10-year-anniversary trip to Italy

Phil & I are coming up on our 10-year wedding anniversary in June, but since we’re now wedding photographers, we rarely celebrate in June, haha. When we got married in the mountains of Colorado, Phil was in the police academy. While we wouldn’t change a thing, we flew in on a Friday, got married on Saturday, and flew home that Sunday. You don’t get time off when you’re a recruit, so no honeymoon for us. We vowed we’d take a 1-year anniversary trip, and were headed in to a travel agency, to make a deposit on a trip to Hawaii,  but found out the day before putting that money down (7 months into our marriage), we were expecting our 1st child! We had said from the beginning that we wanted our kids to be close in age (Lord willing), so the following 5 years were a whirlwind of newborns, pregnancies, breastfeeding, etc. I’m not complaining at all, they were just wonderful but crazy years. Not only were we in the throws of raising a baby and toddler, but we also started our photography business, Phil was working overtime and off-duty shifts on top of his normal shifts with the KCPD, and then when our daughter was born, he quit his career as a police officer and went full-time with me as wedding photographers. This was nearly 5 years ago, and we haven’t looked back! We raise our kids together, run a business together, and keep up with all things “life” as a team 24/7. I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy, BUT it’s be so so rewarding and the bottom line is that we’ve BOTH had so much time with our kids while they were young since we are our own boss, and we wouldn’t trade these years for anything!

All this to say that for YEARS, we’ve been dreaming of what we could do for our 10-year-annivesary =) It was so hard to narrow it down and had ideas for all over the world, but by happenstance, we ran across $400 round-trip tickets to Europe, and after many failed attempts for picking locations and those tickets selling out or the prices rising as we went along the steps of booking, round-trip tickets to Venice, Italy, stuck and were $900 total (taxes and all) for us both–it was decided.

Making this trip happen, wasn’t easy. We had to pull many favors and call in all recruits to help with our kids. MANY THANKS to my mom, Phil’s parents, Phil’s brother and sister-in-law (Adam and Kaitlin), my friend Pam Bruner, my friend Kari Vanzante, our nanny Meganne, and the kids’ gracious and understanding teachers. We questioned even taking the trip a couple times, and feeling guilty for the time away and the inconvenience it brought for all involved (including our kids), but clung to the fact that our marriage is most important–even more important than our kids dare I say. Our kids have sadly experienced a lot of divorce in their life already, and while that’s life, it happens, and good lessons to teach/learn, we are committed to doing our best to never let that happen. We’ve made it 10 years…we’ve had top of the world days and bottom of the pits days, days we loved each other so much it hurt, and days we truly didn’t like one another, etc. But, we’ve moved forward…together…as a team…through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through the gut wrenching pain of losing loved ones and the mountaintop experiences of seeing our babies for the first time, we’re in this together. If I had to say one thing that’s really stuck with me about marriage, it’d be to do your best to make more good memories than bad, to spend your money together on experiences, not on things as much. Our prayer is that the more memories we have together, the more we couldn’t imagine our lives without the other. So far, so good, as I truly couldn’t imagine my life without him. And, as we know that we’re not in control of how long we live, if any of us are taken too soon, we’ll NEVER regret time spent together, and the money we spent making memories.

Phew! I regress…now to the trip! We flew into Venice, and it was quite the trip to get there. Not only was it 3 flights, but even when we got there, we had to stand in line for a boat to take us to the island, and that boat ride was a good 2 hours as well. After about 24 hours of travel, and not sleeping on the plane (even with sleep meds!), we just powered through and stayed up (it was around 2pm when we got there) and explored the area. We were there 2 days, and we actually loved Venice more than we expected! It is just crazy unique and you truly feel like you’re going back in time. The only touristy thing we did was going in “Saint Mark’s Basilica”, but even with that, we bought our own tickets online, walked around it maybe 30 minutes, and were done. If any of you go there, just go to their website and buy “skip the line entry tickets”. We paid like $6 and skipped what looked like a few hours line. Also much cheaper than doing one with a tour guide.

I’m not sure if I caught Phil being a tourist or taking a selfie–you decide!
 Besides going to the Basilica, we just walked until our legs were numb, and our goal was to get as far away from the tourists as possible, haha (ironic since we ARE tourists). This was our favorite thing to do! We got to a couple areas that were honestly quiet and just as gorgeous, and we just took it in. While we loved seeing it, we were glad to move on after a couple days. I wouldn’t plan a full week there and not even sure if we’d go back unless we were going with people who haven’t been. It’s one of those things, that once you see it, you see it–check! We also didn’t do the iconic gondola rides and don’t regret it. It was pretty cold while they were there and the gondolas are back to back to back (we were picturing Ocean of Fun rides, lol), just didn’t seem worth the crazy expense and we had more fun exploring on our own. This is where we stayed in Venice and it was gorgeous, clean, and central to all the big things. On to Cinque Terre!

