One of my long-time dreams is to go on an extended urban backpacking vacation through Europe, as my dad once did when he was young and living the broke Ph.D. life in Paris. I told my boyfriend about this dream not long after we started dating, and he said, “let’s do it.”
Well, I paraphrased those words. It was a text message and I don’t remember what exactly he wrote. But I remember feeling so overwhelmed and happy over the sentiment that I started crying.
I can be a very emotional person.
Due to work commitments, we were not able to do exactly what I dreamed of. Instead, we planned a week-long trip over Thanksgiving. We decided where we wanted to go. Flight and train tickets were bought. Hotels were covered by my excessive hoard of Star Alliance points. Itineraries were not really set, both of us preferring to be more spontaneous with our time. Recommendations were given to us by friends.
I just spent the last week in Italy, a country I love dearly for its art and architecture and food. I had been before, when I was young. It was my boyfriend’s first time in Europe. I was excited to experience the country with someone other than my parents. I thought it might be fun to make a list of some of my most notable memories from the past trip. I hope you enjoy the photos, and salivate over the thought of excessive amounts of really tasty Italian food!
Favorite Experience

The view from the dome of the Duomo was absolutely breathtaking.

I think the highlight of the trip was when we climbed the Duomo in Florence. It was recommended by my friend Caitlin, and it was also the only ticket we purchased beforehand. I’m so glad we did!

Climbing the 463 steps was pretty grueling – It sounds less bad in my head, but when we were actually climbing, it seemed like we would never reach the top – and the stairway space was really enclosed and small. It made us feel a little claustrophobic, but when we reached the top, the view made it all worth it. We had gone on a free walking tour earlier that day, so it was fun to point out the sights that we had already seen up close.
I joked that we paid 15 euros each to get a StairMaster workout, but I think the final experience was more than worth it.
Favorite Eat

My boyfriend’s excited face and also a massive piece of very well-prepared steak.

The first night we arrived in Florence, we went on a hunt for a food market. We couldn’t find it. So I used Google Maps to find us another place for dinner, and a few minute walk away was a gem called Le Fonticine.

Apparently, Florence is pretty famous for Florentine steak. Naturally, we bit the bullet and ordered one, along with another meat course for us to share. I sketched the restaurant while we waited for our food to arrive, and was given a nice handful of compliments, which was quite lovely.
Then the steak arrived. It was so tasty that my mouth waters thinking about it.
If you’re ever in the area – or if you live in Florence! – definitely go get some steak there. My boyfriend and I got a little meat high when we were eating it – so happy and sated and full from the steak that we were a little loopy. A lot of happiness and laughing ensued.
Everything Else

Favorite Urban Sketch

View from a very cold bench on the side of Piazza San Marco. We saw a painting in Doge’s Palace the next day that depicted nearly the same exact view, and it was pretty cool to see how things hadn’t changed!
See more of my urban sketches at my Instagram, which you can find in the sidebar or @cissyartcafe.
It was really quite chilly the whole vacation, but I braved the cold to draw fairly regularly. My hands and legs were pretty frozen after this particular drawing, but I think it’s my favorite. While I enjoyed the architecture of Florence more (I found Venice to be too elaborate and over-the-top for my personal taste), Venice’s Piazza San Marco was a fun challenge because of the details. Figuring out how to depict the intricacies of the architecture into small lines and scribbles without having to sit there all day was pretty fun!

Favorite Silly Photo

We make silly faces.

We took a series of selfies when we were touring Castel Sant Angelo in Rome, starting from exceedingly normal, with cute smiles, in the beginning and progressing to weirder and weirder faces. This picture was one of the last ones we took in that spot, and I’ll probably treasure it forever.

Favorite City 
I think the view from the tower of Palazzo Vecchio gave us the most quintessential Florence photo.
If it wasn’t totally obvious from my favorite experience and eat, Florence is hands down my favorite city of the ones we visited. As the mecca of Renaissance art and architecture, how could it not be? Everything was super walkable, which was really nice, and we were able to pack a lot of sights in the short time we were there.
I will say, however, that the tap water in Florence was pretty bad. The tap water is most of the cities we visited was pretty bad, actually. I never thought I would miss New York tap water, but here we are.
Favorite Thing I Brought
I spent most of our train rides to different cities making sketches of the places we went to. I blame my wobbly lines on the bumpiness of the train rides!
Anyone who knows me or follows me on my Instagram knows that I’m pretty obsessed with my TWSBI Eco fountain pen, which I brought with me on my vacation and used for my long-form journaling. However, I think the best thing I brought was probably my Sakura Koi travel watercolors set – I bought it a while back and haven’t really used it much, but this was the perfect opportunity. I have the 24 color set, but I think the 12 or 18 pan would have worked just as perfectly. I’m obsessed!

Final Thoughts

While I had a really fun time in Italy, I’m also glad to be home. We found ourselves missing New York about halfway through the trip – which was odd for me, since I have not lived here for very long and for about half of that time, I was missing Boston.
But the train etiquette, surprisingly enough, is significantly better in New York than anything we observed in Rome. We missed the gruff-but-ultimately-fairly-polite New Yorkers. We missed the water. We missed the wider sidewalks. We missed our beds. I missed my roommate, who I affectionately call my cutie roomie.

While I still dream of an extended urban backpacking vacation in the distant future, for now, I’m glad to have experienced Italy in a new way and I am also very glad to be home.


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