My Thoughts On: Let’s Rendezvous in Italia, si? (Italy Part 1)

Italy! “Why Italy?” You may ask. Well… why not Italy?! Romance, wine, art, pasta, history, throw in a surprise and a rendezvous with family in Tuscany… I’m in!

The Plan

Bryce’s sister, Richelle, and her husband Eric are currently on their own adventure living in Paris, France for six months. Richelle is an amazing photographer (Seriously look her up here!) and Eric is an extremely talented actor and videographer and of course he shoots with Richelle when the need arises. Well, not that you need an excuse to go on a trip to Europe but naturally with them in France, Europe was now at the top of the list. While we were excited to make a return visit to Paris, things changed slightly when Eric decided that he wanted to surprise Richelle for her birthday. His plan was to fly her to Italy for a week and when he asked if we wanted to be part of the surprise… well we just couldn’t say no. Italy has always been on the top of my travel list and throw in a surprise?! I LOVE surprises! So it was settled, we were going to Italy. Through many, MANY emails we picked a tiny little Italian cafe for the big surprise and bought our plane tickets.

The Surprise

Eric and Richelle flew into Italy two days before us to get all checked-in and settled in their (soon to be our) beautiful Airbnb for the week. (Please take note that along with being an amazing actor, videographer and photographer, Eric also has an incredible talent for finding the most amazing Airbnb’s to stay in. Oh, and he cooks too!)

So, so far, so good. The plan is working out perfectly: Richelle and Eric are IN Italy and Richelle doesn’t suspect a thing. However, next thing we know Eric is emailing us explaining that Richelle had immediately set to work finding models for a beautiful Tuscan photoshoot. This was a bit of an issue since Eric, knowing Richelle’s love for photography, had already organized a dress, a suit and two models (that’s us!) for a surprise Tuscan photoshoot. Well, it’s a good thing Eric is an actor because he was able to convince her that this week was just for them and that it would be good for them to take some time away from work. So the search for models ended as quickly as it started. The plan was back on track and with that Bryce and I headed to the airport, boarded our plane and were off!

After a very long flight, a brief connection in Frankfurt (so brief in fact we almost missed our next flight) we arrive in beautiful Florence, Italy! We hopped in a cab and headed to our pre-arranged surprise location, Il Baretto del Rifrullo. We piled into the cafe (with all of our luggage in tow), grabbed a small table for four and ordered a coffee, hot chocolate and two croissants to enjoy while we waited.

Meanwhile, Eric tries to get Richelle out the door on time to go explore Florence for the day. Florence was approximately a 50 minute drive from the Airbnb in Tuscany and so as Richelle drove Eric did his best to hide his secret texting to Bryce and me.

Back at the cafe… 45 minutes later… we have eaten our croissants, Bryce has finished off his second cup of coffee and I am nursing my hot chocolate, like really nursing it, wondering where the hell they are! Eric finally responds via secret texts to tell us that Richelle is continuously pulling over to take photos of the beautiful Tuscan countryside and that THEY ARE STILL AT LEAST 20 MINUTES AWAY! Bryce and I, knowing that we had already well over stayed our welcome at the cafe, told Eric that we were abandoning our post and coming up with a Plan B. Not knowing our way around Florence, we decided the big surprise would now take place in Piazzale Michelangelo (aka Michelangelo Square) where they were planning on parking for the day. Piazzale Michelangelo is a big observation lookout that gives you the most beautiful view over Florence and, as it turns out, was in fact the perfect place for the surprise.

But of course every perfect moment isn’t without its own set of challenges… As Bryce and I headed toward Piazzale Michelangelo we quickly realized that we would have to climb approximately a million steps to get to the top where the Piazzale was located. Might I also remind you that as we stood staring up at the million steps before us that we still had alllllll of our luggage in tow!!! So after a bunch of panting, Bryce praying that his makeshift repair on the luggage wheel would hold up and I hearing Shaun T telling me to “dig deeper” in my ear, we made it—and our timing was perfect. We got there, found a small food truck to hide behind so we could hopefully see them before they saw us, and then they arrived. Bryce was able to catch Eric’s eye and suddenly without words the surprise was unfolding. Eric dashed ahead of Richelle to start taking video of the view of Florence and turns to Richelle to get her reaction to the “view of the city” (but really of course for her reaction to the surprise) and Bryce and I counter around the food truck, sneak up behind her and… SURPRISE!!! Surprises are the best! (I highly recommend them). And Richelle’s reaction? Well she clearly hid her face, cried, and kept backing away in overwhelming shock. HAHA! Success! Thank you Fate because it really worked out perfectly.

