I was lucky enough to be asked to shoot a wedding in Italy on the 1st September this year so decided to take a few days to myself - a massive work perk! As much as I’ve adored spending more time with the girls this Summer I didn’t hesitate to book a few days to have some time alone.
I absolutely refuse to feel in any way guilty about it too; it annoys me to even make the point.. the Dads out there don’t have to consider whether ‘it’s OK’ to take days to themselves in the same way at all. I had my nails done the day before I left and the nail technician genuinely looked concerned and said “but who’s having your girls while you’re away working?”.. Do the Dads get asked that? No. Anyway. Let’s move on.
SO! I was at the airport early (never not leaving 3-4 hours before a flight time ‘just in case’) so treated myself to a delicious and overpriced glass of champagne at the Fizz Bar - honestly, heaven. I watched uninterrupted Parks & Recreation on the iPad for the entire flight, was lazy and got a taxi to my hotel from the airport, dumped my things and went straight out to explore Pisa. I wandered and took photos, did some self-timed ones holding the tower up (couldn’t help myself..) and then sat, on my own, and had a huge board of antipasti with an Aperol. Quickly followed by another. My phone was on charge behind the bar so I had no distractions or ‘armour’ while I ate alone and it honestly made me feel so, so content. I love keeping busy at home, and try to get the girls out ‘doing something’ every day and I didn’t realise just how much I needed a breather and some time for myself too.
The next day I packed up and wandered a long way through the streets of Pisa towards the train station. There are beautiful buildings to be seen but Pisa isn’t huge, and I don’t feel I missed much by leaving earlier than I originally thought I would. The wedding I was shooting was in Chiavari, which is a town on the coast towards Genoa. The cheap hotel I’d booked thinking ‘who cares, I’m only sleeping there’ was absolutely dreadful. Generally I’m not a fussy person but the patio doors wouldn’t lock, there was no working electricity point and the sockets were hanging off the walls. I hate wasting time but I messed around ringing booking.com and changing hotels. I paid for another hotel and went straight out scouting for the wedding and shooting for their stop motion to buy some time ahead of the day.
Chiavari is so beautiful, the narrow streets are lined with beautiful independent shops, cafes and bars and people spill out onto the walkways eating ice cream and drinking coffee. I explored as much as I could and mapped out how to work the wedding day best. It’s such a joy to be able to shoot in locations like this and I get so nervous that I’m not going to do it justice.
If I was in any way a decent ‘travel blogger’ I would be raving about certain places and telling you were to go for coffee and where to eat dinner.. but this is Italy. Everywhere is amazing. The food is incredible, the coffee is strong and the wine is cheap and delicious. Try as many places as you can and enjoy everything. They prioritise eating well, locally and seasonally. It’s something we should all be doing more of, really.
The wedding was stunning, it was a later ceremony - 4pm - so I had a lunch from the local bakery (courgette tart with stuffed vegetables) before heading over. It was stunning and the couple were wonderful but I won’t go into the details, if you’re interested you can see more here over on my work blog.
I got in at 1.30am from the wedding but decided to aim to get up early, have breakfast, and head straight to Florence. It’s about three hours on the train, changing at Pisa, so I thought I’d try and get there earlier rather than later. I edited photos from France and the Lakes on the way (it’s been a good Summer!), and got into Florence and into my hotel just after lunchtime.
Hotel Paris, where I stayed, was stunning. It wasn’t expensive, but it wasn’t the cheapest I saw either. It’s a 17th Century building a stone’s throw from Duomo and a ten to fifteen minute walk to the river. I had lunch just around the corner and ordered ‘antipasti with canapes’ and I swear there was enough to feed 2-3 people. I had a white wine and attempted as much of it as I could..
To be honest, at this point, I hit a wall. Weddings are long days, OK? The day after your feet tingle, your body aches and you feel a bit hungover or like you’re starting to come down with something.. I headed back to the hotel and put my feet up for half an hour before psyching myself up and heading back out to explore Florence properly. And I’m so, so glad I did..
For travel inspiration and advice I head to Pinterest every time. There are so many ‘top five / top 25 / Florence in a day / Florence must-sees’ that it’s a really quick way to get some ideas of where’s good to go and what to prioritise first. The rain really started coming down the second I headed out the door but it was still so warm and sunny; I covered my camera and headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo - a high point across the river with incredible views of Florence. As I reached the top of the steps and across to the rails, it was such a ‘wow’ moment. As views over cities go, it’s definitely up there. I stayed there for a while, treating myself to a glass of rose and took in the moment as much as I could.
With two young girls and a husband at home, I didn’t realise how rare it was for me to have absolute peace and to really be able to enjoy my own company for more than just a few hours at a time. Before I met my husband, I used to really enjoy time on my own. It’s when I’d create and paint.. I think it’s such a valuable and almost meditative thing to have the chance to be lost in your own thoughts without distractions; and I consciously put my phone down when I saw down to eat or drink and was surprised at how quickly I got used to being alone with just my own thoughts again.
I headed back down and walked back over Ponte Vecchio - a bridge which is built upon and lined with jewellery shops. It feels like any other street except the views from each small shop are of beautiful vantage points over the water and our to the Tuscan hills.. it’s incredible.
From this point on I don’t have anything specific to say about Florence, but if you ever go I would really just encourage you to try and explore as many streets as possible. It’s so beautiful, and each street is different.. some are full of small independent shops, some have cafe-bars spilling out into the streets.. it’s an incredible city. I said to my husband when we spoke on the phone that Florence feels like Italy’s Paris. It’s beautiful, steeped in history, incredible architecture, delicious food, streets you can wander for days in and wonderfully romantic.
On my last day in Italy I wandered as much as I could to really make sure I’d covered everything I wanted to. I explored the other side of the river and found a bar to sit near the Uffizi Gallerie where they happened to be filming ‘Six Underground’ for Netflix - I ended up being an extra for a scene outside it (I guess I’ll have to wait until 2019 to see my sterling performance, though). For lunch I stumbled upon a beautiful tree-lined square and stopped for more antipasti, prosecco and dough balls. Florence feels very much like something out of Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not complaining..
I’m currently at the end of my final day, sitting on a fast train heading back to Pisa. I have a cheap-as-chips hotel room waiting for me because at 3am I’m up to get on a flight home and start the drive back from Stanstead to see my gang. It’s been an incredible trip and I’m so, so grateful firstly for Shaunagh and Paolo for having me as their wedding photographer and secondly that I had the chance to book out some quality time on my own. It’s all about the balance, isn’t it?
So… Who’s up for moving to Tuscany with me..?