I've been a little quiet on here lately, but not for a bad reason! I took a little international vacation in August which meant I had a lot to get done before I left and a lot to catch up on once I got back. But I'm back, somewhat caught up, and ready to share some photos from my amazing trip.
I started this blog back in September and then got so busy that I kept telling myself, "I'll do it before halloween" and finally it turned into "I'll do it for sure by the end of the year". So here it is, December 30th and I am finishing up my blog from a trip I took months ago, but better late than never, right?!
Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE pasta. I could eat spaghetti for every meal and never get tired of it. So of course when my friends asked if I wanted to go to Italy I had to say yes! (actually I went back and forth on whether I should, but you gotta travel while you can, right?) I LOVE to travel. I save every nickel and dime that I can all year long so I can take a trip to somewhere I've never been before! I have to say I'm loving it and there were no regrets to taking my trip to Italy. Except, if I were to do it again I would NOT go in August. Talk about hot and sweaty! Ugh. We were in Italy for 10 days so I thought I would share some tips and photos from my trip to help anyone else out who may want to take the trip. If I'm a self employed photographer and can afford it, anyone can, trust me!!
Feel free to read it all or just look at the photos! Just promise not to judge us for our looks. Send a bunch of Coloradoans who are used to maybe 5% humidity to somewhere with 90% humidity and 90 degrees without air conditioning and you're bound to get a hot, sweaty, complaining mess!
Day 1 errrr day 1.75
We had a group of 11 of us that went on the trip and we got to know each other in ways we probably didn't think we would by the end of the trip. Most of us are related in some way; Mom, uncle, future sister-in-law, 3rd cousin once removed, or just Diane. Some of us even got married on the trip... but I'll get to that later. As with most international travel you feel like you spend half your trip just sitting in airports and on planes trying to get to your destination and your first day of travel (which is usually more than 24 hours) seems to last FOREVER, so for that reason, I will consider day 1 the day (or evening) we arrived in Rome.
Sitting in the back of the van on our way to our hotel in rome I started to get a little nervous that our hotel was in the hood. There was graffiti all over the buildings, bars on all the windows of the shops, and it was pretty desolate. We asked our driver if it was a safe area or not because of all the graffiti and he said "Oh, no, just stupid guys". So that was a relief!
We stayed at the River Palace Hotel, which was within easy walking distance from the Metro as well as several of the smaller landmarks in Rome. One thing to note when traveling in Europe is that the rooms are usually TINY and usually only have maybe a double bed in them. So for the triple room we had it was a queen bed and a cot in a very small room. We were climbing over each other the whole time! Also, a lot of hotels have a bar in them with happy hour from 5-10! Talk about a steal!
That night we just went out to eat at a restaurant down the street from our hotel and it was amazing! We soon learned that finding a restaurant in an alley wasn't a bad thing like it may be in the States! It was called Osteria dell'oca and their food was DELICIOUS. By the end I think we had all tried one of everything. I had the Bucatini all'Amatriciana and I think it was one of my favorite dishes of the whole trip. Simple, yet SO flavorful!
After that everyone headed for the hotel and Nichole and I decided to go on an evening adventure and see what we could find! Surprisingly most of the streets were lined with clothing stores, restaurants, or gelato shops. We would walk a ways and decide to take a turn down an alley to see what we could find. The streets were pretty empty, besides a few people walking home from dinner, workers, or a RAT! Saw my first one ever! We turned around one corner and all of a sudden saw hundreds of people surrounding a fountain. That must be where everyone went to hang out or something because that was the only place we really saw a lot of people that night. We kept walking and saw several churches, walked into a GORGEOUS cathedral, and passed by a pub that we thought looked cool, but decided we didn't want to have a rough morning when we had a long day ahead. We walked to the end of the street and saw the Venice Plaza at the end of the street and decided we didn't want to attempt to walk across the round-about so we turned around and made our way back to our hotel to get some sleep before our next busy day.
