Longtime Go Ahead traveler Nicole Pensiero has traveled all over the globe, but when it came to her latest trip, she set her sights on the sunny weather. Here, she shares her experience of traveling through Spain, France and Italy.
When it came to planning for my 2013 Go Ahead trip, I was befuddled. Eager to visit St. Petersburg, I sadly came to the conclusion that a Russian Spring might not be spring-like enough for my warm-weather tastes. So I shifted my interest toward the Mediterranean.
It just so happened that Go Ahead had recently introduced a new tour in 2012—Barcelona, Southern France & the Italian Riviera—which seemed to offer the perfect mix of history, culture, relaxation and great food in three fabulous countries. I couldn’t have made a better selection!
Our first stop was Barcelona, one of my favorite cities in the world. Between the amazing architecture of Antoni Gaudi—the Sagrada Familia, the Pedrera and the Parc Güell among them—and the famed Las Ramblas, there’s no shortage of things to do or see. Lucky for me, the Go Ahead Tour Director from my 2009 tour of Barcelona and Northern Spain was arriving back in the city our last night and agreed to meet up for dinner. She and her boyfriend took me to a little local restaurant, El Museu de I’Embotit, where I was in tapas heaven. I also got to try a Spanish drink called orujo (made with herbs and who knows what else) that’s supposed to be great for curing anything that ails you.
While we didn’t get to experience the glorious sunshine that Barcelona is known for during our three-days there, we had a great time nonetheless getting to know our group of 30 and enjoying the fabulous sights.
Our first stop after leaving Spain was in Nimes, a small French city with a long Roman history. In fact, Nimes has a Parthenon in the center of town, and a nearly pristine coliseum (which was used to film scenes for the movie Gladiator). Perfect for a one-day, one-night stop.
From there, it was off to the glamorous beaches of Nice and the beginning of the sunshine that would accompany us for the remainder of our 12-day trip. I was surprised by how big this French city was—and how it managed to retain such an elegant sense of seaside charm, despite its size. Between strolling along the beachfront promenade, enjoying some of the impressive museums and savoring those fabulous pomme frites (French fries), we had a fantastic visit. Oh, and let’s not forget the nighttime trip to do a little gambling at the Monte Carlo casino in nearby Monaco. The only thing missing was James Bond!
Our first two nights in Italy were spent in the charming town of Portovenere, close to the five villages that make up the famed Cinque Terre. With its many small fishing boats, waterfront views and al fresco restaurants, we were smitten before we’d even set sail to visit a few of the Cinque Terre towns. As expected, Vernazza was a true highlight and it was there I was stopped dead in my tracks when I found a sign that featured my last name, Pensiero. Ok, so it was just a pitch for a pizza parlor (“Thinking about Pizza?” – Pensiero means “thinking” or “thoughts”), but I was excited to see the family name on display in our fatherland of Italy!
Our next stop was Florence. As sleepy and restful as Cinque Terre was, this bustling city was a whirlwind of activity. I amazed by the groups of visitors from around the world. Apparently, May is this illustrious city’s “big month,” so we were part of it, and it was certainly exciting. It was amazing to see the famed clock tower, stroll along the Ponte Vecchio and Michangelo’s “David,” even if it was only a replica. I especially enjoyed the optional daytrip to the walled Tuscan village of San Gimignano, which our Tour Director, half-jokingly referred to as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages.” Set high above a sweeping valley, we were enchanted by every aspect of this town. And our visit there was capped off by a lunch at a local winery, which was entertaining as well as delicious.
Two-thirds of our group departed for the States at the end of our Florence stay, with the remaining 10 travelers heading on to Rome. I wasn’t sure if Rome would impress me much after seeing such breathtaking sights in Spain, France and other parts of Italy, but I was equally dazzled there. We started our visit with an open-air bus trip under gloriously sunny skies and also enjoyed a tour of the Colosseum. On our final day, we took a stroll to see the tombs of the famed English Romantic poets Keats and Shelley, both buried in the city’s Protestant Cemetery, a short walk from the Piramide metro stop. Interestingly, there are dozens of cats living there. They are considered to be guardians of the graves, and are cared for by volunteers.
I came home with so many stories to tell—and so many photos to share. Within a day, I was already back on the Go Ahead website pondering my next adventure.
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