We did Italy in a few random chunks but here are the stops we made:
- Venice – 2 days
- Bologna – 2 days
- Catania, Sicily – 1 day
- Naples – 1 day
- Rome – 2 days
Aside from the obvious things – beautiful architecture and scenery, stunning ancient ruins and truly quality food and drink – one thing really colored our time in Italy: THE HEAT WAVE. Our luck seemed to have run out with the weather (anyone hear about the news of the incredible record breaking heat in Europe? yeah…we can attest to it…) but we did everything we could to 1) plan our activities and days accordingly and 2) avoid the heat when we could!!
In Venice, we ate as much pizza and pasta as we could and were lucky enough to time our travel with a few visitors – Taylor and Andy! We spent a few lovely meals with these wonderful people – mostly thanks to Taylor’s wonderful foodie research and prior Venice experience – and felt so lucky to just “happen” to be in the same place at the same time!! Because Taylor & Andy are so cultured and musical, they also let us tag along to a beautiful concert in an old church. Hard to describe the way the notes bounce and echoed off the walls and ceiling but everything about the concert was breathtaking.
See our other “Hawaii in Review” post for what we did in between Venice and Bologna…hint: it involved a LOT of travel all at once followed by a magical Hawaiian wedding 🙂
Then onto Bologna! We chose this somewhat arbitrarily as Hawaii put a bit of a time dent in the 7-10 days we hoped to spend in or near Tuscany and Italian wine country…we also knew that after 3 flights back from Hawaii, we would be tired and not want to completely overdo it before hopping on our Dalmatian Coast cruise.
So we rented a tiny car, drove about 90 minutes south of Venice and crammed as much as we could into a short time. Despite the constant heat, Bologna not only did not disappoint, we liked it enough that we have already put it on our list of “places we want to go back to soon.” We knew almost nothing about Bologna before we got there – celebrating at a wedding all weekend didn’t exactly give us the time or energy to research our next stop – so we kind of just figured it out once we got there! We ended up getting an almost private tour of a small, family winery overlooking the city and eating more bolognese and pasta than we knew what to do with. We beat the heat by catching up on post-Hawaii sleep one morning and then wandered around the beautiful town. In the evening, we stumbled onto a showing of an old Charlie Chaplin movie being shown in the town square with a live orchestra playing along – pretty incredible. Needless to say, we were sad to have such a short few days in Bologna and can’t wait to recommend it (and go back ourselves!) in the future!
The next few stops we made were a part of our 11 day cruise (Catania and Naples) so we’ll include more on those later!
Our last stop before leaving Italy was Rome. As is the trend here, it was HOT in Rome. Hot hot. We did an incredibly informative and fun 3 hour tour of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum…to see these beautiful old ruins up close and hear not only the stories of the age in which they were built but how they have been changed, added to and unfortunately, destroyed or damaged over the years was wonderful. Not surprisingly, afterwards we ate many a pasta (I maybe tried carbonara in every Italian city we stopped in…), meats and cheeses and discovered some GOOD pizza…
Our last stop “in” Rome before we wrapped up Italy was a guided tour of the Vatican gardens, the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement. We discovered (in some advance research) that the Vatican gardens are not only beautiful but take up almost HALF the area of Vatican City. We did not realize until we got there that there is no public access to these gardens and that the only way to see them was to take a bus through them or to take a small, guided tour with a tour guide – we were so fortunate to have a wonderful Italian guide who showed us around for hours. Everywhere you turned there were stories about which pope inspired or commissioned which works, which benches the popes used to sit on to entertain foreign guests and which roads the popes used to wander through the lush, green forests. There was an English-style garden, a French-style garden and everything in between – the sculptures, the landscaping and the truly, truly incredible fountains were worth every moment of this tour.
As anyone who has been to Vatican City knows, St. Peter’s Basilica is really quite the masterpiece – neither Nick nor I are Catholic but you can just feel when you walk into the Basilica what an awe-inspiring place it is for people of all faiths…the intricate mosaic work, the sheer SIZE of the interior and the exquisite artwork at every turn. A major recommendation if you spend time in Rome! Pictures can’t capture its majesty but here are a few great ones Nick grabbed!
Random Impressions of Italy:
- The cities seem to vary pretty significantly so don’t assume all Italian cities have the same amenities, cleanliness or “feel” to them!
- The tourist sites are VERY touristy – aka Venice in its entirety, the Colosseum, the Vatican, etc…and as such, are surrounded by very touristy (and pricey) food & drink and an overwhelming number of people trying to sell you stuff, tours, etc.
- You really can’t go wrong with food. It’s all about preference but even doing minimal research on where to go, you can eat WELL here for very little.
Ok friends and family! We are done with THIRTEEN countries! Onto country #14 – Greece – where we are lucky enough to be meeting TWO visitors!! Come back for updates on who our mystery guests are 🙂