Pisa, San Gimignano, Chianti, and Siena!

My first trip to Italy was the type of vacation where we had a lot of ambitious ideas for what we’d like to do, but got there having done so much at home that we ended up truly vacationing. Walking, drinking a lot of wine, eating a lot of food, and then drinking more wine….if it was too late for more caffe.

This time, we wanted to make sure we saw the things we didn’t get to see last time around! One of the main places on our list was San Gimignano in the Tuscan hills!

It turned out, I found this amazing tour for under  on Viator (you get $10 off with that link!), and it took us to Pisa, San Gimignano, stopped in Chianti Classico for lunch and wine tasting, and then to Siena to round out the day before heading back to Firenze.

As I mentioned before, I’m not too bougie to book a tour when it comes to traveling! It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground in a day, and to make sure you don’t miss the highlights!

Speaking of highlights, here is the best of this day tour through Tuscany!

Pisa

We started early in the morning at the Santa Maria Novella Train Station (and got there just in time to grab cappuccino and cornetto before the morning started), and boarded a double decker charter bus on our way to our first stop- Pisa! We were dropped off just outside of the famed Miracle Square, home to the Leaning Tower, church and duomo.

This part of Pisa doesn’t have much to see outside of the main square, which even early in the morning on an overcast day was full of people on the ground, in the air, and just all over the place trying to get their own tourist-y photo with the tower! Pisas beautiful historical center is a marvel with the detailed marble buildings and walkways!

San Gimignano

After we boarded the bus from Pisa, we started through the rolling hills of Tuscany toward San Gimignano.

On the way, our tour guide mentioned that the main piazza there had Gelateria Dondoli, famous for the Best Gelato in the World. I didn’t honestly hear much else after that….oh except something about the Great Pilgrimage, and how the rich built their homes up in tall towers so they could always see who was coming, and how of the 72 original towers, 14 are still there. Whoop, there it is.

San Gimignano is a very picturesque city…every street you take leads to an amazing photo opportunity, and there is an amazing white wine called Vernaccia that is specific to a type of grape only grown in this region! Of course, I bought some.

Also, yes we got gelato! I got organic strawberry and Zainab got a Saffron specialty flavor. Both were definitely amazing, but it’s hard to say the best in the world because all of the gelato in Italy kinda tastes like the best in the world…am I right?

Chianti Classico

Speaking of wine! After heading out of San Gimignano, we headed to Chianti Classico to the Casa Frassi Winery for wine tasting and lunch.

I cannot stress to you how much I love this place. From the moment we pulled in, it was the enchanting scene you dream about when you dream of a winery in Tuscany. The owner walked us through three of his wines as we overlooked the ever-rolling hillside, and then we went into what used to be a monastery (and is now the dining room) to enjoy a three course lunch. I snuck out of lunch a little early to buy some wine and olive oil to ship home, and took the opportunity to profess my love to him in the hopes that he’d let me move there and live happily ever after-which didn’t seem to woo him much. Lol.

Siena

Siena has some of the most breathtaking architecture I’ve ever seen. Grand churches and squares and even the banks are built with crazy details like heads carved into the trim of the building. This part of Italy is also very strict to this day on neighborhoods and family, and being born into your neighborhood. We actually were there on a “Bank Holiday” and got to see a parade, and all of the 14 flags/crests of each commune. It was pretty amazing!

Just before it was time to head home on the bus, we stopped at a cafe and had a coffee granita drink and it was the perfect end to a long day on our feet!

A Day in Cinque Terre

A rainy Sunday was the start to our second full day in Tuscany, and it wasn’t any less delightful!

I’ve seen photo after photo of these 5 coastal villages-and yet I still wasn’t prepared for how amazing they are!

When planning this adventure, I actually opted to book this Day Tour through Viator (new customers get $10 off their order when you use my link!), because it eased a lot of the transportation concerns for us. We left at 7:30 in the morning from the Santa Maria Novella Train Station on a bus and drove just short of 2 hours to La Spezia, an industrial city just at the base of the mountains leading to 5 tiny coastal villages ranging from populations of 300-3000 people.

On this trip, we visited 4 villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Monterosso, and Vernazza.

The weather made for some overcast photos, but I like to think they still captured the beauty of the villages and the fascination that surrounds the brightly colored buildings and blue waters.