Day 2 | Roma
We decided to book a 48 hour hop on hop off bus for Rome that would stop at 8 of the major landmarks in the town including the Vatican, Colosseum, Spanish steps, and more. So our first adventure was to find said bus, figure out which "information" guy was giving us the correct information, and get to our destination. We did learn that many of the sites (as well as the bus) included your receipt for the purchase, which you then had to turn in for a voucher, which you had to turn in for your ticket, so it became a little frustrating to have to run around just trying to get a ticket that you already purchased.
We had skip the line passes for the Vatican and the Colosseum and when we got to the Vatican we were SOOO glad we did because the line was SOOO long. We decided to purchase the audio tour (8 euro) so we knew what we were looking at. With that they give you a map which is the most confusing map ever but there were so many people in the Vatican you really had no choice but to just go where the herd took you. I lost my group after the first room and spent the next two and a half hours wandering through the Vatican wondering if I should slow down because they were behind me or speed up because they left me. I would not suggest losing your group. Learn from my mistakes.
We saw lots of statues, lots of paintings and smelled lots of smells I would prefer to never experience again. Remember how I said it was hot and humid? Lots of the buildings are so old and also major monuments so they don't have air conditioning in them. Add to that the 90 degree weather, 100s of hot bodies, lots of stairs, and you're wishing you had a pocket full of posies.
As an art major I spent most of my college career memorizing pieces of artwork that were in this building, so it was kind of amazing to see them all in real life. The most stunning of them all was the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican is a maze of the sorts and eventually you file into a room full of people and lots of security guys in suits guiding people through the room. I spent a lot of time in the Sistine Chapel listening to the audioguide and just taking it all in. Understandably, no photos are allowed in the chapel, but I was a little bummed because it was SO amazing and I wanted to share that with others. I stood in the middle of the room looking at the walls and ceilings and seeing how they all mesh together. In the middle of my audio guide I saw my group walk into the room as guards are telling them to keep along the wall and follow it out of the room. There were so many people in the room they didn't even let them stop to look at it as they walked through. That was a pretty big bummer. But, on the plus side, I FINALLY found my people!
After the Vatican we walked next door to St Peter's basilica which was absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I had several audio guides on my phone and listened to them at various locations. The most amazing thing about some of these buildings is that when you think that these were built in the 1600s with no modern machinery they had to do all the work by man or animal power so it took years to build. St peters took over 100 years to build.
I forgot to mention the salesmen on the streets! If you go to Rome, be prepared for people to try to sell you anything and everything. Bottled water, selfie sticks, hats, umbrellas, ponchos, you name it. And they don't take no for an answer. They will also just put it in your hands then demand money. It made the Rome experience VERY frustrating and stressful. On our way back to the bus it was sprinkling and a swarm of these guys surrounded Nichole putting ponchos and umbrellas in her hand. "5 Euro!" they'd shout. I was carrying an umbrella (which I was ready to use as self defense if needed) and Kristi had a rain coat, but apparently you need more than one umbrella because they wouldn't accept our response and followed us trying to bargain. Eventually the guy offered us one euro for the poncho and we said no and scurried away. Remember our response to that question for later in this story...
It soon became a tradition for us to come back to the hotel from our daily adventures, take a shower, then put on a new outfit for the day and go out to dinner. Because it was so hot we felt gross and ended up going through outfits like crazy. Probably the first time I went on vacation, way overpacked, and ended up using everything I brought.
That night we went out to eat at a German-Italian Restaurant. Never thought I would find one of those! After that we told everyone about our adventure and what we had seen the night before and decided to take everyone for a walk to this "cool" landmark. I looked it up and found that we had seen the Trevi Foundation (one of the famous fountains of the city) and told everyone it was about half a mile up the way if they wanted to walk there. So, we took an adventure and soon everyone started asking "Are we there yet? I'm sure we've walked a mile already". When you've been walking all day on cement it sure felt like it, but we kept walking and they kept complaining, then we turned the corner and they all said "Wooooowwww". And it was all worth the walk!
