November 2019 - The Philanthropy Issue

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Under the Tuscan Sun... With the In-Laws

This summer my husband and I returned to Italy, one of our favorite travel destinations. We brought his parents along with us to experience their first time in Italy together. I learned a lot in the process of planning this trip, even as a former travel agent

First of all, I found that it is much cheaper to fly to Europe from the US versus Mexico, although it certainly would have been less hassle to fly from Mexico City. We planned this trip on a budget, and we were able to find a fabulous price from San Diego to London through Virgin Atlantic. We ultimately decided it was worth flying the budget airline Volaris from Leon (BJX) to Tijuana (TIJ).

By using the Cross Border Xpress that connects the Tijuana Airport to San Diego via a bridge, we were able to make it through customs and all the way to the San Diego Airport via Uber in less than an hour from stepping off the plane. (Which was great because we managed to miss our initial flight and still made it in time)!

We then met the in-laws in London before jetting off to Italy. Here is the itinerary from our two-week trip and some tips I learned along the way:


How We Got There:

We landed at Heathrow Airport and took the National Express Bus straight to the Victoria Bus Station. This took just about an hour and left from the main bus station across the street from the airport.

The in-laws landed at Gatwick Airport and took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station which was only a ten-minute walk to our hotel.

Note: Gatwick Express offers discounted tickets for being a group of 4 traveling together as well as when booking roundtrip tickets.

Where We Stayed:

Wellington Hotel For less than $100 US for the night, this charming hotel has spacious rooms, and our early bird rate included a continental breakfast. Located just a ten-minute walk from Victoria Station, this was an ideal hotel for our very short trip.

What We Did:

With less than 24-hours to see the sites, we used a walking guide from Culture Trip to get us all over London. My mother-in-law just had hip surgery, so this walking guide was great because each point was less than thirty minutes from the next. She was a trooper, but we had the option to sit somewhere in-between each location just in case.

We stopped at an English pub midday to order my father-in-law a pint of Guinness and fish & chips to celebrate Father’s Day. I was surprised and delighted to see that many pubs offer gluten free fish and chips!


How We Got There:

We flew Vueling Air from London Gatwick to Rome, and we prepaid transportation from the airport to our accommodations through Rideways, which was $60 US inclusive of tip.

Note: Watch out for some of these budget airlines in Europe when it comes to luggage! The price might be great, but it can double once you start adding checked bags. Also, be aware that some airlines won’t allow as much baggage weight for the puddle jumpers as you get with your international flight, so you will want to double check.

I was booking flights with five different airlines, and I needed to make sure that we complied with the weight limits and number of checked/carry-on items for each flight.

Where We Stayed:

Little Green This two bedroom/two bathroom house has a garden where we enjoyed relaxing with a bottle of wine. Located in the Trastevere neighborhood, we enjoyed being outside of the tourist area but still close enough to walk or take the tram to the main tourist sites. We also loved being so close to a daily outdoor market where we picked up food to make breakfast in our fully equipped kitchen.

What We Did:

Matt and I have been to Italy several times, so we have already seen the museums and main attractions. However, this was the in-laws’ first trip, so we spent an afternoon walking them around to the main sites like the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.

We sent them alone to the Sistine Chapel while we did our favorite thing to do-- wander aimlessly and find the cutest places to sit and drink wine, or my new favorite drink, Campari Spritz. We especially loved Mama Eat in Trastevere, where I was able to get delicious gluten free pizza while everyone had their fabulous pizza with normal crust.

Note: Download the My Taxi app. This is very similar to using the Uber app, but it is connected with taxis in the area, which are much cheaper and more abundant than Uber. For anyone traveling with elderly or mobile-impaired family, the Vatican Museum offers free wheelchairs. You need to ask for one at the entrance. Also, be sure to comply with their dress code or you will not be permitted to enter.


How We Got There:

We caught the ITALO train from Rome Termini Station to Florence Santa Maria Novella Station (about $25 US per person), then walked ten minutes to our accommodations. If I had it to do over again, I would take a taxi. The narrow cobblestone roads make Florence so charming, but they were challenging to navigate with all of our luggage.

Where We Stayed:

Neruda Apartment This spacious apartment has two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and a full kitchen. It is located on the second floor without an elevator, but that wasn’t an issue for us. We loved the little terrace and the location on a quiet street but close to all of the action.

Note: We booked this place through I have found that a lot of the places listed on are also available on, but without any booking fees. You can book the same exact place for cheaper.

The other benefit is that if you book through often enough, you can take advantage of their loyalty program. This program offers an additional 10%-15% off of many listings, in addition to room upgrades and a free breakfast at some properties.

