A few folks have been asking me about what it was like traveling abroad this summer and what I did/ate in Florence & Greece, so I thought I’d put together a little blog post to recap the trip!
How it all started
Everyone needs that one friend – the one friend that is the traveler of the group, the one who plants the seed of a trip in your mind, occasionally mentions it in conversation, sends a few photos your way, and then the moment you finally decide that you MAYBE want to go, she’ll send you cheap flights, hotel information, and everything you need to make the damn trip happen. That friend is none other than my best friend Jacquie. Shameless plug: check out her Youtube channel and Instagram where she posts about all things travel, personal growth, life design, and generally living the life of your dreams.
Whew. Anyways! Honestly, I had my doubts about going on this trip, but in the end, it was well worth it and it was all thanks to her. We had already dipped our toes with traveling within the US this past year, but Europe just seemed out of reach. It was a risk of course, but we did everything we could to safely travel: double-masking, social distancing, testing, avoiding indoor dining as much as possible (despite sweltering 100-degree weather). In the end, thankfully everything worked out and it was a really fun trip!
Note: As of 9/1, unfortunately, in light of the spike of COVID cases, the EU just put in place travel restrictions to Europe from the US, banning all non-essential travel. I hope people will still find this post useful when travel opens back up in Europe!
Traveling to Europe – what you need to know
Looking up the travel restrictions before you book is definitely key. We got our info from the US embassy for Italy, and the US embassy for Greece. At the time of booking back in June, Italy had just lifted its restriction of self-quarantining upon arrival and all we needed to do to travel to Italy was upload our travel documents: (1) vaccination card and (2) digital passenger locator forms. The digital passenger locator form, I assume was to help with contact tracing, if anything were to happen. It is imperative that you fill out these forms AHEAD of time and upload them because we were told numerous times that we would not be able to board the plane if we didn’t present these documents. After you fill these forms, I highly suggest that you either screenshot the QR code or print so that you don’t have to try and log in with spotty airport wifi.
Where we stayed
We stayed at a super small 2-star hotel called La Torre dei Salterelli, which wasn’t super fancy by any means, but I really liked it because it was clean, had good AC, and was super centrally located, between the Ponte Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. Everything in Florence is generally walking-distance (15-20 mins), but this was great because we were right by the river and were able to go back and forth between the “old” and “new” parts of the city.
Where we ate
For the sake of time and energy, I’m only sharing the places we loved:
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco – My favorite restaurant in Florence. Maybe it was because it was the first dinner there or maybe it was because we ordered a whole bottle of wine, who knows? But this was hands down me and Mark’s favorite restaurant of the trip. I ordered the best truffle pasta of my life (littered with shaved truffle), and Mark ordered their famous wild boar pasta, which he loved as well. We got pate and toast to start (SO delicious) and made the mistake of fooling ourselves into thinking that a glass of wine would be enough during dinner. In the end, we ended up adding a bottle and ordering MORE food just to to eat for our bottle of wine. Yeahhhh, don’t do that. Just get the bottle from the get-go. All the house chiantis were incredible.
Da Nerbone – Second notable restaurant was this little sandwich spot located in the Piazza del Mercato Centrale or Central Market. This place is best known for its beef tripe sandwich or Lamperdotto sandwich. You can find this sandwich at various food carts throughout the city, but this one was known for being the best and it definitely didn’t disappoint. This was such a nice break from all the pasta we had been eating. Make sure to get it with the spicy green chili sauce!
Trattoria dall ‘Oste-Firenze – Florentine steak is one of the more popular dishes of Tuscan Cuisine. Florentine steak is a cut of sirloin or more popularly known in the US as a T-bone steak. In Tuscan cuisine, Florentine steak is eaten rare in order for you to taste the meat better. Even though Mark and I split the steak each time, it was a bit much, but we knew we had to try it. Trattoria dall ‘Oste-Firenze is a popular steakhouse chain with locations around Florence. I personally liked how it was cooked here (charred and more on the medium-rare side) but didn’t really get the taste of the beef.
Trattoria Pandemonio di Casa Brogi – We had our second Florentine steak here. I felt that I could really taste the beef flavor in the Florentine steak here and wish I had it the first night. And true to form, they made sure it was pretty rare. We actually came here originally for spaghetti bottarga (cod roe spaghetti). And both were delicious! Fun fact: I thought that this was pretty good hole in the wall restaurant (a lot of locals seem to eat here), but also discovered after the fact that it was a bit of a celebrity hot spot when I googled it on trip advisor for this blog post. Chrissy Tiegan, John Legend, and Mario Batali are a few notable patrons.
On night #1, we got gelato at Gelateria La Carraia which had a relatively long wait (10-15 mins) and is pretty well known but a bit too sweet for our taste.
