Below is the continuation of my Europe trip blog. If you don’t start at the beginning, they don’t make much sense! Thanks for reading! 🙂


The next morning we left the Busby hotel and headed off to Fragonard Perfumery which was just up the lower Corniche road on the way to Monaco. Driving past the glittering morning Cote d’Azur we stopped high atop a hill where the perfumery was located. Once inside we began our tour where they told us how natural perfume is made. At Fragonard they believe in all natural perfumes, but many on the market today are synthetic, and after the tour I could understand why. I bet you had no idea it takes 3 tons of rose petals to get an ounce of pure rose ‘essence’ or the concentration needed to make 1 bottle of perfume.

Fragonard Perfumery

I thought the tour would be somewhat boring since I’m not a huge perfume freak… but I had no idea how complicated it is to make a bottle of smelly liquid, and I gained a lot of respect for the industry. They also talked about the process of actually designing fragrances… something that I never even contemplated in the past is that my perfume was designed by someone who likely spent over a year in a lab perfecting the smell.

After the tour we shopped the factory store a bit and then headed off to Monaco. Driving into the principality—the term for a country governed by a prince—was the first indication we were in one of the wealthiest, albeit very small, nations in the world… you have to pay an entrance fee at the border. The drive in is a crazy one; down winding but beautiful roads combing through an extremely densely populated metropolitan mountainside where to live in someone’s closet your rent would be more than a house where I live. On our descent down toward the shoreline of the Cote d’Azur, where the Grimaldi Palace, our destination, was located, we passed the remains of the track for the Formula One race that had taken place a few weeks before, and the starting line of the 2009 Tour de France, which was happening the following week.

Tour De France

Upon arrival at the Grimaldi palace tour bus parking, you go down a ramp that parks you right at the base of the water (there is no beach)… it’s hard to explain, so a picture will have to do.


You follow the escalators and elevators up to street level, on top of the cliff you parked in, and you still have a short walk to the Palace, past the church where the Royal family always has their weddings, and where Price Rainier and Princess Grace got married.

Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Monaco

While we were there I was unaware of this fact, but upon recent Google searching I discovered (cut me some slack for not knowing, I wasn’t alive then) that Princess Grace was the famous American actress Grace Kelly.

Then you arrive at the Palace, where the guards are probably the most interesting thing you’ll see… the view of the entire country from the palace walls is amazing.

Grimaldi Palace Guard


Grimaldi Palace, Monaco

On our way back to the bus we stopped in a bunch of Ferrari shops, and then thanks to our friends Rob and Chanel we found a beautiful little hidden path along the cliff, overlooking a marina and the sea…


After our stop in Monaco we headed back into France on our way toward Pisa & Tuscany. It was a very long drive through the foothills of the Alps. Jelle told us at the beginning of the drive “a great way to pass the time on this stretch of road is to count the tunnels we drive though, because there are over 150.” I honestly didn’t believe there could possibly be that many and thought he was being sarcastic, so I actually kept count until about the 60th tunnel when I started to fall asleep. (We weren’t even 1/2 way though the drive).


For lunch we stopped near the industrial town of Genoa, Italy and had the first true Italian meal of our lives… I had penne pasta with a meat sauce, a salad with vinegar and olive oil dressing and a cake like dessert that I forget the name of that was delicious. I was so tired of french food that I ate it extremely fast and enthusiastically which greatly surprised Jelle who had sat next to me. He said when we sat down “you’re not going to finish all that are you?” I ate every last drop. He said to the people we were sitting with “I’ve never seen these girls eat like this… this is amazing no?” Ally and I really love our Italian food.

After a million more tunnels we finally reached the town of Pisa, famous only for its leaning tower, which is odd since there are many other leaning towers in Italy… for whatever reason tourists just love the tower of Pisa. It’s a long walk from the bus stop so we took little trains which still drop you off quite a ways from the church and its famous leaning bell tower.

We had to walk through many merchants and shops set up on the side of the sidewalks and roads leading to the tower. We ended up buying a lovely shirt for our little brother Brian of Bart Simpson farting while holding up the leaning tower.

