Ornaments and egg cups from Rome

I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!)


Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For Italy, I determined that I should look for handmade glass and lace (and locally made lace is hard to find and expensive since most of it is just made in factories in Asia now) in Venice, handcrafted paper and leather in Florence, and lemon products and custom-made sandals in Sorrento. Cameos are another specialty in Italy. I also read about glass or stone mosaics throughout the country.

I have several specific collections I am always looking to add to: bookmarks and magnets are the cheapest, although bookmarks can be hard to find. I always am looking for Christmas ornaments, Easter eggs and cups, handmade baskets, locally made soap, fun food items to bring home, and watercolor paintings depicting the area. It helps to have specific things to look for.


The shopping in Venice was fantastic. There were so many stores, it was hard to focus. This was also our first city, so we were jet lagged and trying to adjust to the terrible heat! We took a vaporetto to the island of Murano which was

Murano glass

an amazing place to visit, but they had so much glass that is made there on the island that it was hard to choose! Some of the glass is very expensive. One shop had a few glass mosaic pieces, but none were right.

I found two great bookmarks in Venice, one with a tassel (which they sell many of in Venice) and one with Murano glass.

We bought our Venice painting from an artist in the campo right in front of our hotel, next to a canal. It was one of those perfect settings.


Tray from Florence

There was a lovely shopping section in Florence on the far side of the Arno, just past the Ponte


Vecchio, but I wish it had been bigger. This area had some terrific artisan shops where we bought leather items and a beautiful painted tray. My husband bought a wallet and we got the leather trays I photographed. I found bookmarks here and little books of paintings from each city which will hang on my book tree in my office.

I bought my painting in Florence (the long narrow on in the front of the photo below) in a small courtyard outside the Uffizi where artists were selling their work. Artists were also selling things in the Plaza Repubblica at night. I find that areas where


tourists gather in the evenings are good places to find local paintings that are inexpensive. I rarely pay more than $20 for paintings like these.

I looked at gorgeous stone mosaics in Florence, but could not bring myself to spend a minimum of 250 Euros for one. So those have now taken up residence in the museum in my mind (all the things I wished I had bought and didn’t on all of my trips!).


Rome was a challenge for shopping, but we did find a nice little grouping of shops near the Pantheon. Everything else was junky souvenir shops or expensive designer shopping. There were several shops with nice pottery in Rome.

I bought a painting in Rome, but it’s a print that I saw lots of street vendors selling. I could not find any artists selling original paintings.

I saw a gorgeous handpainted leather purse I came very close to buying, but the back of it had some scratches. They didn’t have any others. Another item added to the museum of my mind.


We took a tour of Pompeii and I did not expect to buy anything there other than my fun little cheap magnet (I buy one every place we go and they decorate the file cabinet in my office). However, our guide took us into a cameo store, where an elderly man sits hand-making cameos.  They were beautiful and my daughter and I each bought one (ok, I bought two). The artist signed them on the back and also wrote our

Murano glass jewelry and handmade cameoes

initials on the back. I really wanted a blue cameo, but they told us those are always made in factories. The ones we bought are handmade from shells.


Sorrento had a wonderful shopping section, very quaint with narrow

Daughter’s custom-made sandals, hubby’s leather bag and belt from Sorrento; leather dresser catch-alls from Florence

alleys and cobblestone streets, just off the Tasso piazza. It was a shopper’s paradise. There were so many shops selling leather purses that I was dizzy!

My daughter had sandals handmade for her here (you go in and pick out the elements you want on them and they have it ready the next day: they do not actually hand-make the sole however – they just put together the pieces you select). Limoncello is a big product here, but I bought lemon soap and honey since we don’t care for alcohol.  My husband bought a beautiful leather bag and a belt here.

We had dinner one night down in Marina Grande, a tiny little beach area. There was an old woman selling lace just behind the beach. She was sitting and doing lacework, so there is a chance the lace I bought did not come from Asia, so I bought one lace doily.