On night #3, we got gelato at Cantina del Gelato which was less sweet and more our taste, but they had less flavors than Gelateria La Carraia.
Lastly, we squeezed in one last gelato at the airport at Venchi Cioccolato e Gelato which is a gelato chain that is all around Italy, Europe, and in New York! This was probably a good middle ground between the two gelatos, plenty of flavors and not too sweet.
What we did
Take a walk along the Arno – I definitely recommend taking a walk along the arno at early morning/late afternoon and grabbing a few photos here! I recommend taking a photo of the Ponte Vecchio from Ponte Santa Trinita in the morning, and taking photos of the Ponte Santa Trinita from Ponte Alla Carraia at night!
Piazzale Michelangelo – When we went, this place was JAM PACKED as expected. The day we went, it was slightly muggy and overcast, so we didn’t see the fiery red/orange sunset, but it was still so beautiful nonetheless! If you were to go, I’d recommend checking the weather ahead of time and going during a less popular time like during sunrise. Just a bit of a forewarning, there is a bit of a hike up, but it’s a good way to drum up an apetite!
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Must take a photo here! This cathedral is so beautiful. I recommend going early in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat. We didn’t get a chance to go inside, but it was still beautiful nonetheless! You can also buy tickets to go up to the top of one of the towers to get a view/picture of the Duomo or to go up to the top of the Duomo to get a view/picture of the Cathedral!
Piazza del Mercato Centrale – To be honest, we didn’t find a ton to do here. There were alot of small little vendors and it was nice, but it took us about less than ~30 mins to explore the entire market.
Gucci Garden Museum – The ONE thing we didn’t do and I regret it! We saw a fat line for Gucci Garden and it didn’t seem worth it at the time, but after seeing this on my friends page, I wish we did! It would have been a long wait, but the museum looks super fun! It has a lot of art and light installations and it looked truly fun to do.
Rooftop Bars – One of the best things you can do during the heat in Florence is have a drink and take in the view. The best way to do this is to squeeze in a drink at a rooftop bar. Whatever you do, just make sure to make reservations ahead of time because these bars get booked up! We had researched based on this rooftop bar guide ahead of time, but it was ultimately our friend Alex that recommended us that we check out Tosca & Nino at La Rinascente and B-Roof at Hotel Baglioni. Between the two, our pick is definitely B-roof. They had the best view (of the Duomo) and the best drinks. But the view was also amazing at Tosca & Nino and we were thankful that they let us drop in without a reservation.
Sunset Tuscany Vespa Tour – Lastly, on the last night we were there, Mark and I signed up for a sunset vespa tour in the Tuscan countryside. If you’re here for a short period of time and don’t plan on renting a car to get out to the Tuscan countryside, I’d recommend signing up for a tour of some sort that will drive you out there (cooking class, wine tasting, vespa tour). Personally, I could not drive a vespa haha. I had trouble countrolling the speed and making turns and so, I was relegated to riding with the tour guide! But Mark had so much fun!! He said it was easier driving on the open road and it was a beautiful way to get a view of the vineyards. Afterwards, we had an a great time wine tasting at a private family winery with various chianti wines, cheese, and charcuterie platter.
Traveling back from Europe – what you need to know
Traveling back from Europe to the US requires you to present a negative COVID test with 3 days of your departure date on the last leg of your trip. Our last stop was in Athens and so we took our test 3 days prior. Thanks to a helpful TikTok video, our group decided to purchase these BinaxNOW rapid tests that are FDA-approved for travel (see below) instead of scrambling to find a testing center in Europe. It ran about $25/test, which is pricey but it worked perfectly and the process was really smooth.
Using the Test
Do not open the test box.
After purchasing the test, you’ll need to download the NAVICA app, create an account, and login.
Select, “I have a test” and scan the unique QR code on the back of your box.
You’ll have the option of selecting test with eMed and navigate to emed.com which is where you’ll need to sign up and have a proctor administer your test. Getting set up with a proctor took less than 15 mins.
Once you’re set up with a proctor, they’ll then walk you through the steps on how to take the test. They need to watch you the entire time, so make sure you have a strong wifi connection so that it doesn’t drop out randomly. Overall, the test from start to finish took about ~20 mins, including the 15 minute wait time for the results. After you do the swabbing, you just stay on the video chat with the proctor. After 15 mins, they’ll ask to see your results and they’ll verify whether or not your negative or positive.
Once they verify your results, they’ll send you a QR code over email and to the app.
At the airport, we were just asked to present the negative test two times: once when checking into the flight and once at the gate before the flight. All we did was present our QR code from the app and we were good to go!
Anyways, that was pretty much it!
Hope you enjoyed the blog post and found it useful! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions!
Stay tuned for Europe Trip Recap Pt. II: Greece because this blog post is way too long.