When I think of Tuscany I cannot help but smile. It is such an idyllic place to holiday and I fell in love with it last year when we took the kids for a week for our Summer adventures. Rich in breathtaking views, stunning coastlines, quaint little streets, Iconic architecture and Cities you want to wander all day and get lost in – I couldn’t imagine a more culturally rich and splendid place to escape to! It is relaxing and yet so invigorating to all of your senses. It offers delicious foods, great weather, and I could quite happily return again and again!

When we visited last year, we stayed in a small village outside of Pisa known as Buti. Surrounded by olive groves and nestled in the mountains, it was the perfect spot to overlook impressive landscapes and yet be in easy reach of all that Tuscany has to offer. We enjoyed watching the sun set on an evening, listening to the crickets and seeing pomegranates, limes and olives growing in their natural environment. We watched the locals farm, ate plenty of pasta and dipped breads in oil. A short 10 minute walk, wandering up the hill we discovered a local 14th century church filled with stories and oozing with local history and culture. We loved everything about our stay as it was super dreamy, but next time I would love to stay in another part of Tuscany – perhaps with a pool, maybe coastal but charming and quiet all the same. To Tuscany have some enchanting and beautiful places to stay throughout Tuscany, that to look at would be the icing on the cake for a beautiful Tuscan trip!

So, if you too would like to escape to such a magnificent part of the world this Summer (or in a another season), then let me share with you our favourite places that invite you to really experience the well-preserved culture of Tuscany. Visit for the day or stay in and around any of them and you will not be disappointed – your heart will be full and I expect your bellies also!

Florence

Florence has always been a hotspot for artists, being home to so many famous masterpieces and oozing with Renaissance art and architecture. Whilst not my favourite Tuscan City, I still loved the day we spent there as it was both beautiful and impressive. The Cathedral was more incredible than I expected, with all of its grandeur and intricate sculpting and paintings. And I loved seeing the City squares, bridges and “posh shops.

Whilst not an artist I could appreciate what it has to offer it;s visitors and the amazing history that has been preserved. If you don’t mind spending to see things then you will really have an opportunity to get up close to famous arts and sculptures. Either way you can’t not visit and you can’t not be blown away by the many beautiful buildings and statues that line it’s streets.

If you choose to visit in September, you may have the opportunity to see their annual lantern festival, which sounds brilliant!

Pisa

Pisa is a fantastic little City that I simply loved exploring – so much so we had a couple of days there. The obvious attractions of Pisa are the iconic leaning tower, Pisa Cathedral and Piazza dei Miracoli. We decided not to go in the tower on this occasion as with 3 kids in tow it seemed risky, but we did go in the Cathedral. The Cathedral is free and most certainly worth a visit and setting aside time to explore. There was a little wait (obviously – it’s free and Pisa!) but I loved the scenes of the bible carved into the huge metal doors as we entered and the whole beauty of the building. The ceiling was breathtaking and we all (from oldest to almost youngest) enjoyed wandering around it.

When I first stepped foot in to the square where these famous landmarks are located, I had one of those moments of complete awe and it being such a surreal experience – I couldn’t believe i was actually there! We spent a little while exploring and snapping all of the “must take” pictures (who doesn’t want a snapshot of them holding up the leaning tower?) and it was such a joyful hour or 2! But for me Pisa was far more – Yes I loved all of that side of it, how could I not? But for me Pisa really captured my heart.

I loved wandering its little streets, crossing huge stone bridges over the river and strolling through its parks. I liked that around every corner there were new and equally charming sights to see (including buildings and a statue of Garibaldi) and we had some of the best Gelato here too! I thoroughly enjoyed seeing horses pulling carriages, little fountains and beautiful colourful buildings. Not far away from the City centre are lovely beaches and parks, but the City itself has so wonderful I simply enjoyed strolling round and feeling it’s spirit!

Yes Pisa truly is a splendid city.

Lake Bilancino

Beautiful, clear, turquoise warm waters; Lake Bilancino is a lovely spot to go for the day for water sports, and shopping at the local outlet. It is a man made lake not far from Florence and is a great place to see a different, less historic (but equally enriching) view of Tuscany. We enjoyed paddling and soaking up the outdoors, and of course the drive to and from was such a pleasurable experience also.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre is quite possibly one my favourites in Tuscany and yet as we visited late at night, I have no decent images to show you (google it). It is a well preserved part of the coastline and is made up of quaint little fishing villages lined with colorful houses that cling to steep mountain sides. We wandered through Vernazza late one night and swam in the harbour whilst inhaling the rich smells of garlic and muscles – In that very moment my heart felt happy and full and we agreed we would return by train and spend at least a day and a night there to soak up more of its charm and beauty. I wanted to sit for hours on that harbour wall, admiring the little boats and dipping my toes in the med, it really is one of the most beautiful places I have been to! It is a spectacular part of Tuscany and all 5 little villages are worth exploring and will truly capture your heart!