We also stumbled upon a truly fantastic HUGE store called Gargiulio and Januzzi. They sold inlaid wood boxes and plaques, some glass jewelry and a big room of amazing Italian pottery and linens. Downstairs was a big room with marquetry inlay furniture which was gorgeous. I had to get out of that room or I would have had the entire thing shipped home. I bought some pottery and a table runner, as well as an inlay wood box (all still being shipped home, so no photos). Very high quality items and very good customer service. The shipping was free which was a nice bonus.


We visited the island of Capri on a tour, but only went to the town of Anacapri where the shopping was rather limited. I had high hopes for Capri, but didn’t buy much, other than the beautiful hydrangea glass plate I’ve photographed with my Murano glass. My daughter and I bought the lace bracelets I photographed with the lace doily here.

I could not find a painting on Capri (there was one shop in Anacapri with paintings and the owner was so aggressive, I could not even really look at his work. We ended up buying one in Sorrento of Capri the next day, so that worked out ok.

Pasta, regional soaps and lemon honey from Sorrento

Not pictured are t-shirts and sweatshirts other members of the family brought home, as well as a couple pairs of earrings my daughter bought and promptly put into use!

We also had to make an emergency suitcase purchase at a train station! My daughter’s suitcase zipper broke. The train station in Rome had a big suitcase shop and we got a nice one for about 50 Euro, which was a nice bargain. We tried to throw out the broken suitcase, but everyone we asked told us to just set it outside the main doors of the station and someone would take it!

Overall, it was a successful trip in terms of shopping and now I am trying to figure out where to put it all! I have to get the paintings framed, which is always a challenge. I can often find frames and mattes at Michael’s but sometimes they are not standard sizes and I have to have them framed.

I always feel as though I am buying a ton, then I get it all home and it really isn’t a lot. It’s always so nice to have lovely little items to remind me of our trips!




Lace bracelets from Capri; lace doily bought on the beach in Sorrento





Tie, Murano egg, mosaic plate and frame from Rome; tiny books that fold out with pics of the cities from Florence, to go on my book Xmas tree


My cheapest buys: magnets





I’m halfway through my posts about all of our stops in Italy, so let’s take a rest stop and talk about shopping (don’t worry, there will be lengthy foodie posts to come as well!) Pre-Shopping Before I leave on a trip, I try to find out what the specialty items of the area are. For … Read more

The second leg of our Italy trip was three days in Florence. I was looking forward to this since I had heard the city was very walkable and friends had loved it.

I’ll be doing a separate post about Italy hotels (coming soon!) so I’ll hold off on talking about that here, but let me say the hotel was not as close as we had hoped to the city center.


The train ride from Venice to Florence was stunning. Tuscany really is all it’s cracked up to be. It was green, gold, and blue and the country villas with the fields were just beautiful. I would have loved to get off the train and drive through that countryside!

Ponte Vecchio


On our first day, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that spans the Arno River and is made up entirely of jewelry shops. This is the only bridge in Florence that Hitler spared and it has a long and rich history. The Medicis built a passageway on top of the shops on the bridge, so that they could cross the river in private. The shops are really overwhelming. There’s just too many, with too much merchandise. I didn’t even go in one – too confusing! We did window shop though.

The shopping on the far side of the bridge (the side where the Pitti Palace is) was excellent however. Lots of artisans selling wonderful things like paper, leather, jewelry, and ceramics. The shopping on the city side of the bridge is mostly designer stuff I wasn’t interested in very much.

There were some artists set up outside the Uffizi and I bought a painting there (my shopping post will be coming soon).

We visited the marketplace where there is a boar statue you are supposed to pet if you want to return to Florence. The boar was cute, but the market was run of the mill street vendors with cheap stuff.

The View

On our second day in  Florence we took a tour. They took us by bus to the Piazzelle

The view

Michaelangelo. There’s a huge parking lot up in the hills where you can stand and see not only the entire city, but the entire countryside. It was simply stunning and made me wish I could get out into the countryside even more! There is a replica of the David in this parking lot as well.