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My favorite thing about taking tours like these, is that there is someone to guide you to the best photos and history in the area, but you also get the opportunity to explore independently and find your own gems. Plus, you’re sure to meet some interesting people-and even make some new friends!

Some of my favorite shots from this trip (PS, all of these photos were taken by Zainab and I on our iPhones!):

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When it comes to shopping, none of these villages really tickled my fancy. There are lots of small, rather pricey shops-which I’m sure ties into the whole “Population: 300” thing.

We did have an amazing blackberry tart at a small cafe in front of the ocean in Vernazza, some super strong caffe correto (espresso+grappa) in Monterosso, where I think we also found the small place that made fresh lemon slushes….and had an option to add vodka.

We added vodka, obviously.

I think moreso than anything, I was too busy taking in how beautiful and well-preserved these little villages were to get too preoccupied with the wares they offered. I saw a lot of the same kitschy and touristy trinkets and small bottles of liquor and oils that you can find most anywhere in Italy…so I stopped worrying about where to shop and what to buy and just enjoyed the ocean instead.

It’s worth noting that there is a train that goes from La Spezia into the villages. It’s very fast, and rather efficient! At the end of the day, there were at least 400 of us piled on the platform waiting for a train that was delayed over 30 minutes…and things got real. People were pushing and arguing and being rude! And it took FOREVER to get off of the train and to the meeting point with our bus because of the crowding and lack of manners!

But I had expected way more tourists and crowding, especially on a Sunday. I was pleasantly surprised at how we had a lot of room to breathe as we made our way through Cinque Terre, moreso during the first half of the day!

This trip really made me want to focus more on the Italian coast on my next trip (although I just have such a love for Florence, and will probably start/end there always), because it really is one of the most beautiful, natural wonders. Sprinkled with history and character, it really draws you into its charms!

Have you been to Cinque Terre? What were your favorite things to see and do?

Happy Travels!

See Sondra Sign-off-stacked

 

 

 

A Tuscan Adventure

I got back from Italy about a week ago, and I’ve had a little trouble adjusting back to that pesky thing we call reality.

My love affair with Italy started before I can remember, largely due to my heritage being partially credited to the country. I love authentic Italian cuisine, music, and culture.

This year, I took what I learned from my trip in Fall 2015 to try to make an even better experience possible, and I’m pretty pleased with how it all worked out!

For this adventure, I scored a $668 RT flight out of LAX and right into Florence, Italy where I planned to stay. I booked this flight last October, but I was tracking the flights using Skyscanner, my favorite flight tracker/predictor site, since May!

Once my flight was locked in, I hit AirBnB to find the perfect apartment to use as my Florence launchpad for my Tuscany plans.

When I originally started planning, I didn’t even have a travel companion. But I had dates, tickets, and reservations….and faith that everything would work itself out accordingly. But of course, my amazing friend Zainab once again came through and was my travel companion!

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Zainab and I outside the Cieto Chiarli Winery in Bologna

There is truly something to be said of friends who travel together. I look forward to more adventures with her…and we will succeed in stealing Alex away with us next time!

Once all of the most important arrangements were made, I had plenty of time to “map out” an itinerary of sorts, to make the most of Florence and the surrounding areas. Last time, we spent 4 days in Rome and 3 in Florence, and I regretted not having more time in the heart of Tuscany!

Ideally, I wanted a few free days to roam the city and re-visit some of our favorite things from the last visit (which actually weren’t places, but more along the lines of specific types of potato chips and candy bars, lol), and also a few days outside of the main city exploring-there will be more involved posts for each day trip, soon!

My favorite way to book Day Tours and experiences is using Viator, a site/app that books for you via the various companies across the world to get you amazing deals on even more amazing adventures. Get $10 off anything you book when you use this link.

Some of the highlights:

Day 1: Piazzale Michelangelo…and a GELATO FESTIVAL

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Day 2: Cinque Terre

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Day 3: Exploring Firenze: Profumo Santa Maria Novella and the best dessert espresso drink!

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Day 4: Pisa, San Gimignano, Chianti Classico, and Siena

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Day 5: Bologna-The Food Tour to End All Food Tours

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Day 6: More Romaing Firenze…Really Making Our Last Day Count! The Leather School, The Central Market, and more!

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Again, this is a mere taste of all we did! There will be smaller posts later with tips for all of these amazing places to see if you head to Firenze/Toscana!

