be now.

Italy was unlike the rest of the countries I’ve been to in Europe, imo. And each city was so picturesquely different from the other.

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Buildings in Florence.

Venice: The City of Water

I arrived in Venice via 8.5 hour bus. While completely beautiful and not at all sucky (seriously), I was still recovering from food poisoning, so I didn’t have the Greatest Time of my Entire Life in Venice. However, the cute little city quickly stole my heart anyway, despite the ever-present nausea.

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Venice is a city without cars. I stayed near the train station, back inland, but the island itself is entirely foot-traffic only.

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The entire island is enmeshed with over 150 canals, making it entirely walkable–or, if you wish, you can take a water taxi.

I opted out of taking a gondola ride (80 euros for 30 minutes? A girl doesn’t have that kind of money.), and because I was staying inland, I had already purchased a 48-hour metro pass–which included water taxis! So instead of taking the gondola, I rode the water taxis around the entire island for an hour and a half one of the nights.

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The sunset from the water taxi.

Venice celebrates the famous Carnival festival in February, so all the souvenir shops are full of masks. For a more ~sustainable tourist~ option, make sure you go to a mask shop where the masks are all made by the owner, who will likely be sitting in the shop making them right there! They aren’t the 5 euros they are in the cheap tourist shops, but you’re helping support the local businesses. (UNESCO has given Venice two years–as of last year–to become a bit less touristy. So by purchasing local, you’re helping that effort.)

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Inside a local mask shop.

Venice was an incredibly beautiful city, full of smiling lovers and laughing families. And maybe one day when I return, I’ll have the funds for that gondola Instagram 😉

Florence: The Renaissance Birthplace

The bus from Venice to Florence was only 3.5 hours, so not completely terrible. Plus, we were taking this deserted mountain road, scattered here and there with small villages, and it was so so so lovely.

My first view of the Duomo was completely unexpected. I checked into my hostel and then wandered around the area, taking in the panini cafes and steak restaurants, the tourist shops selling shoes and magnets, and the cobblestone streets that only saw a car here or there. Suddenly, I turned the corner… and there it was.

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The Duomo in the center of Florence.

The Duomo is really an incredible structure. The pink and teal accents glint in the sunlight, especially juxtaposed with the white background they’re inlayed against. Pictures truly can’t take in the enormity of the structure, and it takes like ten full minutes to walk around the entire thing.

While in Florence, I got to visit my lovely friend Kiley, who’s studying abroad for the semester. Together, we had pizza, pasta, wine, and gelato while exploring the earth-colored city that is Florence. I was lucky to have my own personal tour guide!

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Florence, while not as walkable as Venice, can be done on foot. One of the main attractions of the city is the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It was the first bridge built across the river, connecting the worlds on both sides.

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I think one of the best activities I did in Florence (and completely free!) was hiking to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s on the top of a hill across the river, and the views are spetacular.

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We ate gelato and watched the sun go down. Florence is situated at the base of some breathtaking hills, so it was really one of the most extraordinary sights I’ve ever seen. As the sun disappeared and the city lit up, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I am to be able to travel this massive, complicated, incredible world.

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Tuscany is a rich, immensely beautiful region of Italy, and I’m so thankful I took the time to visit it. What are your favorite things to do in Venice and Florence?

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