The Leaning Tower

Once you get past the first section of shops and turn past a huge wall, for the first time you finally see the tower in the distance. Something interesting I knew of but never took much notice of before was that there is a huge gorgeous church in front of the tower, as the tower is actually the church’s bell tower. I was way more impressed with the church than the tower itself to be honest. Ally and I were too tired from walking in the 100 degree mid-day Italian summer heat to make it all the way to the tower itself, but we were perfectly content getting close enough to take the famous holding up the tower picture…



It was actually much more difficult to get than I imagined since about 200 other people are trying to get the same shot all around you and keep getting in your way or asking you to take their picture for them.


After Pisa we drove to our hotel in Montecatini, which was our only stop of the tour that was 1 night instead of 2. We were blessed again with a very nice room with a huge balcony, but the bathroom in this hotel was probably the worst of the tour. Let’s just say I’m skinny and I barely fit in the “shower” without bumping my elbows on the walls 100 times just trying to wash my hair. It was dinner time when we arrived at the hotel so we all just freshened up and went right back downstairs for dinner in the hotel.

Balcony in Montecatini

Upon arrival at dinner we could already see there might be a problem because Jelle wasn’t eating with us (we concluded up to this point that when he stayed at and ate at our hotel it was because it was pretty good, and when it wasn’t going to be good he stayed at and ate at the more expensive tour’s hotel) and everyone else at the hotel’s restaurant was about 90 years old.

The fixed menu was a penne pasta dish, veal & vegetables, and a sort-of cake for dessert. We had so much fun making fun of how awful it tasted that I didn’t even mind how bad it was in the end. It made for hilarious conversation with our friends from Singapore and Australia. We upset the poor waitresses terribly, because in Italy if you leave food on your plate it means you didn’t like it… and we left a lot. Afterwards Ally and a bunch of our friends went out on the town, but for the first and only time I decided to just chill in the hotel room and go to bed.

The next morning we headed off to the city of Florence. I found it quite interesting that when you approach Florence, much like Monaco, you have to stop at an office and pay a tax to enter the city. This time it was based on the emissions of your car… so the only way you get into the city free is if your car is electric, otherwise you pay on a scale of how bad your engine is.

On arrival into Florence we passed a very large modern building that Jelle apparently hated because he launched into an attack on how ugly the design was because they used both squares and circles in the design… which wasn’t particularly funny or interesting until Chanel chimed in from the back “I don’t think it’s ugly, it’s artistic… you have no taste!! Nobody cares what you think!” which, as usual, had Ally and I cracking up.

The drive wasn’t a very long one and in no time we had exited the bus and Jelle introduced us to our local guide for the walking tour of Florence. It was quite hot and she kept us in the shade almost the entire walk which was splendid. Our first stop was the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiori) a fabulous gothic cathedral designed by Brunelleschi and completed in 1463. I can’t tell you how amazing it is seeing buildings like the Duomo that I studied meticulously in Art History class in person. You just get this feeling like… oh my gosh, it’s actually real… how can something so amazing actually be here, still in pristine condition hundreds of years later?




Our next stop on the walking tour was Piazza della Signoria, the square where the original statue of David used to stand, before they moved it to the Accademia to keep it safe from the weather. In its place they put the first “original” copy. According to our guide the first 7 copies of a work of art are allowed to be called the “original”, but after 7 they are only to be called copies. I’m explaining this because sadly Ally and I ran out of time (actually we just got too lazy and chose to eat instead) to see the “original original” David in the Accademia, and instead just settled for original #2 that is an exact and perfect copy still in the Piazza della Signoria.

Michelangelo's David

The square is full of wonderful sculptures and just behind David is a beautiful church that you can step into with an open air courtyard. While the square is quite busy and bustling with tourists, the church was almost empty and was a lovely relief at the moment. The most amazing thing about old European cities is that around every corner you can find a gorgeous church or sculpture or fountain. You don’t even have to look.

Quiet Courtyard

Next on our tour was the Basilica of Santa Croce, which surprised me more than any other stop on our tour because of how little I previously knew about it. When we stepped inside and our tour guide told us who was buried there my jaw dropped. The church is the final resting place of the master painter and sculptor Michelangelo, the scientist and astronomer Galileo, the father of modern science; and the philosopher, musician and poet Machiavelli… among many others.

Basilica of Santa Croce

Ally and I had planned to walk back to the Accademia at this point to see David but like I said we got lazy and sat at a restaurant and ate lunch with some of our Kiwi and Aussie friends instead… then we said arrivederci to Florence and headed on to Venice!