This place was MAGICAL! It’s hard to put it into words, but I do think totally worth a stop if you go that direction! If you don’t know what “Cinque Terre” is, it’s 5 small villages, that are close to each other and on the coast, built into cliffs. We stayed in Riomaggiore which I would totally stay in again if we went back. The place we stayed at involved about 300+ stairs to get to (no joke), but it had a balcony that overlooked the whole village and the sea. Our favorite thing was to just sit on our balcony and take it in. The thing that is popular in the Cinque Terre area is to walk a trail that connects the 5 villages. People come from all over the world, just to do this very thing. We had planned to at least walk some of it, but after the crazy amount of walking in Venice, I had pulled a muscle in my leg, so we opted for taking the boat north to Monterosso and seeing where the wind took us from there. Monterosso is the most resort like village, and in the summer months, it is crazy busy since it has the biggest beach area. We, per our usual, walked away from the crowds and up the hill, where we found an OLD cemetery which we spent an odd amount of time in (it was very fascinating), and saw countless vineyards, olive tree groves, lemon trees, etc. The view looking down to the beach and the sea were breathtaking too! One cool thing we did while we were there–a past client of ours, Sarah (& Jason) Lindshield, had been to Monterosso before and visited a wine bar next to the place they stayed, on a nightly basis while they were there. She told us that we must stop by and ask for “Maria” and that Maria would remember them. We actually found the place, asked the first lady we saw if by chance her name was “Maria” and she indeed was! We showed photos of Sarah on our phone and she giggled with delight remembering her and Jason and sent us a tote home to get to her (Sarah, if you’re reading this, we need to mail it to you!). It’s funny how small the world is sometimes! This is where we stayed and we would go back.

We were having so much fun in Monterosso, and by fun, I mean that we literally fell asleep together on the beach by accident, that we missed the last boat back to Riomaggiore and had to buy train tickets to get back, haha. Most people will either hike, train, or boat all 5 villages to check them each out, but we were content seeing the 2 villages we did. We made it back to our village, got a homemade pizza to go and split it on our balcony with a bottle of wine, while we watched the sun set.

We only spent 2 days in Cinque Terre too, but after the amount of traveling and dealing with lots of tourists since both areas are very popular, we were more than ready to escape to the countryside of Tuscany! We had a 3 hour train ride into Florence to get our rental car, and debated spending some time there before getting our car to go on to our resort, but were so done with traveling + people, that we immediately got our car and high tailed it to Salvadonica (aka a slice of heaven). We just ADORED this place and we were actually surprised at how tranquil it truly was. I know that most of Italy is touristy, especially Tuscany, but since most families own so much land for the vineyards and olive groves, it was more country than I expected. We also had our own car, so being able to come and go as we pleased, was refreshing. And driving around there (mind you that I NEVER drove, just Phil) was fairly easy (same sides of the road and all that), although all the roads were VERY narrow and you can spot the locals by how fast they take all the turns (yikes!). Also, wine + hilly and curvy roads can be a bad combination, so I was thankful for Dramamine (non-drousy).