What We Did:

Fabbrica Ristorante was a fabulous experience. This silver factory transforms into a restaurant in the evening where the silver workers themselves serve dinner in their break room that gets adorned with silver candelabras, fancy dinnerware, and wine goblets. The night starts with a glass of wine while you tour the factory and see some of the beautiful items they make. Then you head upstairs for a multi-course dinner. We were uncomfortably full by the end, but the food was just so good!

My favorite Italian tradition is the aperitivo, which is a drink/light meal that takes place as a kind of warm up to dinner. When you sit at a bar or restaurant, appetizers and other light fare are often provided as long as you are drinking. Types of foods vary from a bowl of potato chips or bruschetta to full buffets that come with the price of your drink at some places.

Royal India Ristorante This probably sounds a little weird but hear me out. At this point we had already eaten a whole lot of incredible Italian food, but when we saw this Indian restaurant it felt like the right time to try something different. I am so glad we did! It was probably the best Indian food I have ever had, and we loved the ambiance of the restaurant. So, if you are there and ready to take a little break from all the pasta and pizza, I highly recommend this place.

Tuscan Countryside

How We Got There:

We rented a car through Auto Europe. They price match and include all insurance and fees in their booking. The Hertz we were booked with was in their downtown office, which made for a very easy drive out of the confusing craziness that is driving in Florence. Even better, they are directly across from a tram stop that stops at the train station for very easy pick up and drop off.

Where We Stayed:

Fattoria L'ottavo is a collection of farmhouses in Greve in Chianti that have been converted into units that overlook vineyards. We had a spacious two bedroom/two bath unit with a full kitchen, living room, and terrace. There is no air conditioning, and it did get quite hot. It is a charming place, but for stays in the heat of summer, I suggest finding a place with either air conditioning or at least screens on the windows to protect against the pesky mosquitoes that are prevalent in this area.

What We Did:

Podere le Fornaci is a small goat dairy farm near Greve in Chianti that produces organic goat cheese. The young goats are raised on their mother's milk, and they all graze on the twenty acres of fenced land. We took their farm tour with a tasting and light lunch. This was absolutely a highlight for us! I was able to hold and snuggle and baby goat, and our “light lunch” included tasting all of their amazing cheese, local wine, salad, pasta, and dessert. It was more food than we were expecting, and the quality and taste were both incredible!

Cooking on a Tuscan Farm Another highlight from the trip was this cooking class way up in the hills above Lucca (our favorite town). The couple who runs this farmhouse are so lovely and sweet. They offer rooms for rent in the farmhouse along with their cooking classes. This is a great way to enjoy an afternoon, meeting other travelers while learning to make traditional Italian dishes. Then you get to sit back and enjoy the breathtaking scenery while sipping local wine and munching on the food you prepared.

You can’t visit Tuscany without drinking lots of wine! We went to the Máté Winery in Montalcino to do a tasting of their Brunello wine, which is only produced in this specific region (a tasting of 4 wines is €20). The owner is author Ferenc Máté, and he has written several books about living in the Italian countryside.


How We Got There:

We took the ITALO train from Florence SMN Station to Venice S. Lucia Station and walked six minutes to our accommodations.

Where We Stayed:

Residenza Campiello is a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment on the second floor with elevator, air conditioning, large jacuzzi tub, and small terrace. There are two large sitting areas and a dining table. This was the perfect location to end our trip. It is located very close to the train station with a vaporetto stop right in front, and it is just a five-minute walk to the Guglie Station, where you can catch the Alilaguna Orange line to and from the Marco Polo Airport.

What We Did:

This was my favorite place to just wander through all of the tiny streets and canals with no agenda. We grabbed a roundtrip ticket on the vaporetto towards the famous St. Mark’s Square, then picked a direction and walked until we found the cutest little restaurant overlooking the grand canal for dinner. Then we walked some more.

Note: It is customary for restaurants to charge a cover charge between 1-3 Euros. Watch out for restaurants that also charge an additional service fee. This should be posted on the menu, but you can also ask before sitting down. This can significantly jack up the price of your meal.

Back to London

How We Got There:

We took the Alilaguna to the Marco Polo Airport, where we flew Easy Jet back to the Gatwick Airport.

Where We Stayed:

Gatwick Castle B&B This bed and breakfast is a six-minute drive from the Gatwick airport and provides a complimentary airport shuttle and continental breakfast.

What We Did:

Matt and I had an early flight out, so we pre-booked a car through Exclusive Airports to get from Gatwick to Heathrow to avoid the hassle of navigating multiple trains.

It was an incredible trip, but I am always happy to make my way home to San Miguel!

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