Day 3 | Roma
Although we had purchased the hop on hop off bus, it consisted of a lot of time sitting on the bus waiting for it to go round and round. Since we had purchased a metro pass we decided to opt for that since it was much faster than the bus. We went and saw the Spanish Steps and made our way to the colosseum then planned to visit the pantheon after that. The colosseum has time slots that you can visit so we decided to go get lunch nearby and try some more gelato before we headed to the colosseum.
As we stood in line for the colosseum it started to thunder pretty constant, then suddenly started POURING. I had my umbrella but it didn't help much at all since the rain was coming down sideways and I had a pricey camera around my neck that was getting wet. Now, remember the guys selling ponchos? Now we are throwing our money at them trying to get 5 euro ponchos we were too cheap to pay 1 euro for the day before. It continued to rain the whole time in line as well as our whole visit to the colloseum. I was SOOO excited to visit the colosseum but the rain mixed with the cluster of people standing inside made it a painful experience for this introvert. By the time we got done at the colosseum we were soaked and grumpy and ready to go home.
The entire city was flooding because of the rain and the subway systems were flooded as well which made the trek home a little difficult considering that fact that our metro stop had about 3 feet of standing water. Our hotel lobby had also flooded so we returned to the whole main floor covered in towels and sheets. Luckily our room was on the 2nd floor.
That night we had special dinner plans for one of the guys' (Mike's) birthday. We had booked a private dinner where you go to this lady's house and she and her daughter cook dinner for you. And Oh my goodness was it amazing. We got to know them pretty well over our 100 course meal and many bottles of wine. Homemade tiramisu, Pesto, chicken and pepperonis (peppers, not sausage), and homemade limoncello. It was all sooo amazing. So if you can book a night with Debora and Fiamma. You won't be disappointed.
We made our way back to the hotel and decided to go look for the bar we had seen the first night we walked around town. It was the only one in the area and the only place open by the time we got back (many things don't stay open very late) So we went to Trinity College Pub in Roma (if you've been to Ireland you may be familiar with Trinity College) and we had a great night dancing and drinking some new beers. Although the wine was amazing, it was great to have a beer every now and then. I would be lying if I said we just had one.
Day 4 | Florence
We took a train from Rome to Florence and boy was that an experience. The train didn't have any under carriage storage so all of our 50 lb suitcases all had to go in the overhead bins which was quite the adventure when you only have 3 strong guys and 8 girls with lots of shoes.
Remember how I said that some of us got married on this trip? This train trip was the reason for that. We booked our trip through a travel agency and we gave them the list of names of people on the trip. They grouped everyone and tried to keep couples together, but, I was traveling with my cousin with my same last name, so the travel agency assumed he was my husband and put us in seats next to each other, and his wife several rows away. We joked the rest of the trip that he was my husband and we were getting a divorce. He divorced me by text in Venice. It was a sad day.
We had some vans pick us up at the train station and take us to our Villa which was BEAUTIFUL! It was an old mansion that had been turned into a hotel. The three of us who had been squished in a 100 sq foot room now shared a 2 bed, 2 bath, with a kitchenette, suite. It was amazing. We had booked a bike ride in florence for that afternoon but hadn't planned on the amount of time it would take for us to get settled at the hotel as well as travel back into town. So we decided to just stay at the hotel, enjoy the pool, have some wine from the honor bar, and relax after our crazy first few days in Rome.
We had dinner at the hotel that night and learned that they had the BEST caprese in all of Italy. Seriously amazing. I liked caprese before, but I have become a full on addict now. I had it every chance possible in Italy. Pretty sure I ate it for breakfast almost every morning.
Although I spent most of my life on the farm and in the country, I think I had veal for the first time ever while I was in Italy. It was good, but I can't say it's on the top of my list of things I'd like to try again.