We spent most of the first day at Salvadonica, doing a cooking class on site with a professional chef. This was by far a highlight of the entire trip! We both love to cook and enjoy learning to cook new things together. We spend just about every evening at home that we don’t have work, cooking dinner together. When we got to the class, we found out that we were the only ones who had signed up for the day, so it ended up being a private class for just the 2 of us, which was perfect! Anotonella La Macchia was a wonderful and gracious teacher and the meals she helped us prepare were some of the best food we had on the entire trip (no joke). We would recommend anyone to do this if they go over there. I mean, look at the photos, it all tasted even better than it looks!
After this, we headed on to San Gimignano, which is a small Renaissance era village, dating back to the 13th century!  There are 5 original towers and other museums about the history of the area. We mostly just walked around and then went to the top of one of the towers, where we saw the best view of the Tuscany countryside we saw on the whole trip! We tried our hardest on the trip to *not* be “one of those annoying tourists, ha! We were getting frustrated with the groups of people that would stop in the middle of a narrow passageway to take a photo, or look at a map because they were lost, etc. If we were getting annoyed, I’m sure the locals were, haha! But you’ll see Phil below, a gift bag, Coke, and camera bag–maybe we weren’t blending in as much as we thought 😉 It was a neat village to see, but we didn’t stay long. We headed back “home” and relaxed.
We had 4-5 days total in wine country, and if we ever go back to the area, we could stay the WHOLE time here just relaxing and exploring. Every day we took off in a different direction, most the time without a plan or agenda. While this sounds lovely, I will say that I was surprised at how hard it was to just find a winery and stop by to have a glass of wine or do wine tasting. Some wineries just produce for local restaurants, some that look like wineries are just people’s private homes, and many of the wineries that do wine tasting, it’s best that you book a reservation for it in advance to get the best experience. We did book 1 big tour, for “Castello di Gabbiano“, which was recommended to us by the staff at Salvadonica, and it was one of our favorite things we did and worth every penny! The grounds were gorgeous, they had a giant real wood fire going that they use to heat the area and cook their food, and it just smelled amazing. The tour was super interesting, informative, and fun. The tour ended by going to a private room where we not only got to taste all of their wines, but they paired them all with a giant feast as well. We got sat at a table with a group of friends from NYC, which ended up really fun! Phil and I quickly ran out of things to talk about after a few days, so they were a welcomed break from coming up with new conversations, haha. We would 100% recommend going here and doing the tour, it was just superb!
After leaving Castello di Gabbiano, we were on a hunt to find another winery we could pop into. As I mentioned before, this was tough, but we finally found “Casa Sola“. Filippo was our gracious host, and we had a blast being the only ones there trying the wines, making conversation, and he showed us around the grounds. Filippo is also heading up his own travel tour guide business, and if we went back, it would be just wonderful to have someone like him that knows all the ins and outs of the area, to take us around! While we were there, we decided to make a fun purchase: a bottle of wine for each of our children, that we all enjoy together when each one turns 21! It was a type of wine that can age this long, so it was perfect.
My favorite wine we had while we were there was a Chianti Reserve by “Villa Guilia”. By a funny coincidence, the group of friends from NYC we sat with on the wine tour mentioned before, were staying at Villa Guilia, and they served as their guides too–driving them wherever they needed to go. I mentioned that this was my favorite wine, so they said I must wait and say hi to her and tell her that in person. I did just that and she invited Phil and I out to their estate for a private wine tasting! We went our last full day in Tuscany, walked around their beautiful property, heard about her family’s history, tried all their wines, and then purchased a couple boxes to be shipped home to us (can’t wait to get them). It felt like such a fun coincidence, we really enjoyed our time there!
Overall, we LOVED LOVED the trip. However, once we did all the traveling back again, we did admit that if we are lucky enough to do a trip like this again, we would either stay in one place the whole time, or do something closer, haha. Some overall things about being in Italy: you won’t find breakfast or coffee before 8am. While you’d think we’d be sleeping in since we didn’t have kids, since we were adjusting to the time change, we didn’t really sleep in and we’re excited to explore each day. I HAVE to start the day with breakfast and coffee, so this was tough to wait around for some days, lol. Also, it’s very hard to find eggs for breakfast, and if you do, they will likely not be prepared like you’re used to having them. One reason we booked the resort we did while in Tuscany, is because I read on reviews that they served eggs! They tasted like yolk-only runny scrambled eggs, but it did its job and got me protein in the mornings. Also, ordering coffee is weird and it’s not always what you think it’ll be (or how Starbucks makes things, haha). We just ordered cappuchinno every time, it seemed to be the most like what we were used to. Also, we had heard and read that you’re not supposed to tip people and this was hard for us. We’re big on overtipping when worth it in the states, so we felt really bad every time we left without tipping. A couple of the nicer places did add a service charge per person, but it was still different. Also, because of this, a whole restaurant might have 2 servers total. I’m assuming they pay their servers more since you don’t tip, but this spreads servers very thin. While we didn’t necessarily have bad service, one thing we ran into over and over and over is that when we were totally done eating and drinking and wanted to pay to leave, servers didn’t seem to bring a bill until you asked. We’d often wait an hour of more just to get our bill. While we weren’t in a hurry and thouroughly took in eating all things, sometimes it was annoying always waiting that long just to pay. We were also unsure about tipping people who helped with our bags, or taxi drivers, or even for our chef in the cooking class–so when in doubt, we went ahead and tipped a small amount as a gesture of gratitude. Also, Italian restaurants in the states seem to be pretty different that what Italians actually eat (big surprise, haha). For example, they don’t do spaghetti and meatballs together–our chef had a good laugh about this one. You eat pasta alone and first, then you eat the meat separate, like another course to your meal. There were several differences like this.
 All-in-all, Italy was all it’s cracked up to be! It was a dream to be there, and while usually they say “time flies when you’re having fun”, we actually felt here that our days were long and we could do SO much–I mean we didn’t have kids, laundry, dishes, e-mails, editing, etc etc. so no wonder the days felt long! It was the perfect amount of time, although when it was time to start our journey home, we wanted so bad to just be transported home immediately–we really missed our kids and routine by the end. But, we will forever have these memories, and it was such a happy, and full of love trip 😉 It was refreshing and adventurous and informative and all the best things. I’m so thankful I have a husband that also made it a priority to make memories together and agreed to a trip of this size. We feel so grateful, we have a renewed love for each other, and my travel bug is totally full–for now! 😉
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  • KevinStunning images throughout! Glad you both were able to enjoy your 10-year anniversary in Val d’Orcia / Italy (in June no less)!ReplyCancel