Want to follow me on the adventures to come (only 53 days until I head to Greece)?

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Snapchat: SeeSondraSlim

I love to post my favorite shots on social media, and I always have behind the scenes fun on Snapchat! I’d love to take you along on my adventures! I still have Phoenix, Greece, New Orleans, Palm Springs, maaaaybe New York City, and San Francisco planned for this year!

Happy Travels!

See Sondra Sign-off-stacked

Making Things Happen.

I try so hard to live an amazing life.

I firmly believe that the best opportunities in life are created by us…that they’re simply choices and we carry them out with tenacity. With hope. With faith. And we just MAKE. THEM. HAPPEN.

The last couple of years have been really difficult for me. I left a job in 2014 that was pretty cushy in terms of pay and hours due to a growing amount of stress that was starting to cause a lot of negativity and sadness in my life. In order to maintain my lifestyle (ahem, pay my bills), I ended up having to take two new jobs. I worked for one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, Dr. Brew, at Vitality Chiropractic, and I also started working for an ambulance company.

I was working upwards of 90 hours a week, with only every other Sunday off. Living off of 2 hour naps, sleeping in my car between jobs to make sure I would never be late, and always trying to keep a smile on my face and bring my “A” game to work….it was rewarding, but exhausting.

I was fortunate to find the job at the ambulance company (thanks, Lidia!), because it introduced me to the field that I wanted to begin my career in. I continued to learn, and applied to work as a Fire Dispatcher for San Diego Fire-Rescue in 2015. I was hired and training by the end of the year, and just celebrated my one-year mark with them in December.

It’s been a long road. But it’s been worth it.

The issue is, now I still feel so…..tired. I work 3-4 days a week, 12 hour shifts…and I have so much more time on my hands. Somehow, I still haven’t slept enough to make up for that 21 months of insanity.

This year, I decided, I have to keep on pushing like I did working crazy hours, and do some things to shake my life up and live it like I said I would.

So, I planned a trip to Italy in April. I just found out Zainab is officially going with me again, and I am SO excited! We are flying into Florence and staying in a beautiful apartment while we use the beautiful city as a home base to see Tuscany (there is a day touring prosciutto, parmesan and balsamic factories involved, y’all).

The end of this month, I’ll be road-tripping to Arizona with my friend Brian to see one of our favorite country duos, Dan + Shay, and catch a game while the Padres are at Spring Training! I’m also insisting on stops at Dateland (every kind of date, date shakes, date ice cream….I buy dates for Whole30 goodies here) in Yuma, and a Cracker Barrel….because obviously!

I am going to Greece at the end of June with The Boudoir Divas (I believe they opened one more coveted spot last minute since the four original ones went so quickly) to do a photoshoot in Mykonos and Santorini. Going on one of their International trips has been on my bucket list FOREVER, and Greece has been on that list, as well!

I flew to DC during my birthday week to see my family. My “sister cousins,” their beautiful babies, and the aunt and uncle who took me in during my teen years.

I flew to Denver in January to visit my Bestie in her new home state, and even brought Zainab along and managed to surprise her!

The end of summer, you’ll find me in New Orleans with the Obesity Action Coalition, attending my third Your Weight Matters Convention. Pretty excited to be in the big easy with people I love, expanding my knowledge and working to be a better advocate for Obesity treatment and bias-fighting!

I’ve got some other plans pending for this year, but I think I’m off to a pretty good start! I’m also starting another round of Whole30 this Sunday, to get my mind and body ready for all this jet-setting and indulgence. I need to feel my best to live my best. I hate how growing up makes you actually respect realities such as these (and if you don’t, you’ll find yourself vomiting Jack in the Box tacos and cursing yourself for eating like you’re 19 again, so…there’s that).

Moral of the story? Don’t forget to make room for LIVING. Life is too short.

Sean’s grandpa, whom I affectionately thought of as my own, passed away the day after my birthday, on March 2nd. He is one person who always said “I’m blessed!” when you asked how he was doing, and always made it a point to tell the stories of the amazing 93 year-long life he lived. We will be celebrating his life today at his wake, and tomorrow at his funeral.

I want to be a person who lives to tell of the adventures, and says with pride that she did it because she could. Because she MADE IT HAPPEN.

Life is waiting for you!