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Ciao Italia – Ti Amo
After our first trip to London, I was definitely bitten by the travel bug. I decided that if we could coordinate, I would want to start a tradition of a girl’s trip once a year with my daughters. One of my all-time favorite books and movies is Eat, Pray, Love. (If you enjoy Audiobooks, you can get them for free with an Audible trial). I decided after watching the movie that Italy, India, and Indonesia would be on my travel bucket list). That is how we decided on Italy, a country where we would Eat, Pray, and Love. This required more planning since we would be traveling by train and car to visit different cities.
Rome and Florence were definitely on the top of our list; the Amalfi Coast seemed like a great destination to chill and unwind for a few days. We added Venice as our last stop.
And, because we were spending two to three days in each city, we would be moving around a lot which meant packing lightly. Again, I would strongly encourage you to try to pack according to the 5,4,3,2,1 guide (and a pair & a spare). When looking for outfit suggestions, make sure it is for a current year, that it is for the time of year you will be there and that you make sure you bring a covering as most churches, mosques, temples require women to have their shoulders covered (no short outfits either; if going to the Vatican, you cannot have anything showing above your knees).
My young adult daughters and I travel great together; we love to try new foods, we all can share clothes if necessary and we tend to enjoy the same places to visit more or less. We typically stay at a local boutique hotel that is considered to be a junior suite. We need the bathroom space and three beds as once we leave the room in the morning, we do not tend to return.
When traveling abroad from the states, most flights are overnight flights which are perfect if you still need to work that day and then you can sleep the flight over. Try to combine points from either a credit card or travel site to upgrade to business class, if at all possible.
For the train stations, it is fairly easy to navigate but you have to pick up your suitcase and load it yourself. Do not let anyone do it for you because they will demand money (we learned this by experience when someone grabbed our bags- I thought it was a train valet but it was not and even though we tried to get him away, we ended up tipping him because we were concerned he would take our luggage and throw it off the train.
When In Rome
Hotel: Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli. I specifically chose the Trastevere neighborhood because sometimes my daughters like to go out at night (they are over 18 years of age) and I wanted them to be near our hotel. This hotel is a converted 17th-century convent with a beautiful outdoor terrace to eat breakfast at (breakfast is traditionally included in the price of the hotel). And, the hotel has a rooftop terrace that has the most amazing views of Rome.
We loved walking around the Trastevere area – it is a brick-paved area filled with artisans, cafes, a fountain in the piazza, bars and was walking distance from our hotel. They have a pretty active nightlife but you do need to be careful- that would go for any place you go on your own.
On our first day, we always try to book a tour guide to give us a good feel for the city especially since we only had a little over 2 days there. With our tour guide we went to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain which gets very crowded; just work your way to the fountain and you will find plenty of people willing to take a pic of you throwing a coin in the fountain (when in Rome …). We also went through the Jewish Ghetto which is just a small block where there is still an existing synagogue.
On the second day, we did a tour of the Vatican. By going with a local tour guide, not only will you have your tickets in advance but they tend to know the right people to get you into specific areas you may be unaware of and their knowledge of local iconic places is quite impressive.
After spending two days sightseeing from morning till night, the idea of a coastal time out was perfect. Getting there required us to take the train from Rome to Naples. From there we hired a driver to transfer us to Positano.
The drive through the Amalfi Coast is exquisite but at the same time a little scary as you weave your way up the mountain. (coming from a sea-level flat state, any altitude and narrow mountain road are nerve-wracking for me).
Hotel: We stayed at the Eden Roc located in the center of town near the shops. There is a path to walk down to the beach. The steps are fairly steep and the streets narrow so keep that in mind when walking. We decided to head down to the beach to grab a bite at Ristorante Buca Di Bacco. Having kids that are willing to try almost anything is great – we always pick like 4 to 6 starters and share.
For our second day, we went on a boat tour to Capri. The boat usually has no more than 12 people. The ride over to Capri is short and they drop you off at the marina. There are a bunch of restaurants there but we usually avoid touristy restaurants with all the same laminated menus and photos.
Of course, we must not have been paying attention when our boat captain said you can take the funicular (cable car), a taxi, or a bus up to the top of Capri where many luxury and world-class shops are as well as some amazing food. We ended up walking up winding stairs for what took us well over an hour. And, we needed to take breaks because it was hot and it was about a five-mile walk. I don’t think my daughters trusted that I had this under control and knew where I was going (I did not, 😉😉). I figured the stairs had to lead somewhere spectacular. There were a few other people walking as well and one even told my daughters that they would thank me immensely once they got to the top). Luckily they did, but trust me, we made sure to take transportation back down to the marina when it was time to leave.
On our return charter back, we stopped in a cove where we could go swimming. They go through this cliff in the sea that has a small opening (they call it threading the needle). It’s a little scary because you know the captain is dealing with the current so his timing has to be spot on.
