We first heard about Cinque Terre in the Rick Steve’s “Europe Through The Backdoor” guidebook. He described it as the authentic, untouched, Italian Riviera. Of course, it's no longer untouched because Rick has quite the following. But the views were stunning nonetheless and the towns still possessed lots of charm.
We took the train from Florence to Monterosso (the first of the 5 towns that comprise Cinque Terre). As good ‘ole Rick described, we enjoyed flashes of the Ligurian Sea as the train whipped through the Mountain tunnels along the coast.
My heart raced a little as a true California girl that loves the coast and sights of the ocean. After weeks of staying in big cities, the sights were refreshing and lifted our moods.
Florence is known for their museums. Look up Florence Attractions on Trip Advisor and you’ll find a long list including the Uffizi, the Academia Gallery, and more. So if you love art, buy a pass and start working your way down the list.
But if you’re just a casual admirer of art, like Tom and I, try enjoying Florence a different way. Below are 6 ways to see Florence without ever paying an entrance fee or walking through a turnstyle in a museum.
And since we are self-proclaimed foodies, I’ll start with our gastronomical encounters:
When Tom and I first stepped out of the train station in Venice and began to make our way to the famous Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), we were overwhelmed by the dizzying array of fanny packs and running shoes. Like one large spineless blob, the monstrous crowd of tourists absorbed us into itself.
At times, I couldn’t tell if I was in Vegas or Italy. The only difference seemed to be that the street vendors in the real Venice peddled cheap toys and Prada knock offs, while those outside the look-alike Venetian in Vegas flick little cards adorned with naked women.
I thought to myself, so this is Venice. And although the town itself and its winding canals looked beyond charming, I was disappointed overall. This was our first stop in all of Italy and the authentic mamma mia experience I sought was nowhere to be found. In fact, there were more tourists than Italians in this little corner of their country.
But then something changed.
J’aime Paris! Paris has so much to do and see, but you don’t want to see Paris; you want to experience it. Like a good French meal, this city begs to be enjoyed slowly, in small bites, and savored.
It’s easy to imagine how the impressionist movement got its start in this town. For us, Paris wasn’t about running around town to check off a long list of all the tourist sites and attractions (and there are plenty). It was about getting an impression of the city, the people, the culture, its history and, of course, its food.
With a new girlfriend, you don’t get to know her by reading her yearbooks and hastily touring her childhood stomping grounds. Rather, you take her for a walk along the Seine, you share a glass of Bordeaux, and you engage her in conversation over a slow, drawn-out meal. We found Paris to be much the same.
Besides, you can’t see everything when you travel. Money or time will always become a constraint. Instead of stressing out over what I haven’t seen, I've learned to throw up my hands, slow down my pace, and experience what I can right in front of me. In tourism, as in French life, choose quality over quantity.
Below are 5 ways we slowed down and got to know our girl, Paris:
I decided to take a little break this week, so Tom is doing the blog post for a change. He has done a stellar job tracking our budget for us and his post is all about our expenses so far. Take it away Tom!
We often get asked how we can afford this year of travel? It has been a combination of saving, paying off debt, creating passive income sources, and budgeting. I will spend the remaining portion of this post on the latter – budgeting.
When we originally started planning this trip, I aggressively searched the Internet for expected costs of a trip of this magnitude, looking to learn from others that have done something similar. It varied immensely from person to person, and when the trip required many intercontinental flights, the costs skyrocketed. Hence, our plan right now is to spend our time on just two continents, Europe and South America.
I also discovered that our first stop, Western Europe, would probably be the most expensive spot in the world to travel. I knew going into the first 3 months of our trip, that our overall travel budget would take a beating right out of the gate. So here we are, one month into our travels, and our first monthly travel budget complete.
We found it extremely helpful when other travel blogs posted their expenses, so we are doing the same. We hope it can benefit you as you plan future trips to Europe.
In true “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” fashion, Tom and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add Wales to our itinerary once we decided on going to London.
After all, our friend Mark lives just hours outside of London in the small Welsh town of Caerleon. And with Caerleon on the list, we figured we ought to see Caerphilly, Swansea, and the Gower Peninsula too.
Wales is not exactly on the backpacker circuit, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. Accommodations were a bit more expensive than we had budgeted, but on the flip side, we had a reprieve from the hoards of tourists, long lines (or as they say here, queues), and entrance fees to see every attraction.
I don’t mean to imply that they don’t have attractions, they do! But many of them are free or very inexpensive. In short, we got tourism without the tourists! And the few tourists we did encounter were mostly Welsh natives exploring their homeland, so it enhanced the authenticity of our experience instead of cheapening it.
How else would we learn the distinct sound of the Welsh accent and their quirky, nonsensical sayings like, “Whose coat is this jacket?” or “I’ll have it now again in a minute.”
Although London is a wonderful city, its increasing globalization makes it harder to find the “England” I imagined growing up. So Tom and I ventured out of the city for two day-trips, one to Bath and one to Oxford. And we are sure glad we did.
Bath, held so much beauty that it seemed to glisten among the ideal green hillsides. It has almost always been a popular destination from the Roman era till today.
During the Roman era, the Romans constructed temples and bathhouses here because of its proximity to 3 natural springs. The ancient Roman baths have been excavated and remain the primary tourist attraction in the town.
Starting with the Roman baths, you can literally walk through the ages as you tour the town from the magnificent Medieval Abbey to the pervading Georgian architecture.
The whole town felt otherworldly and like one royal palace. The buildings were stately and so well-maintained that they looked new, and yet their style made it perfectly clear that they were not. Perhaps this is why the town made us feel like we were stepping back in time as opposed to looking back in time.
It left us nostalgic for a different era. And the fact that it was the hometown of Jane Austen added to the romanticism of the place.
London was the first stop on our trip. Tom and I originally had no intention of traveling here, but we found a killer rate (less than $550) for a non-stop flight from LA to London, so we added it to our itinerary.
With so much shared pop culture and a common language, we thought we would be bored by its similarities to the US. And there were a lot of similarities, but the subtle differences in our language and cultures delighted us. Peter, our gracious host, insightfully joked that the US and England are “two nations divided by a common language” (quoting George Bernard Shaw).
As we did a little pub crawl one evening, we felt at home at a fantastic little pub, Lamb & Flag, that opened out the backside to a small cobblestone walking street used as a patio. We stood there, Tom enjoying his cask ale, and I, my cider, surrounded by young professionals mingling over a pint after work. We eavesdropped on their conversations and marveled at how an English accent made even the most crass comments sound sophisticated and smart.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!