Tuscany is an incredibly beautiful part of the world – The food, the coast line, the cities and views – there is more than enough to fill your schedule for a week or even 2! I can’t wait to return; this time to hopefully catch a glimpse of the miles of sunflower fields or beautiful Poppy fields, to visit Volterra and see where Twilight was filmed and immerse myself in the beauty of Vernazza once more!

Tuscany is a great place for couples, kids, best friends and lonesome travellers alike. Wander it’s streets, admire it’s views, fill up on its delights, and I dare you not to fall in love!

This post is written as an entry to a blogger competition hosted by To Tuscany. I have not been compensated for it and it is not sponsored. All images and thoughts are my own, and I am keeping my fingers and toes firmly crossed that I might have the opportunity to return to Tuscany with them and Mr Smith! 

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The second leg of our road trip took us from Arizona to Utah. The last time I wrote of our holiday in the USA I was up to the part where we had had an epic day at the Grand Canyon prior to setting off up to St George for the night – you can read about that all here.

So yes – We left The Grand Canyon and made our way to St George, where we had a hotel booked for a nights stay, before driving up to the Salt Lake area to spend a week with Family and Friends. This particular night of driving, which took us through the Canyon, was long and felt the hardest part of our Journey. We were pretty tired, there were not a lot of places to stop and get food, and the Reservation/Dessert at night-time is more than a little scary.

We finally made it to our Hotel around midnight and flopped into bed. I was pretty sick that night with something I had eaten for lunch (Wendy’s Chilli) and it was all a bit of a rough/long night! Thankfully by early afternoon the next day, and lots of water, I felt mostly myself again!

The hotel was a bargain at £60 for the night (inc a buffet breakfast) and was such a lovely room we had. We all rested well after the adventures of the previous day, and after said yummy breakfast, we had a lovely little wander around the LDS Temple and Visitors centre in St George.

After our brief visit, we hit the road again and made the almost 5 hour journey from St George to Provo (pit stop) and then onto Herriman where we had our base for the week with Nathan’s cousin. We saw a friend on the way, loved the snow capped mountains and bough a huge pizza for lunch from a tiny place owned by an Amish family!

Once in Utah it felt like home from home. It was so lovely to see everyone, catch up and chat, and whilst we were obviously on holiday, staying with family and seeing friends at parks and out for dinner, all just felt so very natural and normal. Both Nathan and I have been to Utah before, and so we were both comfortable in our surroundings and knew of all of the places we wanted to take the kids to. Looking back, our week in Utah was a good balance of days out/Touristy things, and chilling and reunions with our lovely family and friends!

Temple Square

Our first day there we felt pretty well rested and were very keen to take the kids up to Temple Square in Salt Lake City (and they were pretty keen to go). It is a special place in our religion, and an impressive place generally for people to walk around and see. We knew that there would be plenty to see and do to fill the day! We met some cousins/2nd cousins, and whilst it was a little nuts navigating the kids in a busy place, it turned out to be such a lovely time together.

We took them first to The Lion House – an historic house where one of our early Prophets lived, and then onto the Churches office building where you can take a tour to the top and look over the city from the roof! Both were super exciting and interesting places, and the views from the Church Administration building were stunning!

From here we walked around the outside of the Salt Lake temple, and then across the road to the conference centre (and then back again to the Visitors centre). It obviously took way longer than we anticipated with all of kids in tow, but they loved it and we had a really lovely and memorable family day out!

If you are ever in Salt Lake it’s a good tour to take and place to visit – you don’t have to be Mormon to look around it, and all of it is super interesting about our Church History and beliefs.

Wheeler Historic Farm

Wheeler Historic Farm was such a lovely day out that we did, again with cousins and extended family. It was a hot day, and started off with a big family picnic at the park next to it – It ended with us getting shakes and root beer floats!

Wheeler farm is a FREE farm, which was such a novelty, and it felt very much like an American TV set for an old farm movie! I loved it all, and as we wandered around looking at old machinery and the few animals that they have there, it was so pretty and fun for all. I was excited to see you could have a milking cows experience for just a few dollars, but unfortunately for me and my bucket list, it was later than we planned on staying until! The kids however enjoyed a wagon ride behind the tractor for just $2 each… another great day out filled with fun, adventures, family and fresh air.

