Whoever says that Americans don’t travel outside of their own country has clearly never been to Florence in June. I promise I’m not exaggerating when I say that literally every corner, every alleyway, every piazza, every museum, and every bridge was teeming with Americans. Generally packs of them, likely freshly sprung from recently docked cruise ships, outfitted in socks and sports sandals and floppy-brimmed bucket hats, and just being so very loud. I can’t tell you how many conversations we (and countless others) overheard, held as they were between parties often on two different corners of a square and seemingly incapable of moving any closer to each other than anything less than shouting distance.
I have to admit this was quite the shock to the system because, up to this point in our travels, we haven’t encountered all that many U.S. travelers, but those that we have met have generally been well-behaved and done their country proud. We thought that perhaps the era of the “Ugly American” stereotype had finally passed.
“Forget art. Put your trust in ice cream.” ― Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love
A medieval city considered the jewel in Tuscany’s crown, Florence purports to offer something for everyone. It has cultivated sculptors and writers, politicians and poets, philosophers and painters, scientists and saints; during the Renaissance, the city became home to some of the greatest thinkers of the time. It is a city known for its innovation, its history, and its cultural contributions. It is the birthplace of Dante, Da Vinci, and Bernardo Buontalenti… a jack-of-all-trades with a very sweet legacy.
You see, Buontalenti is generally considered the inventor of modern day gelato, and the very first scoop of his frozen dessert was served all the way back in 1559 at a Medici banquet in Florence.
Though millions enjoy the fruits of Buontalenti’s genius to this day, it seems the man behind Italy’s sweetest culinary contribution has largely been forgotten. Wanting to honor his invention in the best possible way, Tony & I decided that in order to pay tribute to Buontalenti and to the innovative spirit of Florence itself, we would have to track down the city’s very best gelato. Some people museum hop in Florence, but us? We would do a gelato crawl instead!
Poor Pisa. One of Tuscany’s most popular daytrip destinations, this compact city is generally touted by travelers as being worth nothing more than a quickie. Each morning, visitors are shuttled in by bus and train, flooding the Piazza dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) where the city’s most famous historic buildings (the most noteworthy of which is, of course, the Leaning Tower) are found. They poke around and take their pleasure for a few hours (which generally amounts to taking goofy photos and enjoying a “traditional” Tuscan lunch somewhere), before returning to Florence or Siena—cities with a little more on offer than a wonky tower. Hardly anyone sticks around for more than half a day. Indeed, most visitors opine that there isn’t much more to Pisa than her listing edifice and is otherwise so banal that she doesn’t even rate a one-night stand.
When we set ourselves a daily budget of $100US for our RTW trip, we assumed that we’d come in well under this while traveling through Asia, but more than make up for that by steamrolling it while in Europe. I was certain that if London didn’t annihilate our budget, then Paris surely would. It’s not a city known for being friendly on the wallet after all. (Especially if, like us, yours is stolen while on the Metro at rush hour…)
But I guess you don’t travel for 20 months without learning how to stretch your budget, even in Paris: a city famous for haute couture and the finer things in life. Many of our favorite moments in Paris were the ones that cost nothing at all and many of our favorite meals were the ones we prepared for ourselves or were shared with friends. Would it be nice to have unlimited funds when visiting Paris? Absolutely. But we hope this post shows you that it’s certainly not a prerequisite and it’s definitely possible to visit Paris on a budget. Paris was a great reminder for us that often our best moments when traveling are the ones that money simply can’t buy.
Read on for details on how we tackled the City of Lights and actually managed to come in under budget!
I used to say that I could never hack it as a vegetarian because I love hamburgers too much. I know this is true because a no-meat eating phase I dabbled with when I was a teen ended rather abruptly when my craving for a cheeseburger got the better of me; after 10 months of going without, I sunk my teeth into that grilled patty blanketed in ooey gooey cheddar perfection and I never looked back.
I’ve become a little bit less carnivorous as I’ve aged, and now I say that if I had to give up meat for some reason, I probably could. But I don’t think I could ever go vegan, for the simple reason that I’m not sure I could live in a world without cheese. From sharp Cheddars to pungent Stiltons and Roqueforts that look like forgotten science experiments to nutty Gruyeres and creamy Bries and Camemberts, I love them all. After 20-some-odd months in largely lactose-free Asia AND given that I tend to subscribe to the “the stinkier the better” school of thought when it comes to cheese, I eagerly looked forward to the party in my mouth that Paris would surely bring.