Although we were bummed we missed our bike tour, it was great to relax at your hotel and refresh before our next adventures. And the sunset that night at our villa was to die for!
Day 5 | Florence | Chianti Wine Tour
One of my favorite days of the trip. Maybe top 3 days. We booked a Chianti wine tour (Through Go-today.com) where we got to visit 2 wineries and 3 villages in Chianti. We got on a big charter bus and drove through some beautiful areas. The first winery we went to was Poggio Amorelli and it was AMAZING. I am not normally a red wine fan, but oh my goodness was it amazing?! We tried 3 of their wines as well as some of their olive oils and vinaigrettes and I broke down and bought a bottle of each because they were THAT good.
We stopped at Casselini, then went to Resecolli for another wine tasting, which is where the lovely photos of the vineyards are from. We stopped at the Piazza in Greve where we had the BEST cannoli's at Dolceforte. I'm sad I didn't stash a couple in my purse for later.
We had dinner at La Tappa with some great food. Our whole bus had about 25 people on it, and our group took up about half of that so we had a whole banquet table to ourselves. Our bus driver sat next to us as the odd man out, and he did not speak english, but since the food was served family style, he and I taught each other a few words to ask if he or I "wanted more", "no thank you", and "I'm finished". More in italian is "encora". Which when you think about it makes a lot of sense! Since italian is very similar to spanish we kept trying to ask him "Mas??" which made no sense to him.
In these pictures you'll see a photo of me imitating a statue with may arms up behind my head. Remember how I said we got to know each other a little too well? My nickname for part of the trip was Leather Pits. DO NOT buy new deodorant before a trip hoping to save a little room in your suitcase unless you have tried said deodorant before, especially in very warm temperatures. That's all I'm gonna say about that...
Day 6 | Florence | Cinque Terre
When we had first started looking at things to do on our trip I had seen several posts about how the hot springs in Italy are so amazing, but then as we thought of it more, the thought of going to hot springs in the middle of August didn't sound very fun, so we found a travel package that would give us a private tour (as well as the 5 other passengers in the van) with a driver/tour guide to take us to the west coast of Italy to the Cinque Terre Villages. There are 5 villages, but we only had time to visit 3 of those villages, and I fell in LOVE. One of my favorite things to do when I travel to coastal areas is to ride on a boat or something to see the land from the water.
Cinque Terre is about 2.5 hours outside of Florence, so we had a long, but beautiful car ride. But the poor 5 year old in our van learned that he gets car sick, so we had to make a little pit stop on our way, and I don't think he thought it was so beautiful.
The first Village we stopped at was Riomaggiore and we spent most of our time there just amazed at how clear and deep blue the water is. We took a walk up to the "lookout" to see the village from both sides and watched a couple kids dive off the cliffs. The second village we stopped at was Vernazza and this is where we stopped to have lunch. I forgot to mention it, but most meals in Italy take several hours. It was not uncommon for dinner to last about 3 hours, so the fact that we had lunch in about 90 mins was impressive. But we had a giant plate of pasta some glasses of wine, then Nichole and I decided to go up to the top of the Doria Castle and see the village from higher up. Climbing up several flights of steep castle stairs after a bunch of pasta and several glasses of wine to go to the top of a castle is not something I would suggest, but was very much worth it!
One thing our tour guide told us is that this area has a lot of the worlds marble, so it was pretty amazing to see it in the rocks and cliffs, both on our way to the villages and while we were there.
The last village we stopped at was Monterosso. We visited the square, then decided to take a dip in the beach there and the water was SOOOO clear! it was incredible how clear it was! I ended up leaving my swimsuit at the van so I just walked in up to my shorts, but it felt sooo good!
On our way home we stopped at the leaning tower of pisa, and it is still leaning! But the amount of detail in it is amazing. No text book does it justice!