Conference and Easter Weekend

After a few days out and gallivanting around places of interest (half of which we never actually went to) it was Easter weekend, and for us as members of the LDS church – our semi annual conference weekend too. This felt such a novelty to be in Utah for this, as we were able to get tickets to go to a live session of it, as opposed to our usual watching of it at home online!

We did watch most of it with his Cousin on their TV, but then on the Sunday morning Nathan and I had the opportunity to go back up to Salt Lake City and go to the morning session of conference. It was a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, and we began by seeing “Music and The Spoken word” by the Mormon Tabernacle choir. This was breathtakingly beautiful and made me feel so happy to be there with my love!

The session itself was as inspiring and uplifting as we imagined it would be, and it was a real highlight for us both on this part of our holiday.

It felt a little strange to be away from home during Easter – mainly because I missed scoffing down a big chocolate egg whilst in my PJs! But Naths cousin did a lovely egg hunt in the garden for the kids, where they had little sweeties in plastic eggs. And then on Easter Sunday evening, when we got back from Conference, we gathered with his cousins for a lovely Easter dinner and plenty of laughs!

Reunions

I have a lot of friends in Utah that I lived with when I was over there and who mean a lot to me. We keep in touch on social media, and now other apps too, and it is such a blessing to remain a part of each others lives even though we live so many miles apart.

I was so excited to see them all (and relieved that it felt “just like yesterday”) when we met up on various occasions. We had so much to talk about, so many laughs to have, and we shared many delicious meals from “Chick-Fil-A” (which we got “on the house” because we were British!!) to fake cafe rio at a gathering in our honour. We had park days with the kids, chilling at houses and I felt so happy being with such treasured friends, individuals and family.

Reunions both with my friends, and with Nath’s family are what made our visit to Utah so wonderful and special. We wish we could see those faces and hang out with them far more than we are able, but we love living in England and their homes and hearts are in the states. But we will always treasure the time we get to hang out when they visit us or we can visit them – We hope that this is more frequent than it has been, as we treasure these experiences and memories!

Thanks Utah – for cheapo Root beers, More Costco Pizza, Chick-fil-a, Thai food, Five Guys, fake Cafe Rio, delish home cooked meals, and lots of love and laughs! It was a fabulous week and Easter Weekend, and we loved seeing everyone!

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2 weeks worth of holiday pictures, and over 2,000 miles travelled across 4 different states, isn’t an easy task to now  condense into one blog post (how could I do it justice?). And so as I have spent this last week reflecting on what a great holiday we all enjoyed, and as I have been sharing the odd pictures with friends while retelling tales of our adventures, I saw how massive of a task it would be to blog about such an epic trip in a few 100 words and decided that to really give you a feel for our trip, I would do this particular holiday over 3 posts… beginning with our first week in Arizona!

London to LA 

Before our trip, so many people said to us they couldn’t think of anything worse than an 11 hour flight with kids… Especially when one of them wasn’t even 2 yet. But we obviously like a challenge, and whether brave or just delusional we took on that challenge! After a 7am start on Wednesday the 22nd of March we drove 5 hours from Yorkshire to London Heathrow, for our 11.25 hour flight to LA.

Far from being the closest airport to us, it did however enable us to fly for a lot cheaper to America than the northern ones – thus making this whole adventure a reality! We found that on the whole there are some really good deals with Air New Zealand from Heathrow to LA (go check it out right now) and as an airline we could not fault them. They were great with the kids, the food was lovely, and the seats felt modern, clean and comfortable.

The kids were fab on the way there… they were mega excited and we were mega excited too, and so as a result of us all being super excited, the first half of the flight was simply great. They watched movies, they snuggled in their seats with their blankets, and then watched more movies. They ate the pre bought treats I packed (this is an essential) and enjoyed the yummy on board meals (Butter Chicken curry and rice with salted caramel Ice cream, and a calzone pizza and Jam & Cream scone before landing!). And then… you guessed it, they watched more movies!

As the hours passed by and we went way beyond what would have been bedtime at home, Ethan and Megan sat dozey eyed looking at their screens before falling asleep for a couple of hours. Alice on the other hand became increasingly fidgety and tired, and therfore very emotional. I walked with her up and down the plane, and stood in the galley at the back rocking her whilst she screamed her head off. At one point in life that would have made me paranoid about what others thought, but at this particular point, and in this moment of desperation, I didn’t care as long as she would finally doze off!

And she did…She gave in eventually, and managed a couple of hours before landing, enabling both Nathan and I to watch a couple of things too and enjoy the remainder of the flight. They all awoke as we landed, and we smiled that we had done it – an 11.25 hours with three kids – High 5!