And We’re Off, First Stop Florence

Our first stop all together was Ditta Artigianale, a small cafe that felt more like a hipster coffee bar in Queen West, Toronto, than an Italian cafe in Italy, but I am told (since I don’t like coffee) that their coffee was good. In the spirit of Italy and because I was in some desperate need of caffeine, I ordered and drank (with the help of two sugar packets) my very first latte. We all sat sipping our drinks chatting about how surreal this moment was, the four of us, all together here in Italy, talking as if we had seen each other just yesterday. After some more catching up and our jolt of caffeine we were ready to explore Florence. We walked around taking in the sights and snapping photos and arrived at the magnificent Duomo. WOW! The Duomo is stunning! And what’s even more impressive is that it is made all of marble. We spent a lot of time taking photos from multiple angles and checking out the inside and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. WELL, when in Italy it would be silly not to find some place with a charcuterie board of mixed Tuscan salami and cheeses to go along with a bottle of red Italian wine wouldn’t it?! So we headed to Coquinarius for some lunch (SOOOO tasty), followed by Grom, an Italian gelato place, for dessert. We then set off to explore yet again when all of a sudden Richelle was back in Photographer mode. “Let’s try to find a little shop that might have a white dress for you and we can have a little photoshoot!!!” Oh right… surprise part 3. Knowing Eric wanted to keep the planned photoshoot with Bryce and I a secret—and especially the fact that I had a rolled up wedding dress in my suitcase in their car—I laughed awkwardly and not knowing what to say and replied, “Okay… sounds good…” And then prayed that we would not be able to find said shop. Things were going well… there wasn’t any dress shops that caught her eye until we came across an H&M. See H&M is perfect in a pinch because it’s not too expensive and they probably have something that could work. So she grabbed my hand and said, “Let’s go!” Again not knowing what to say or do I glanced over at Eric with a “help me” look on my face and he knew the jig was up. “Well… we maaaaaaayyyy have already planned to do a photoshoot with Bryce and Sarah. And we maaaaayyyy already have a wedding dress and suit that they can wear…” Well, that was it. If Eric hadn’t won husband of the year award before, he had done it now.

We walked around some more, checked out an outdoor market full of leather vendors and Italian goods, came across a sweet little carousel and then we headed home to the unbelievably gorgeous countryside of Tuscany for some brushetta and wine.

Our Time in Tuscany

The next day was our scheduled photoshoot. Man oh MAN did we have fun! I’ve always known that Richelle and Eric were good photographers, I mean just look at their photos and you’ll know, but it was so fun to see and work with them in their element. They were Richelle and Eric in “professional photographer mode” which as family we don’t often get to see so it was a really cool experience for both Bryce and I. Plus playing dress up in a wedding dress?! Um, yes please. It was such a great day and I got to pretend that Bryce and I were getting married again but this time around in Tuscany so what more can a girl ask for really?! Richelle showed us some sneak peeks from the day and they were stunning (if I can say that) and I cannot wait to be able to share some of them with you. I’m pretty sure that a few will eventually be framed and displayed in our house… is that weird? To frame photos from your fake wedding?… Well, it’s happening.

After the shoot we headed into the small town of San Gimignano for dinner at Trattoria Chiribiri. Apparently boar is a traditional Tuscan dish (who knew?) and so we figured we should try out their boar pasta which wasn’t life changing but was still pretty good. Overall the restaurant was great. They certainly know how to welcome you in Italy. We were greeted at the door with a glass of wine on the house, and then after our meal we were brought a traditional Italian dessert that was also on the house. The dessert was called cantucci e vin santo and it consisted of almond biscotti and a sweet dessert wine called vin santo to dip it in. We then headed back home and of course cracked out a few more bottles of wine for the rest of the evening.

On our last full day together we woke up to one of Eric’s amazing meals and mimosas before heading out to the medieval hilltop town of Volterra. It was such beautiful drive to Volterra and we stopped so many times to take in the stunning view and countryside along the way (now understanding why Richelle took so long to get to us in Florence). Volterra was quiet and lovely to explore and we were able to just wander around taking lots of photos without many other people out and about. Being the time of year, or maybe the time of day, there wasn’t a lot open and after a while we were starting to look for a place to sit down for a drink and some food, so we headed back down the hill to a small gem called Villa Otium. We all grabbed a drink, my first real cappuccino (thank you again sugar), and filled our plates with some delicious desserts. Villa Otium had the most amazingly, beautiful view and so we stayed to watch the sunset. You can’t even believe what you are looking at. It’s so incredibly pretty that you just keep taking the same photo from the same spot over and over and over again wanting so badly to capture this moment in time. After watching the sunset we headed back home for some dinner and wine. And then more wine. And then more

The next morning we woke up super early and said goodbye to Bruno, our house cat, and our home in Tuscany and headed off to Pisa for Richelle and Eric to catch their flight back to Paris. Although it was not nearly long enough, it really was the perfect little trip for our time together, “that time we all met in Italy”.

Oh Wait, It’s Not Over.

Bryce and I, now on our own and with a train to catch, hopped in a cab to start Part 2 of our Italy adventure…

Continued in: Our Buddy Dave (Italy Part 2)

*Cover photo by Richelle Hunter Photography