And, of course, like most who visit Capri, we stopped so we could visit the Blue Grotto sea cave.
I am glad we did it although it is a bit of an ordeal as there are literally small boats everywhere trying to grab the attention of the rowboat driver where you climb in from your boat. You then have to lie flat on the boat to fit into the cave. It can take over an hour waiting for the five-minute visit inside the grotto where the other rowboat drivers serenade those inside singing o solo mio. It just seemed a bit cliche although it is beautiful. You are expected to pay and tip both coming and going and trust me, if you don’t, you will hear about it from the rowboat captain. It is one of those experiences when I look back that I would say to try just once.
One restaurant I would absolutely recommend is La Tagliata, a family-run restaurant. You have to make a reservation. They arrange transportation to and from the restaurant which was an experience as it is way up on the hill. It was a fixed price and a lot of food; they even accommodate two of us who are pescatarians. When we went, it was cash only, and fortunately, I had just enough Euros to pay.
Ahh, Florence, my favorite city in Italy. The architecture, the food, the ambiance… there was not one thing I did not love about Florence. We had a walking tour our first day to visit the Galleria Dell’Accademia (that is where you will see Michelangelo’s David). I’d strongly recommend a private tour with priority entrance & tickets.
Hotel – Firenze Number Nine Hotel
There were so many reasons I loved this boutique hotel. For one, it is literally in the heart of Florence a short walk from the Duomo and main museums. Anywhere we walked, it was usually past the Duomo where I’d make my daughters stop because it was that breathtaking. It was also close to Ponte Vecchio.
Since we arrived before our afternoon tour began, we went exploring walking through the leather market. The vendors are selling what is known to be the lowest quality of leather products in Florence (there are places to go for the upscale leather products), but we were just looking to get a souvenir. We ate at the Mercato Central which has local artisans preparing hot and cold food. This was a great way for us to sample different foods.
One of the best views of Florence is at Piazzale Michelangelo- would recommend trying to go around sunset; it is truly remarkable. I will say that there was not one piazza or side street or neighborhood that we did not love getting lost in (maybe not purposely lost but they do say “not all who wander are lost.”
On our third day in Florence, we took a day excursion to Chianti to explore the Tuscan countryside. We stopped in San Gimignano, a small walled village that is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We walked around for a short time and mainly did some local shopping before heading for our wine tour.
Our first stop was Podere La Marronaia winery where we had the most amazing wine tasting with a Tuscan lunch. The food kept coming out, the wine was being poured all from one of the owner’s son. To this day, I have their wine and olive oil and balsamic sent over especially when they are offering a 30% discount. Plus, I love supporting this family winery whose business was severely impacted by the pandemic.
Hotel: Hotel Al Reali
This was our last stop on our Italy adventure. Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, long called “The Venice of America,” I obviously knew it was a city on canals. What I did not expect since we had taken the train from Florence to Venice was that it would cost €100 (the equivalent of over $120 U.S. dollars) to go from the train station by boat to our hotel. That seems to be the going rate so just be prepared.
The hotel is a 17th-century Venetian palace that was converted and only has 32 rooms.
We did a short guided walking tour where we went to St. Mark’s Square, Rialto and she also took us through alleyways away from the tourists. You could do a Venice tour on your own because it really is not that big and we actually enjoyed wandering on our own and getting lost.
St. Mark’s Square, you may have heard has a huge number of pigeons because the equally large number of tourists (with their selfie sticks) feed them. We had no interest whatsoever in participating nor getting a photo feeding the birds. The square is also known to flood during certain times of the year.
The narrow alleyways during the summer can get very crowded especially because of all the cruise ship visitors. Most of the shops are touristy as well. We did take a gondola ride, again one of those “when in Rome” activities where the gondolier serenades you. I honestly found it to be overrated (and overpriced) but it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I knew I probably would not be returning to Venice.
The other cliche thing we did was go to Harry’s Bar which is best known for being the favorite bar of Ernest Hemingway and home to the Bellini cocktail, which is fresh peach and sparkling wine (prosecco, champagne). Hemingway’s connection to Key West, Florida made it more enticing for us but there was a wait to get seated as it is very small. We could have easily passed on going here and we could have skipped this stop (the drinks are pricey).
The Rialto bridge was packed with tourists and picture-takers even if you take the Doge’s Palace tour. While it is ornate and filled with history (including the Bridge of Sighs), we could have gladly skipped this excursion.
Our biggest regret is that we had wanted to go over to Burano, known for its brightly colored fisherman’s houses and casual eateries, the weather did not permit us to make this day trip in just two days. Some tourists also like to go over to Murano, renowned for its glass-making creations.
I loved Italy and there are places that I have not yet visited that I would love to go back and see including northern Italy. And, I would not be opposed to going back to Florence which turned out to be, by far, my favorite city.