Day 7 | Florence
Our last day in Florence wasn't too exciting as we just went into the town and did some site seeing and souvenir shopping. One of the downfalls of our hotel is that it was so far out of town the only way to get into town was by Taxi (which had a surcharge for being out of town) and by private van for 70 euro. This made going into town pretty pricey, so we all tried to go at the same time to split the bill.
We walked down the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which is FULL of jewelry shops. So many gorgeous items there but oh my gosh was it pricey. I just held my hands behind my back and window shopped.
One of the difficult things about Italy is that public restrooms are hard to find, and you often have to pay to use them, which makes things a little difficult sometimes. So, if you see a bathroom you have to a) decide if you need to go bad enough to spend up to 2 euro to use it, or b) remember where it is so you can walk back when you do need to use it.
Nichole and I had lunch at Caffe la Terrazza which is at the top of the Rinascente which is a 5+ story department store. The Caffe overlooks the whole city so it gives you a nice view of where you've been and where you need to go. After that we walked back to find the rest of the group, and they had found a restaurant that served beer, so we had to savor a few while we could before we ventured back out to wine country. Along the way we saw several street artists who were doing amazing 3D chalk drawings on the streets as well as one man who was drawing amazing portraits of individuals.
We made our way back to our hotel for another dinner that night with some more amazing food that we savored since it was our last night at our delicious hotel restaurant. I wish I had taken more photos of my food! If you could see how some of it looked you'd be impressed, let alone if you could taste it too!
Day 8 | Venice
Everyone told us how we would hate Venice so I was worried that our last leg of our trip would be terrible. We got off the train in Venice and walked down the road a little ways to our hotel. I instantly loved Venice because there were nooooo cars. During our whole time in Rome I was terrified we were going to get hit by a car on the streets so it was a relief to be in the city and not have to worry about cars and crazy drivers. Italians do not yield to pedestrians. We got to our hotel a little before we could check in so we decided to have a few drinks at the hotel bar until we could take our things to our room.
We got our things into our room and decided to wander down the streets and see what there was to see. We got a couple blocks down the road and found a cute little bar that served beers in big ole beer mugs. This was the first place we had seen that had really served beer from the tap, so we decided to keep drinking and enjoy a few beers and paid an accordion player to sing to our friend.
We did a little walking around the town and I loved looking down each of the little canals at all the boats along the way. It seemed so peaceful! We decided to keep it a calm day and just relax, which felt great after rushing around so much over the last few days.
Day 9 | Venice
Our 2nd day in Venice was packed full of adventures but it was BEAUTIFUL. We booked a walking tour and gondola ride to start off the day. Our walking tour was SO informative and actually quite amazing. We assumed there would be a lot of people on the tour, but surprisingly it was just the 3 of us from our group that went. We learned that most of the main levels of the buildings were used as warehouses since they tended to flood frequently and the homes were on the upper levels of the buildings.
There were a lot of little alley ways and and you would walk through them for a bit and then walk into a big courtyard which usually had a well in it. Back in the days when they used these wells as their primary source of water, each family was allowed 5 liters of water a day. When you think about it now, each family probably just drinks that amount of water a day, let alone using it for washing, bathing, etc.
I knew Venice was an island, but I had no idea that it was made up of 118 different islands and 400 bridges. Some of the islands are abandoned, but it is still crazy to think that to travel around this city, you have to have a boat or travel by public (water) transportation.
After our walking tour we booked a trip to some of the other islands. Our walking tour took longer than expected so we had to skip out on our gondola ride in order to make it in time for the ferry ride to the islands, but everyone we talked to said the gondola ride was overrated anyways.
The first island we started at was Murano which is where a lot of the countries glass comes from. We watched a glass blowing demonstration and it was AMAZING. The guy made a glass horse in the matter of a few minutes. I can't imagine how much time and practice goes into learning how to do that.
After the demonstration we walked through the glass gallery and shop to see some for sale items. We spent a long time looking at all the amazing glasswork.
The next island on the trip was Murano, where there were tons of pretty and bright colored houses and stores. Murano is known for the lace that is produced there.