Then was the hardest part of it all – Border control in LA! Let’s just say it felt like complete unorganized chaos, and with sleepy parents, 3 exhausted kids, no AC and a mega long line moving at 0.5 miles per hour it was HARD! After 90 minutes of that I had zero patience left and so approached a worker, who after some chat bumped us up to almost the front so we could get out and get to the car rental place, and of course eventually get the kids (and us) to bed!

A while later we had all of our luggage, picked up our “pimped” Nissan Rogue, and had a bed for the night in a shady feeling Motel. We slept, we showered and we settled in to life in the USA! We were here and we were more excited than the day before.

The Drive!

For weeks leading up to our trip, all we could talk about was dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean! We spoke of walking down the Hollywood boulevard and snapping shots in front of the iconic sign… and we dreamed of laying on the beach for an hour or 2, to recover from an 11 hour flight, and soak up the fact we were finally in America!

But none of this happened, at least not at this stage of our trip! Rather we were greeted with a tropical storm. Warm yes, but also very grey and lots and lots of rain! We decided that very first morning (after ordering our first stack of pancakes) that we would just go ahead and start an earlier drive over to Arizona to escape the grey and wet weather that was too much like home!

We took the I10  for 6 hours, with a stop off in Blythe for some tacos, and made it finally to Mesa early evening! It was the first of many long drives and like them all  (as you will see) was filled with so much natural beauty. This was sprung on us in abundance when crossing the Arizona border meant us seeing real life massive Cacti for the first time and it was such a novelty for us all (and especially the kids)!

Mesa Arizona 

Mesa Arizona was my home for well over a year, and I have missed it so much! Of course it has changed a lot since I was there 11 years ago, but the smell of the warm dry air and street names felt oh so familiar and I couldn’t get enough of it – it was like coming home.

We stayed in Mesa for 4 nights at one of my friends houses, which was so great. There we were able to catch up, chat late into the night, and reminisce. It was good for the kids too as they found new friends, and had other kids to play with which they thoroughly enjoyed. And then of course staying with friends or family means that is also great for the bank balance too! (Thanks Rachel). It was lovely living there as a local again for a few days, as well as going on a few adventures, and generally just seeing into friends lives a little more and living the American dream!

Whilst a lot of our trip here was about touring around the people and places that were important to me, we were also conscious that it was still a family holiday and so we wanted to do some activities that were fun and would build lasting memories too. The first day I started at the top of my my list and we had lunch at my most favorite of places – Cafe Rio (Priorities) and as hoped Nathan loved it too! Then with bellies full of deliciousness, we headed downtown to “Main Street” where they have an LDS Temple and Visitors centre. During Easter they also have an Easter pageant here, and so the remainder of our day (and evening) was spent here with friends… a place where most of my days were spent too 11 years ago!

We walked around and looked, played at the splash pad in Pioneer Park opposite, and then met more friends for a picnic tea and an evening watching the Pageant. It was such a lovely day in such a special place, that felt utterly surreal, but we lapped it up and had an absolutely fab time.

The following day we took our adventures to the next level when one of my friends (and his kids) took our family to Superstition Mountains for a hike. This was something I was greatly looking forward to as I have, for so long, wanted to explore the dessert a little more. The hike took us just a couple of miles up a track to the bottom of the mountains, where we found some Native American hieroglyphs – they were so cool! The kids absolutely loved everything about it (until Megs fell into a cactus), and had fun running round the desert and clambering up rocks with their new American pals!

Once at our destination we had our picnic and explored a little cave whilst admiring the incredible views and scenery. It was a warm day, but thankfully not too hot, and whilst I was somewhat anxious about potential scorpions and snakes, it didn’t seem to matter as it was still such a lovely time and Nathan and I loved just being in the desert, seeing the massive cacti and feeling the heat.

That evening the kids cooled off in the pool when we met up with an old friend and his family. It was such a great day, and then before we knew it we only had one last, and so spent the rest of the weekend mostly just driving round old places I lived and seeing old friends I love!

The Grand Canyon

We left Mesa on Monday morning after a delicious breakfast at the cutest of places in Gilbert! “The Gilbert House Restaurant”, whilst a little off track, was the loveliest of places to meet one of my friends for last minute chats and a hearty American breakfast. I loved everything about it; the food was incredible and I seriously felt like I was on “Anne of Green Gables” as soon as we walked up to it. It was a great start to our last day in Mesa!