Duomo and Baptistery

Baptistery doors

The Duomo and the Baptistery are the famous church buildings in the center of the city. Unfortunately, our tour did not take us into these buildings. That was not made clear to us when we signed up at all, so once the tour was over, we backtracked and went into the Duomo, which is a beautiful church with a dome created by Brunelleschi, at a time when the technology for making domes like this had been lost, so it is quite impressive. There was a long line to go up to the top of the dome, but we weren’t interested in doing that. The outside of the church is prettier than the inside, however, with its gold outer dome. The Baptistery is famous for its bronze doors, which are no longer original. We didn’t go inside, but we looked at the doors.

The David

Our tour next took us to the Accademia. We were able to skip the line to get in (and it was a LONG one!), but we still had to wait for our group to be let in. It was extremely crowded inside. We ditched the tour and just went to see the David on our own. It was much bigger than expected and his hands and feet looked

Replica of the David

huge and out of scale. It was beautiful though and I’m glad we got to see it. We looked around a little bit, but really we just wanted to see the David and be done. Not to mention we were given no chance to use a bathroom on the 3 hour tour. It turns out the bathrooms in the Accademia are downstairs and you have to leave the ticketed area to get there, so we just left once we were done. Also, their gift shop was just awful!

Republicca Plaza

The tour had taken us through this plaza in the center of the city, but there isn’t much to

Republicca Plaza

see. It’s just an open square that used to be the Roman forum in the city. There is a carousel there now and at night there were artists selling their work.

Pitti Palace

We went to see the Pitti Palace on our own (no tour) later on the second day. This was a palace the Medici family took over and built out. It honestly is pretty ugly from outside and the entire front lawn is paved or brick, so it was not pretty or welcoming. The pricing was complicated. You had to choose one group of galleries/rooms to see. We didn’t want to pay for both, so we missed out on the gardens, which I understand are gorgeous (my kids would have rioted if we made them walk through a garden though). The rooms were beautiful and ornate, but I think I am desensitized to palaces after our trip England where we saw so many! It was worth seeing though, so I’m glad we went. I would have liked some background info on the place and the Medicis, but we just couldn’t handle another long tour.


Leaning Tower of Pisa

The last day in Florence we took a train to Pisa (about a one hour trip and there are trains running every 20 minutes). This is a really cute little city and I wish we had had time to explore it. We took a cab from the train station to the Campo dei Miracoli, which is the complex where the Leaning Tower stands. It’s basically a baptistery and a church and the tower on a giant open square. We had tickets to climb the tower a couple of hours after our arrival, so we spent some time walking around. The immediate area is really junky souvenir shops (yet, as my husband complained, not one had a t-shirt that said “I climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa”). It was pretty horrible. Finally it was our turn to go in the tower. We were stopped because my daughter had a purse. No one told us you couldn’t bring a purse in. There are no signs. It says nothing on the tickets and when we picked up the tickets no one said a word about it. So my husband had to run across the campo, rent a locker and leave it.

Then we started our ascent. It is a LONG way and it winds around and around. One of our group has trouble with heights and that person was not enjoying it at all. I did not like the pressure of trying to go fast enough to keep the people behind me happy. It is a little bit claustrophobic in there, particularly when people decide to go down past you.

We made it to the top and there is a nice view of the countryside from the top. It is nice to be able to say I climbed to the top of that!

The descent was easier than the ascent, however my husband managed to sprain his ankle coming down (he was trying to be careful of his knee and ended up hurting something else!). We got to the bottom and asked the people who worked there for medical attention and they were unhelpful. He hopped all the way to the ticket office where we were given one of those instant bags of ice (you smack it to activate it). Since it was about 99 degrees, it didn’t last long. We asked for another and got it, but were told it was the last one they had. Great. We saw an ambulance parked on the other side of the campo and he hobbled over there, hoping to get an Ace bandage. It turned out not to be an ambulance, but a police van, with no police anywhere to help us. Really, really frustrating.

We waited and waited for a cab, which took us to a restaurant I had read about. It turned out to be closed so we ate at a pizza place in an alleyway where they spoke no English. We got back to the train station and that was the end of our day. On the way to the train station, we saw where some decent shops were, but were unable to stop. So Pisa was a bit of a bust for us.

