In my second follow up to Madrid, I will get into all the fabulous details about my trip to Florence last week! Throughout all of my travels so far, I have to say that Florence was far and away my favorite place thus far. Granted, I still have Paris this weekend (leaving in the morning, eek!) but Florence will definitely be a tough act to follow.

After a minor setback involving Allie thinking she had lost her boarding pass at the gate in Madrid’s airport as we waited to board our flight to Pisa, we were successfully on our way. Our first stop in Italy was the Leaning Tower of Pisa where we each took every stereotypical tourist picture you can think of. I am so anti-tourist when we travel, so I was difficult to persuade to join in on the silliness, but I eventually did and hey! That Leaning Tower pic earned me the most likes on an Instagram ever, so I guess it was a hit.

We checked into our hotel – I mean hostel – I mean hotel…let me clarify: our hostel was unbelievable. Literally a hotel, hence my confusion. For a cheap hostel rate, the four of us had our own private room, a TV, lockers, dressers, wonderful private bathroom, hairdryer, towels, a sauna, pool, bar…the list goes on. PLUS Florence is officially the best place I have ever stayed in Europe. For broke college students traveling all over, it was such a treat to finally experience hostel life on a luxurious level, especially since we had no idea it even existed.

For a couple of the days that we were in Florence, five of our friends from Union/York were also there, so we all met up for dinner at La Spada our first night, where we had an amazing meal and even better waiter! After dinner we all went to the Duomo in the center of town and sat on the steps drinking wine, playing charades and just hanging out. It was one of my favorite memories from our reading week trip (despite accidentally shattering a full bottle of wine…whoops). We all went to an Irish themed bar in town called the Lion’s Fountain that was a notorious spot for American abroad students, where each of us ended up seeing someone we knew from home, or met up with a friend. It was the perfect way for us to get our start in Florence.

The next morning we explored a market near our hostel which literally took up at least 5 streets. I was obsessed. So many amazing scarves, bags and other knick knacks…we all walked away with great finds. We took the day to explore Florence, particularly the Ponte Vechio area, and then had lunch at a renowned panini shop called Salumeria Verdi, which was amazing. I had my first taste of breslao (I think that could be how you spell it…) which was an aged beef. Delicious. After lunch we checked out a Jewish synagogue that survived World War II, and since we had the place to ourselves during our visit, I really got to learn a lot about its history and culture.

Another favorite moment from the trip had to be that night when we climbed – and when I say climbed I actually mean scaled and barely made it to the top of – the Piazza Michelangelo, where we caught the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. Complete with wine, cheese and good company, I’d say it was one of the best memories I have in life, not just in Florence.

At the crack of dawn the next morning, Kim and I hustled to the other end of town to catch our bus to our 8 hour chianti wine tour through the Tuscan countryside! Easily one of the best things I have ever done. Not only did we have a wonderful tour guide (Thanks Rebecca with Grape Tours!) but we also had a phenomenal group to do our tour with. It was Kim and I with three other couples, and we all shared plenty of laughs and good conversation. The first winery we caught was the Fattoria Corzano and Paterno in the chianti region, where we sampled not just wine but olive oil and cheese. Our lunch was spent with the Butcher of Tuscany, who served us the best meat I have ever eaten. I think I ate my weight in meat and vegetables. Most amazing meal I have ever had! Next we went to the chianti classico region and sampled wine at the Renzo Mariani winery, which is the only one of its kind that plays Mozart music 24/7 during the fermentation process.

Exhausted from our all day wine tour, we took a nap at the hostel before dinner at Gusta Pizza where I had the best pizza of my life. I keep saying I had the best of certain things in Florence, and I honestly wish for the rest of the world’s sake that I was exaggerating. Sadly, I am not. It was a scrumptious choice for our last meal in Florence (followed by gelato, of course) before getting on a train to Rome early the next morning.

Florence is the most beautiful city that I have ever had the privilege to visit and I cannot wait until I have the opportunity to go back! Mostly for the gelato. But I guess the rest of the stuff there wasn’t too bad either.