Florence – The Worlds Best Spaghetti Carbonara, Gelato and Panini’s

Our last day in Lake Como we woke up to breakfast at our B&B then boarded a bus back to the train station. M and I got on a train headed to Florence spotting a couple potential pickpockets along the way. Always fun.

A few hours later we arrived in Florence. Where it was 100+ degrees F. After a very sweaty walk we arrived at our hotel, checked in, showered and visited a pharmacy to help treat my numerous bug bites.

Shortly after we took a bus to the center of the city for dinner. We walked around the Duomo and took photos, then found a lovely restaurant called Paoli for dinner. We enjoyed creamy vegetable risotto, juicy pork filet with buttery roasted potatoes and wine…lots and lots of wine. Something else we got the “pleasure” of trying is the Florence bread.

At the time we did not know it was “Florence bread” so when we tried it at Paoli it was shocking how bland and horrible it tasted. After a quick chat with my Italian father, M and I learned that it is intentionally bland. They do not salt or spice their bread at all! The people of Florence are very proud of their stiff bland bread because when you are finished with your first course / pasta, you mop up the remaining sauce with the tasteless brick. It is nothing more then a tool to literally “clean your plate”.

On our way back we ended the evening enjoying some gelato infront of the domo.

Day 1

Our next day was a hot mess. We woke up late, I couldn’t find my bug spray and we had to run to the bus so we could get to our scheduled museum tickets.

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One of Michelangiolo’s unfinished statues.

We arrived at the museum only to realize I forgot my camera battery. Luckily we had our phones but the quality was going to be less than.

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We saw David and many other paintings and beautiful statues. But it was a small museum so we left shortly after and got an Italian breakfast of hot coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and cream filled croissants.

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We continued to the dome and searched for a way to buy tickets to walk to the top. An experience we heard is a must!

After asking around we eventually found the building where you can buy tickets. Booked for the next 3 days, we were pretty happy we had enough time in Florence to make it. With our tickets booked we decided to revisit the church. The line to go in surrounded half the church, too long.

Next on our list was the Ponte Vechio. A bridge over the Arno river which divides the city of Florence. This bridge is lined with plenty on tiny little shops selling souvenirs, high end jewelry, and clothing. Periodically we would stop and look into the little store windows.

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A view from the Ponte Vechio bridge
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Ponte Vecchio, lined with little shops

Across the bridge we found ourselves at the Pitti Palace. Just behind the palace is the Boboli Gardens which we bought tickets for.

Now Dante spent a lot of time in Florence and I am convinced that he wrote about hell in the Boboli gardens during the middle of August. Goodness it was hot.

I cannot speak for all times of the year but during August much of the grass in the Boboli gardens will be dead. Which was pretty disappointing. M and I have traveled to many gardens across Europe, most of them free, and they have been able to maintain their gardens throughout the year. We continued to walk around looking at the different statues and stopping every once in a while to cool off in the water fountains.

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On our way in we stopped at a gift shop to use their air conditioning for a bit. While browsing I noticed a very odd statue on a postcard and pointed it out to M. Right then the decision was made that we had to find it. Tracking it down wasn’t easy but we did it. Check out this beaut….

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Completely exhausted, sweaty and dehydrated, with feet swollen and spotted with blisters, we left the Boboli Gardens and had lunch at the greatest restaurant, Palazzo Tempi. They have any sort of Italian dish you desire. But we opted for 2 large liters of still water, a beer, seafood risotto and spaghetti carbonara.

Side note about spaghetti carbonara: Who doesn’t love spaghetti Carbonara? It quickly became one of our favorites and this is primarily because of Florence. Florence is where you will find THE BEST carbonara. We know, we tried everywhere else and none could compare. Is it the creamy sauce? The think strands of spaghetti? I personally think it is in largely due to the giant chunks of pork bacon with savory pieces of fat.

We left the restaurant hydrated and with very full bellies. We crawled back to our hotel, showered, relaxed, and Skyped my parents for more Italy tips. For dinner we enjoyed a cute mom and pop restaurant called San Jacopino Trattoria Pizzeria. The restaurant is just around the corner from our hotel and had plenty of Italian favorites to enjoy.

Day 2

The following day in Florence we woke up early for a tour of Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano and some of the Tuscan country side. We travelled to our meeting point at the train station with our coffee and orange juice in hand then hit the road with about 20 other people headed to Pisa.

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View from the base of the Leaning Tower

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Clearly tilted…
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The church and baptistry next to the leaning tower

Upon arriving we were greeted by many many illegal street vendors. We took the opportunity to take many awkwardly posed photos, and hydrate with gatorade and gelato.

