Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vacation Run: Florence, Italy {+ 5 Florence Favorites}.

A few weeks ago I posted 4 Running Tips for Vacation. Today I'm back with recap of a vacation run from last summer in Florence, Italy, plus five of my favorite things to do in Florence. My favorites include a few fantastic places to eat, a countryside bike tour from I Bike Italy, and a climb up Giotto's Bell Tower.


K and I spent three nights in Florence during a trip to Europe last summer, where we visited Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. We agreed afterward that Florence was our favorite city destination. This recap has been a long time coming! Florence is a beautiful and charming city with an incredible amount of history and culture to take in. We visited museums and wandered for miles, filling up our water bottles from free public fountains along the way. We also took breaks to rate gelato flavors every day {chocolate orange was the winner}. Gelaterias are on almost every corner.


We stayed at Boscolo Hotel Astoria, which is in the heart of the historic center of Florence. This hotel was the perfect location for exploring the city on foot, and the rooftop view can't be missed. {above}.

Florence Run

One thing I noticed about the city infrastructure during our first afternoon in Florence was the incredibly narrow sidewalk. It varies by street, but in general it's difficult for two to walk {or run!} side by side in the historic area.


This fact, combined with generally crazy traffic {cars, scooters, and bicycles}, and the high summer tourist season meant it was not a good idea to start a run near our centrally-located hotel. I read about the busy "Historic Centre" in advance of this trip, but it was even more full of people and action than expected.


On our second day in the city, we completed the Advanced Bike Tour in the hills of Tuscany through I Bike Italy. It was a wonderful day and I highly recommend it. However, the hills were much steeper than I was used to biking on, being from the Midwest and all.


We planned to fit in a run the morning after the bike tour. It was a good "shake out the legs" workout after climbing hills on bikes for hours. On this run, I didn't worry about how far we went or how fast. Instead, we decided on 75 minutes and stuck with it. We walked south of our hotel towards the Arno River, to find a wider sidewalk and a park we had biked through the day before.


It turns out a small map and compass are key to travel running. We ended up getting lost briefly on winding, angled streets. This short detour took us through the Universedad di Firenze area, which leads to a quiet, residential neighborhood. We ended up finding a wider river sidewalk path southeast of the Ponte Vecchio {"Old Bridge" - above}, a famous pedestrian bridge with dozens of small jewelry and goldsmith shops. This bridge was previously the only way to cross the Arno River in the city, until 1218.


The run took us through the Parco dell' Anconella, a park with lovely shaded trees and views of people rowing quietly on the river. After running through the park, we turned around and wandered back towards our hotel to start our final day of sightseeing. This running experience was the perfect way to see Florence in a new light, and proof that you don't have to completely give up your training regimen, even when you're on vacation.

5 Florence Favorites

1: Sandwich from L'Antico Noe

L'Antico Noe has amazing Italian sandwiches. It's a great stop for a quick sandwich to go, or you can dine on a few tables outdoors {Volta di San Piero 6R 50122, Florence}. We stopped here for lunch during a day of seeing the sights on foot, and found a beautiful pottery shop at the end of the block - Sbigoli Terrecotte {Via Sant’Egidio 4r, Florence}. This is a lovely, family-owned ceramics store. We brought home a few pieces that fit easily into our backpacks - two espresso cups and two small bowls that are now home to tiny succulents in our living room.
 

2: Bike tour through Tuscany with I Bike Italy

As I mentioned above, K and I finished a full day bike tour with I Bike Italy on this trip. The tour included a small group of tourists from several countries, and an Italian guide. We biked through the hilly Tuscan countryside, with a stop for lunch at a vineyard. Our afternoon bike ride back down to the city included a stop for wine tasting and olive oil tasting at family-run establishments. This tour was a lovely experience! I noticed the company added a running tour option this year as well - The Florence Run. If you're traveling to Florence and looking for an active day, I highly recommend using this company. I Bike Italy has outstanding reviews on Trip Advisor, and several different tour options.


3: Dinner at Quattro Lione {Trattoria 4 Leoni}

Quattro Lione was recommended to us by a friend, and it ended up being my favorite meal on our trip {Via de'Vellutini, 1r | Piazza della Passera, 50125 Florence}. This restaurant is perfect for a special night out, and absolutely delicious. I had gnudi, and we shared the cheesecake for dessert after reading its praises on Yelp. We made a dinner reservation few days in advance through our hotel concierge, but I've heard it is recommended to reserve a few weeks in advance. If you make it to Quattro Lione, don't forget to try a bottle of their Chianti.


4: Climbing Giotto's Campanile {Bell Tower}

The Duomo cathedral is one of the most famous attractions in Florence, and you can get your sweat on climbing it with a reward of fantastic city views. However, we visited Florence during high tourist season {early July} and the line to get tickets to climb the Duomo was long. I have an alternative for you - next to the Duomo is Giotto's Bell Tower, designed in 1334 {Piazza del Duomo | Historical Center, 10000 Florence}. During our visit, the line to climb the Bell Tower was minimal and it's approximately the same height as the Duomo {and only a few hundred feet away}. Climbing the Bell Tower allowed us the same experience, with gorgeous views of the Duomo and the city. It was 400 sweaty steps up to the top, but well worth it.


5: Wandering Mercato Centrale {to eat!}

Eating is clearly a theme on my favorites list. There is just so much fantastic food to try in Florence! Visiting Mercato Centrale is a must do {Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123 Florence}. The market is located in the historic center of the city. The first floor is an open-air market, with a variety of stands for produce and other eats. The second floor is a collection of restaurants with seating in the middle of the building. You can find anything your heart desires in this market. We watched the World Cup here and stopped by for lunch AND dinner during our time in Florence. It's a gorgeous space and the food is fantastic.


I hope you enjoyed my Florence experience! We can't wait to return someday.

{A similar version of this post was originally published on the NBC Chicago Stride blog in August 2014.}

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie.

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This healthy Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie is a perfect "milkshake" for breakfast, combining a few of my favorite ingredients - blueberries and peanut butter.


One of the first recipes I posted on this blog was a "PB&J Smoothie." I discovered green smoothies two summers ago and I've made countless combinations ever since. The Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie makes at least one weekly appearance for breakfast, and I've updated the recipe after experimenting with ingredients. This smoothie deserves a new post given how delicious blueberries are right now!


The key to a perfect Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie is to use frozen banana slices and fresh blueberries. Frozen banana slices add a delicious, creamy cold texture to the smoothie, and fresh blueberries have a much better taste than their frozen counterpart. I have been picking up cartons of blueberries at the farmers market on Saturday mornings, and supplementing with grocery store berries during the week.


For greens, I use turnip greens, spinach, or kale. Make sure to add plenty of unsweetened peanut butter {any nut butter will do}. I promise you can't taste the greens! I also started using steel drinking straws a few weeks ago with my smoothies, which are sustainable and easy to clean.


Peanut Butter & Jelly Green Smoothie
Serves 2.

3+ handfuls greens
2 bananas {frozen; sliced}
1 and 1/4 cup blueberries
2 Tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter
2 cups unsweetened almond milk

Optional: 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt



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