This post may contain affiliate links - this just means that if you chose to purchase a product I mention here, I may get a small commission from your purhcase.
A few months ago, during our PCS from El Paso to San Antonio, Ivan had the chance to take several weeks of leave. Since this opportunity doesn’t come up very often, we decided this would be the perfect opportunity to take a big second honeymoon. So we packed our bags (and our entire house) to travel to Europe (after dropping off most of our possessions in San Antonio.)
The main reasoning behind this (besides finding super cheap tickets!) was that we knew it would be at least 2 years before we would have another block of time this long that Ivan could take off of work. Plus, we reasoned, who knows what our lives will be like in 2 years – we’ll probably have a baby by then and that would make a big trip nearly impossible. Little did we know just how soon that would be the case. When we planned our trip I was already a few weeks pregnant!
The timing worked out perfectly, as I was just ending the yucky first trimester when we went on our trip. This was my first time in Europe, so I was excited about the trip but very nervous that I was going to be too miserable to enjoy it. We really wanted to focus on seeing ancient sites, as there aren’t too many of those on this side of the ocean. For this reason, we chose Rome and Athens as our two main stops. Don’t worry though, as we also factored in time to stay in some of Italy’s other cities.
Our first stop was Rome. I can’t even begin to describe how surreal it was to walk around, and stumble upon, attractions I’d heard of and seen photos of my entire life. We stayed very close to the Spanish Steps and were able to walk to a lot of the major attractions. Our first day in Rome we wandered around a good bit to familiarize ourselves with the area. I was so surprised when we stumbled upon the Pantheon right in the middle of the city. We ended up going inside right then – saving us a special trip later. It felt so crazy to just wander into an ancient building.
We also ended up walking by the Trevi Fountain that first day and let me tell you, it is way bigger in real life than it looks like in pictures. Like the entire side of a building big. I had no idea.
Between seeing major attractions, we spent a lot of our time in Rome walking around the city to the various squares (piazzas). Including eating copious amounts of gelato and pizza, naturally.
The Vatican and its museums was an all-day event for our second day in Rome. We thankfully had purchased a city pass (highly recommend) that included our tickets and reservations to most of the major museums in Rome. Otherwise, we would have spent half of our trip waiting in line. We went during the off season…but it was still super crowded everywhere. Upon going to the Vatican I felt extremely ignorant. I knew about the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the museums, but I hadn’t thought about the fact that they were all part of the Vatican. It was a pleasant surprise when we were able to see all of these things together. They were all so worth visiting.
We accidentally ended up in the line to go up to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, so by the time we got up to the ticket booth, we decided we might as well walk up. I almost died. I have never been so tired and out of breath in my life than after climbing the fifty million stairs up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the view was great, and it was a neat experience. But I was tired. (And did I mention, 13 weeks pregnant?) Don’t recommend.
After the long day at the Vatican, and an extremely long walk up to the dome, we hopped on one of the bus tours that was included with our pass and rode the entirety of it so I could rest my feet for as long as my heart desired. (I was still sore the next day if you’re wondering.)
Colosseum and Palatine Hill
Our next full day in Rome we visited the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. It didn’t take us all day, but I would definitely recommend budgeting half a day for this. Once again, all of these things were together, so it was super convenient to do them all at once. And since we had the tickets in advance, we didn’t have to wait in line at all.
I love history, so I really enjoyed seeing (and touching) all of the ancient ruins. I was surprised at how you could see below the ground in the Colosseum to where the prisoners were kept. It was so creepy to see that and imagine what it would have been like to hear what was going on in the Colosseum above you and know that you could be going up next. As a Christian, it was very sobering to see the monument dedicated to Christians who were martyred here during the Roman Empire.
We also ended up going to the Galleria Borghese this day. It wasn’t as touristy and was more sophisticated than the other museums we visited. It was a neat place to stop, but definitely not our typical scene. The gallery was in part of a very large park in Rome, and it was nice to walk around the park while we were there. The weather was perfect (60’s and 70’s) this time of year (early November) which you would not guess from seeing how the locals were dressed (think heavy coats, hats, gloves & scarves.)
Florence was perhaps my favorite stop in Italy. Maybe it’s just my unending love for the movie While You Were Sleeping, but the city seemed especially magical. It was all castles, and cathedrals, and endless art museums filled with some of the world’s most famous artwork. (Think Michelangelo’s David.) It was truly charming. And surprisingly small. We walked everywhere we went, given we were tired afterward, but it was very doable.
Pisa & Lucca
While in Florence, we took a day trip to Pisa and Lucca, which are much smaller cities. It was less than an hour to them by train. And the train ride was welcome after long days of walking in Rome and Florence.
Pisa wasn’t particularly nice or exciting. We did get to see the tower of course, but we opted not to walk up as I was pretty much-done climbing domes and towers at this point in the trip.
Lucca is a really neat place to visit. Large walls surround the historic part of the city, so it’s like it’s own little fortress city. It’s exactly what you would picture as a classic Italian town, with cobblestone streets, cafes, and ancient buildings. We didn’t stay long, but I’m really glad we decided to stop here.
By the time we made it to Venice, we were pretty much museum-ed out. Apparently also photo-ed out, because I hardly have any pictures from Venice – I promise, it was super pretty. We did see a couple of the major museums and churches, but we spent most of our time in Venice getting lost wandering up and down the canals. And souvenir shopping (which we had largely neglected up until this point in the trip.) Also eating Italian style seafood. Some of my favorite meals in Italy were in Venice. We also made good use of the public transportation system (water taxi) because after a week of walking all over Italy we were tired.
The one palace we did go to was Doge’s Palace, which may have been my favorite that we visited on the trip. It was very different than the ones in Florence, much more gothic and medieval seeming. At least, that was my take on it.
Athens was by far both of our favorite stops. After more than a week in Italy, I was ready to eat something other than pizza, pasta, and gelato…even though those things were great. I love Greek food. It’s all meat and potatoes and tomatoes and yogurt. And I can happily survive off of those things. Everything we had was so good we went back to the same breakfast place two days in a row, the same lunch place two days in a row, and the same dinner place two days in a row! Three different places – but we wanted to have the same foods all over again the next day. On day three we did make ourselves branch out a bit – but I don’t think either of us ate one thing we didn’t like during our entire time in Greece.
When we first arrived in Athens it was already dark out, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. We could hardly communicate with our taxi driver, we had to wait for the hotel owner to meet us with the key in a busy alleyway, and there was graffiti covering EVERYTHING. But all of my concerns were quickly assuaged in the daylight. The people were all incredibly friendly (and spoke English incredibly well.) The food was always great, and extremely affordable (especially after a week+ in Italy.) And we could safely walk almost anywhere in the city from our hotel.
Since it was the offseason, we didn’t venture outside the city at all. But there was no shortage of attractions in Athens. It rained (drizzled) on and off most of the time we were there. But honestly, we didn’t mind as this meant we enjoyed most of the attractions with minimal crowds. Especially since it was the offseason.
I would definitely love to go back to Greece one day, and possibly explore some of the other areas that we didn’t make it to on this trip.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and the photo overload that went along with it.
Let me know what your favorite cities to visit are – or which ones are on your bucket list! I’m always adding things to my travel bucket list 🙂
A lot of these photos were taken on our phones – but for my Nikon I mainly use these lenses: Nikon AF-S DX 35mm F/1.8G Lens (portrait) Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Nikon) (wide angle)