After a few hours we returned to the bus and headed to lunch. The tour had set up a lunch for us at a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside.

Nestled in the hills surrounded by grape fines we were led into a giant room lined with wine barrels and plenty of air conditioning. Unfortunately the food was our main issue with the tour. It was advertised as a 3 course meal with wine tasting, but really it was just one meal broken up into small plates served to you separately .

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We started with a little bit of antipasta, bread with olive chutney, slices of different cheeses and some prociuto paired with a nice glass of white wine. The second course was a surprisingly small portion of pasta with a glass of their house red. Then dessert, a pastry cut up into small pieces, so little there was not enough for everyone. It was paired with one of their special dessert wines. This is when M and I decided we preferred French wines.

Our large group got back on the bus and headed to San Gimignano, a small town with great shopping and the best gelato in the world. That is no exaggeration, the Gelateria in the center square has won Best Gelato in the world multiple times.

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As soon as we arrived we B lined for Gelateria Dondoli. In the hot hot sun we stood in line for The Best Gelato in The World.

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The very long line for The Best Gelato in The World

It was really good gelato.

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We slowly made our way back to the bus, stopping at small shops along the way. At one of the stops we got this adorable little oil can, which will now hold our cooking oil…

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As we made our way back we also came across this little one…

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After San Gimignano we visited the city of Siena and begun a small tour throughout the city. It is actually a very interesting place and if you get the chance to do a tour we highly suggest it. I even forgot my headphones but still enjoyed the tour.

We walked around the city learning the history about their famous horse races and little communities throughout Siena.

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Then the tour ended in a church which was truly unique.

It was the end of our tour so we hopped on the bus and headed for home. Exhausted from the day we ordered DeliverRoo and called it a night. If you are interested in booking the tour or learning more about it here is a link to their Viator and TripAdvisor page.  

Day 3

Our last day in Florence started with heading to the Piazzale Michelangelo. A square ontop of a hill where you can take in some pretty incredible views of the city.

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We took some photos and I bought myself a shawl to wear into the cathedrals requiring you to cover your shoulders and knees.

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The next stop for us was the Duomo cathedral. With a very long line and hungry bellies I went to a small panini shop nearby while M waited in line.

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This was the most incredible Panini store called Panini Toscani! I am not sure if it was just good timing or they do this with everyone but when I walked in I was warmly created by the workers behind the counter. An older man then invited me to join a group in the back and let me sample ALL of the meat and cheeses they had to offer. All for a Panini! I was so surprised he was willing to give everyone in the store samples but that aside, the paninis were delicious. The most savory meats, sharp and creamy cheeses, and tons of marinated, grilled, and fresh veggies to top on your panini. If we had more time in Florence I would have certainly returned.

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I scurried back to M and we both devoured the Panini.

The line for the church actually moved pretty quick and once we were inside we walked around staring at the beautiful tall columns and detailed artwork on the walls.

There were a few other small items on our list and while searching for them we came across a giant bookstore. M and I wondered in then I fell in love with an entire bookcase of Italian cookbooks in English. I picked out a thick one and looked for some of my favorite recipes.

A little farther down the street we came across the Porcellino. A bronze statue of a boar with a rather sweet story.

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We threw our coins in for good luck…which sometimes took more then one try. Not sure if that was a good sign.

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A couple days prior we had purchased tickets to climb the Duomo and had a few hours to kill before our time slot. So we hung out in a nearby cafe drinking spritz, reading my new cookbook, and using their extra clean bathroom.

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In our nice church clothes we climbed to the top of the Duomo.

When compared to other churches, it is not that bad of a hike to the top but it was still 100 degrees and I was wearing ballet flats.

We got some great shots then made our way back down. We retreated to our hotel where we showered, hydrated, and returned to the local San Jacopino Trattoria Pizzeria around the corner for a bite to eat.

The next day we left Florence and headed for Palermo Sicily. We took train after train, stopping for a Cannoli in Naples, we even took our train on a boat! A new experience for us when traveling to an island.

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By time we arrived in Palermo, we were the last ones on the train. Exhausted, we checked into our hotel and passed out.

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Our Florence Hotel: PopApartment

Hotel Review: Even though we stayed at PopApartment during the beginning of our trip it is the perfect location for a break from traveling. Our room was equipped with a full kitchen, spacious bathroom, living room, bed, and air conditioning. The hotel also had a washer / dryer we were free to use. The only real con was the location. It was pretty far from downtown and the train station, but fortunately there was a but nearby that allowed us to easily travel to and from the main sites.

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