Florence at Night

We did have a nice dinner near the Duomo one night and came out to find lots of people wandering around the piazza. There were people selling toys that shoot up in the air and light up (we bought one for my son). We wandered a bit and on a street just off the Republicca  Plaza, came upon a street performer we watched for a bit. It was nice to walk around the city at night and see other people out and about. It was a relaxed feeling.

Florence Overall

Overall, I was not in love with Florence. The city felt dirty and cramped to me. There wasn’t a lot to see or do compared to Rome and Venice. Tuscany is a place I could fall in love with, but Florence itself did not thrill me. I did like the vibe the city had of being a home to artists and creative people.  I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I would plan to return to the city itself.

The second leg of our Italy trip was three days in Florence. I was looking forward to this since I had heard the city was very walkable and friends had loved it. I’ll be doing a separate post about Italy hotels (coming soon!) so I’ll hold off on talking about that here, but let me … Read more

Grand Canal in Venice

We are just back from a magnificent two week trip to Italy. While I’m still recovering from jet lag and dealing with the laundry mountain, I want to start to share the trip with you. Be patient with me, dear reader! After 2 weeks away, I have lots to tell you, so I have many posts planned.

For today, I want to give you an overview of our trip. We decided to go with an escorted tour, which meant the tour company was responsible for arranging our air and train travel, hotels and transportation to and from airports and train stations. We then chose some specific guided tours of things we wanted guides for. The rest of the time we were on our own.


Our trip began when we arrived by plane at the Venice airport. Our guide met us and took

Florence from the Piazzelle Michaelangelo

us by water taxi to our hotel. We spent 3 nights in Venice and explored the Rialto Bridge, the Grand Canal, San Marco, Doge’s Palace (guided tour of these last two), the island of Murano, and many little corners of Venice. We took a gondola ride that was almost surreal feeling. Our guide took us by water taxi to the train station at the end of our stay.


We enjoyed the train trip through Tuscany (I would love to go back and explore the countryside). Three nights in Florence were wonderful. Our guide met us at the train station and took us by van to our hotel, on the banks of the Arno. We explored the Ponte Vecchio, Pitti Palace, and took a guided tour that took us by bus to the Piazzelle Michealangelo (for the view) then to the Duomo and the Accademia where we saw the David. We took a train on our own to Pisa for an afternoon to climb the leaning tower. My husband managed to sprain his ankle coming down, so we didn’t get to explore the town.

Spanish Steps in Rome

Our Florence guide took us back to the train station from our hotel.


The train ride to Rome was relaxing and we had our first glimpse of the Mediterranean on the way. Our guide brought us to the hotel for our three night stay. Rome was a magnificent city. We explored the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (where we threw coins in) and took guided tours of the Vatican and ancient Rome. We also visited the Pantheon. Our guide took us to the train station.


We traveled by train to Naples , where our guide met us and took us to Pompeii. Once there, we had a private guided tour of these impressive ruins. Our guide then drove us to

Sorrento harbor

Sorrento for our 3 night stay, and we enjoyed the stunning views of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and the mountainous Amalfi coast. We took an all day guided tour to the island of Capri (this was quite a day and involved 4 buses and 4 boats) where we went to the Blue Grotto and traveled up to Anacapri. On another day, we explored Sorrento’s seaport and swam in the Mediterranean with Mount Vesuvius behind us. Our guide took us to the Naples airport and we flew home from there.

It was the most memorable vacation we’ve taken, I think and my mind is swimming with all the experiences. There was lots of good food (there was only one really bad meal the entire time), I did some great shopping, we took some beautiful photos, and we learned so much about Italy. I will be sharing all of that with you in coming posts. I kept a notebook this trip so that I would be sure to remember the things I want to write about.



We are just back from a magnificent two week trip to Italy. While I’m still recovering from jet lag and dealing with the laundry mountain, I want to start to share the trip with you. Be patient with me, dear reader! After 2 weeks away, I have lots to tell you, so I have many … Read more