Montjuïc? So I'd make up for it by waking up at the crack of dawn to be productive, check my emails, send off pitches and secure some freelance work while A. slept in. And by slept in I mean I left him alone until 9 a.m. because hello! How much sleep does a person really need anyway?
Well somewhere between the U.S. Open and our trips to the nudist beach Mar Bella, I allowed myself to chill out. And that continued into Cannes because honestly there's not much else to do there other than hit the beach and wonder what on Earth brought you to Cannes if you're not a celebrity, swimming in hedge funds, or docking your big fancy boat. The streets were lined with stores catering to the boojie set: Prada, Miu Miu, Chanel, Rolex, Bulgari, on and on and only broken up by the luxury hotels that fronted the sea. The olive on top was the Festival de la Plaisance that was taking place while we were in town, which filled the city's port with white tents and luxury yachts for show. And there I was, in my Old Navy shorts and 2-for-$5 flip flops, an outsider shyly enjoying the scenes playing out before her.
That said, I decided that if there was ever a time when we should go on a nice dinner date, it was definitely while we were in the French Riviera. So on our last night, I whipped out the mascara, A. his button down, and we went out for a stroll and food - at McDonald's. Okay, kidding. We only had fries so I could munch on something while we waited for the evening to arrive before slipping into Modo Mio (43, bis Rue Félix Faure; 33 (0)4 9399-0855; modomio.fr). My risotto and prawns tasted fine, but I loved the Riesling substitute they whipped up for me: a French kir cocktail made with white wine and peach nectar.
So two weeks into our trip I'd finally pulled out the little black dress that I knew would take me from frazzled backpacker to flirtatious girlfriend. And I don't think it cost me more than 30 bucks at H&M.
Even though there was more to see in Florence, our schedule truly picked up on our last day there, which is when I'd made reservations for both Galleria dell'Accademia (Michelangelo's David! Bartolini!) and Galleria degli Uffizi (Botticelli's Birth of Venus!). Before that we'd just wandered along the cobblestone streets without much planned...except for that time I made us walk all the way across town in search of a particular gelato shop around 10 p.m. and in the process bypassing, oh, about five other perfectly good options. We ended up choosing a gelateria a block away from our hostel after a) we were unsuccessful in our mission, b) Dorkys started getting tired and cranky and c) all the places we'd previously passed by had closed. We did find Vivoli Il Gelato (Via dell' Isola delle Stinche, 7r; 055/292-334; vivoli.it) the following day (turns out they were closed the day before) and I still dream about that coffee/chocolate-nutella combo that A. and I created.
Other fun places we checked out: colorful notebooks at Made in Tuscany (Via delgi Alfani,129), raspberry sorbet at Festival del Gelato (Via del Corso; 055/294-386; firenzegelatofestival.it), expensive artisan stationery at Papelerías Signum (Lungarno degli Archibusieri, 14r; 055/289-393), and a dip into our childhood at the impressive toy store Dreoni Giocattoli (Via Camillo Cavour 19; 055 216611; dreoni.it).
Seeing the places I'd learned about in school 10 years ago reminded me of how much I enjoyed architecture history. I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre, the Notre Dame, Antoni Gaudi's work throughout Barcelona, Brunelleschi's Duomo for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, these were all places that only existed in books and pictures for years. At the end of some days, A. and I would spend time researching and talking about the spaces and faces behind these works of art and our re-learning of sorts grew once we entered Rome.
There's no need to say just how much history - and, to my atheist boyfriend's dismay, religion - runs through the heart of that city. We walked through the sprawling Roman Forum - parts of which are still being excavated - and the Colosseum across the street. A. was excited for the latter, but at this point I was beginning to feel the wear from all the heat, walking and traveling we'd been doing. Of course on our last in Europe, we plowed a day-long 4-mile path straight through Rome starting in Vatican City and ending at our Airbnb stay. We covered as much as we could along the way and my favorite moments included feeling in awe and somewhat small after walking into the Pantheon and marveling at the coffered dome and oculus, making a wish at the Trevi Fountain (though I'm pretty sure I threw my coin in all wrong), and then climbing up to the nearly-empty Piazza del Quirinale to watch the sun set behind St. Peter's Basilica in the distance.
We stopped to rest at Piazza della Repubblica to watch the traffic make its way along the roundabout and were treated to an Italian's tirade against the Roma, or Gypsies. See that's the thing. You could fly halfway around the world and color a place beautifully romantic, but social issues will still be very much alive and well no matter where you go. So we sat on the steps that final night recounting pieces of our three-week tour through Western Europe while this man poured out his feelings for blocks and back until we got up and finished our trek back home.