Set up for the day food wise, we drove up the highway, passing Scottsdale etc until we reached Flagstaff. Here we had a toilet break and a late lunch before a shorter 1.15hr drive to the Grand Canyon National park.The scenery was beautiful, and as it blended from desert landscapes to picturesque woodlands, the temperature dropped and we soon found ourselves in a blizzard! It was the weirdest thing, and we couldn’t believe our eyes…especially to be at the Grand Canyon National park and seeing snow. As I stood there in my sandals, all I could do was laugh my head off!

The Grand Canyon and national park were quite possibly one of the major highlights for us all on this trip! It was so incredibly beautiful and each of us stood in total awe and amazement as we stood high on the edge looking over it. At this point, the sun came out and it was just spectacular! We weren’t there long, but it was long enough to appreciate it’s vastness, read of it’s people and see some local wildlife crossing the road.

It costs $30 for a car (weekly pass) which felt pricey for a couple of hours, but is completely worth it for a week. I would definitely go back here and explore it for longer, and would love to visit the Navajo stalls that line the road as you drive away from it! If you have a chance to go, you totally should (but beware of mountain lions!). It’s such an adventure and beautiful place, and we couldn’t believe our eyes, or believe we were there!

The canyon itself, and the drive down from it/ through it, and through the reservation is so fascinating and exciting. It is for sure the greatest of adventures! Of course it was a little more scary when darkness crept in, but with sleeping kids, it was an easy drive for the remaining 5 hours it took us to get to St George, Utah.

What a brilliant end to our time in Arizona!

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Welcome back to another week of #MyHeartyLife – an opportunity to celebrate the small moments of gratitude, success and beauty from the previous week. Life is so busy (and at times hard), that I find it therapeutic and empowering to look back on the previous week and notice the little ways I succeeded in my life, and the moments that made me appreciative and grateful. I love recording and noticing the beauty in life, because together these things make me see that life is good and blessed, despite the really hard days. They help me smile and feel good.

I hope you will join me, either by linking a blog below, or sharing something on Instagram with the # “MyHeartyLife”. I love to see all of the little moments that are bringing people Joy!

This week…

This week has been so surreal. We were in Utah when it began, and enjoyed a lovely reunion with great friends there, and now 7 days later we are home in Yorkshire attempting to fight Jet lag! In between we have been to Vegas and Hollywood, flown 10 hours from LA to London, eaten lots of rubbish, watched some great films on the plane, and driven home. It has been quite the adventure, and I have loved it all.

Grateful for …

I am grateful this week for my faith and religion. This last weekend was our churches semi-annual General Conference, and I loved being able to sit and watch it live on TV.! Nathan and I also had tickets for the Sunday morning session, and so had a couple of kid free hours, to go to Salt Lake City and watch Conference in the Conference centre. This is rather a rarity as we usually just get the broadcast of it in the UK, but we watched some beautiful pieces sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir followed by the conference session. It was incredible and felt so enriched being there in the midst of it on a lovely sunny Easter morning.

I am also once again so grateful for old friends and being able to pick up right where we left off. For all of the laughs we have enjoyed with them, and the lovely fake cafe Rio meal that was put on in our honour last friday evening. We are grateful for our Family for having us stay in America, and a lovely Easter dinner too, as well as unlimited root beer’s, copious amounts of tasty rubbish food, safety whilst travelling, and generally just the opportunity to travel as a little crew and make memories!

Succeed at …

We successfully made it to Vegas and then to LA driving – It was quite the journey, but a most beautiful one too! We also successfully made it home again from the states on a 10 hour flight with the 3 kids, and without any accidents or drama. The kids did well on the plane (mostly), and whilst that final drive from London to Yorkshire felt the hardest with only a snooze on the plane, we did it!!!

Found beauty in …

Children hunting eggs on a sunny Spring day, bright blue skies and the sun on the Salt Lake Temple. Friends faces and hearing of their lives, laughter with loved ones and time with family, followed by driving through Canyons – all of these things were beautiful to me this week and made my heart full!

I was rather sad to have to say goodbye to it all and I wished we could have an extra week. But, like one of my friends said as we left “No time will ever be enough”!

I love seeing old faces who we share great memories with, and I love seeing such majestic natural beauties! This week has been greatly blessed and I am thankful we have had an opportunity to live the dream. Now back to reality and some more local adventures in East Yorkshire!

#MyHeartyLife Rules

You can link up one post a week that fits into either or all of the “Prompts”, and I ask that you at least comment on mine and one or 2 others too. Kindness costs nothing and a comment on your blog feels amaze!

Please use the #MyHeartyLife on Social media whenever you want to share the goodness and cheerful moments in your life that day! It might also help when summing up the week into a blog post to link up!

 

The Hearty Life


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