Finally we went to Torcello and decided to take it easy and have some beers and pizza at the outdoor patio there and made our way back to the main island. It was amazing to see all the islands along our way, some of which were abandoned. It was also interesting to see things like mile markers in the water and what seemed to be lanes for the boats to stay in when going back and forth between the islands.
We got back to the main island and didn't have any plans for the rest of the day so Nichole and I decided to adventure around the island and do some shopping. We saw a bar during our walk that looked interesting so we decided to walk in and have a beer during happy hour. The bar was called Bacaro Jazz and had a fun atmosphere, and we talked girl stuff and caught up on life and enjoyed looking at all the different kinds of bras that were hanging from the ceiling. There were two kinds of beer we enjoyed during our trip. Most places had Moretti beers and some had Peroni, which was a little on the lighter side and more similar to a bud light.
We did some more walking and wandering and the little city got a little busier in the late afternoon/early evening. The canals that had been used for the morning deliveries during our walking tour in the morning were now FULL of gondolas. We stood on the bridges and watched all the gondolas come from each canal and merge into the larger canals. They almost ran into each other as they made their way down the crowded canals. Everyone we talked to said the gondola rides were fun for the first 5 mins and then got a little boring and repetitive as they went on.
We met up with the rest of the group for a happy hour/buffet at the hotel then decided to go to a late dinner at a restaurant down the street called Trattoria Povoledo for our last italian meal. We sat on the patio which looked out over the Grand Canal. It was so pretty to see the city at night and it was a great way to finish up our Italian vacation.
Day 10 | Leaving Venice and Flying home
We woke up early on our last day to get a water taxi at the back of our hotel to take us to the airport in Venice. It was so crazy to see an airport with boat docks as the passenger drop off.
We had a quick flight for the first leg of our trip from Venice to Switzerland where we had a few hour layover there before the long flight to Denver. Switzerland is on my list of countries I'd love to visit so it was a nice little preview of what it would be like there. The airport had lots of yummy chocolate, which was fine by me!!
I did have one of the most expensive club sandwiches I've ever had while I was there, but, when in Rome, right! Or something like that.
I slept most of our flight back, but did wake up for a little bit of the flight to be able to look outside while we were flying over Greenland, and it was beautiful!
We landed in Denver with the group of 11 that started the trip and all went our separate ways with lots of dirty and sweaty clothes, fun souvenirs, and many, many fun and happy memories.
If I go back someday....
If I ever go back...
- I would spend more time in Tuscany and more time at the Cinque Terra Villages.
- I don't know if I would want to go back to Rome. It was great to see some of the monuments, etc. But I don't know if I would want to see them again. I would love to go back to the Colosseum and the Pantheon, just without the rain.
- I would NOT go in August. Although, when we got back to Colorado, it didn't seem near as hot here!
- I would spend more time in Venice!
- I would definitely do another wine tour in Tuscany
- I loved our little villa, but I would try and find a place in Florence to cut down on taxi expenses.
- The hop on hop off bus tour was great to give us an idea of locations, etc. But I would probably only do it for 1 day instead of two just because by day 2 we wanted to utilize our time and get places faster instead of driving around the city from stop to stop.
- I would eat more Gelato. Obvs!
- We tried to plan a few things ahead of time, but I think we underestimated how long some things would take so we missed out on a couple things we booked or had to rush them. We booked our bike tour in Florence, but didn't end up getting to it, and we missed out on our gondola ride because we overbooked ourselves that day, but I do have to say some things were great to have booked in advance!
It was an amazing trip and I am SOOO happy I ignored the voice in my head that was saying "Can you afford this? Can you take the time away from your business". Life is short. Travel when you can. I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take an international trip with my best friend and I am SO happy I didn't turn it down! Make a budget, add travel to it, and put away money monthly and you will thank yourself for ever!
I hope this wasn't a terribly painful blog to read, that is, if you read the whole thing!