Florence, Italy

Florence was our third and final destination. And what a beautiful city full of amazing art and architecture. Not at all surprising since it was the birthplace of the Renaissance. In comparison to Sorrento and Rome, it falls somewhere in between the two in terms of size and general busyness. And like I mentioned in my overview of Italy post, we had the best food in Florence. Delicious!

Even though we were physically exhausted, we definitely didn’t let that stop us from exploring and enjoying the city. Talk about full days! We used our first full day to see most of the major sites – it’s amazing how much you can do when you have a plan! On the second full day, we went on a tour of Cinque Terre. And on the third day, we relaxed a little and went with the flow, covering all the things we didn’t get to see on the first day.

Florence_views from the Duomo
Florence2
Florence_street art 
WHERE WE STAYED

We stayed at Hotel Pierre and had a decent experience. The pros included a central location (walking distance to everything), a friendly concierge and staff, a clean room (and bigger than our room in Rome), and a good breakfast spread. The big con included the fact that AC service doesn’t start until May. This meant that we had to keep our window open at night because otherwise it would get too hot. And this meant that we couldn’t sleep because of all the noise! I was shocked to find out that people in Florence love to party until the early hours of the morning. And it sounded like they were doing so right outside our room. I had the hardest time falling asleep. Vishnu claims that he couldn’t sleep either, but I know otherwise. He was out cold minutes after getting into bed!

WHAT WE DID (for all of the major sites, you have to buy your tickets in advance or book tours , otherwise you’ll be waiting in incredibly long lines)

Florence Cathedral and Giotto’s Bell Tower – On our first morning in Florence, we woke up bright and early to climb to the top of the Florence Cathedral. First of all, the Cathedral is absolutely gorgeous from the outside. Breathtaking even. The climb up was fine – a little narrow in certain spots but totally doable. The views were, as you may have guessed, totally worth it!

Florence Cathedral 
After that, we walked over to climb Giotto’s Bell Tower. At this point, my quads were tired, but we made our way up…slowly but surely! It started to drizzle, so we quickly took a few pictures with our phones and made the climb down.

Even though I hated waking up so early, I’m glad we were two of the first people in line for both of these things. I would’ve hated climbing the narrow stairs with a million other people.

Accademia Gallery – Next up was the Accademia Gallery so we could see the David and other art pieces. We used a Rick Steves’ tour to guide us, and it was perfect. You guys. The David is larger than life and amazing to look at from both a distance and up close. It’s hard to believe that my man Michelangelo was 26 when he created this masterpiece! We also got to see and learn about some of his unfinished sculptures as well as other prominent paintings by a number of different artists.

Florence_the David 
Uffizi Gallery – The Uffizi is one of the most famous art museums in the world. It is home to paintings by Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. The Birth of Venus was the painting we were most looking forward to seeing, and thankfully, Mr. Steves did an excellent job talking about in full detail!

Cinque Terre – We booked a Viator tour for Cinque Terre (the company was called Walkabout Florence) because we didn’t feel like we had enough time to conquer it on our own. Our package included tour guides who looked like Ryan Reynolds and Macaulay Culkin (true story!), a bus ride to Cinque Terre, a couple of guided hikes, a couple of train rides between certain towns, lunch, and a boat ride.

Cinque Terre1 Cinque Terre4 
We decided to add Cinque Terre to our itinerary because Vishnu went there during a previous trip to Europe and really wanted me to see and experience it. And boy is it something. The Italian Riviera is GORGEOUS. At a certain point, you could see each of the five towns lined up in a row – just stunning! Thankfully, the hikes weren’t grueling, lunch in Corniglia was delicious (pesto pasta since pesto is what the town is known for), and good times were had by all. We befriended two other couples on the tour and spent a lot of time with them. A highlight for me was doing a wine tasting of the five best white wines from each of the towns and eating pan frito (fried pita bread stuffed with a creamy semi-sweet cheese). Our guide told us that pan frito is one item that can only be found in the town of Monterrosso. Obviously we had to try it!

Cinque Terre3 Cinque Terre_Pan Frito 
If you’re travelling to Italy and are able to fit Cinque Terre into your plans, DO IT! It’s a must see kind of place!

Santa Maria Novella – This is a beautiful church that’s actually the first great basilica in Florence. We spent an hour or so here wandering around both inside and outside in the courtyard.

Florence_Church
Florence_Church2

Santa Croce – This is another beautiful church that is also home to the tombs of people like Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and many others.
 Florence_Santa Croce 
Museo Galileo – When you’re with a science nerd, you go to science museums! Ok fine, I love this kind of stuff too. This museum is home to a number of artifacts, scientific instruments, and personal items from the 15th/16th centuries. The most interesting display included Galileo’s fingers. Not even kidding.

Piazza de Michelangelo – Of all the Piazzas this one is a must visit because of the incredible views! We went around sunset, which took things up a few notches – simply beautiful!

Florence1 
WHERE WE ATE (that was notable)

Il Vegetariano – My friend Ankita highly recommended this restaurant, and it ended up being where we went on our first night in Florence. A couple of the reviews I read online mentioned that this place fills up quickly, so we went a few minutes before the restaurant opened only to find six other people with the same idea. That’s when I knew this was going to be a good meal.

The menu here is very limited (10 items max), and it changes on a weekly basis. Vishnu wanted a pasta dish, so he ordered lasagna, and I decided to go with the moussaka. We also ordered a side salad with the special tofu dressing and a bottle of wine. And then when we were done with all of that, Vishnu got us two desserts to share. The food was delicious – one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. In fact, Vishnu’s lasagna may have been the best I’ve ever had (after my mom’s of course!).

BUT, I was so full after eating here that I couldn’t stand up straight…or take full deep breaths. Oops! I asked Vishnu if we could walk around a bit before heading back to the hotel, so that’s exactly what we did. An hour later (!), I felt much better! When in Rome Florence!

Florence_Il Vegetariano 
Il David – This restaurant was on my list because someone claimed it was home to the best tiramisu he’s ever had. So of course we had to eat here too. Well, the tiramisu was good (not the best we’ve ever had) and so were the pastas we ordered. I especially loved Vishnu’s truffle ravioli.

Il David_tiramisu 
Gusta Pizza – This was another “best of Florence” type place. And again, there was a line forming out the door 15 minutes before the restaurant opened. Anyways, Vishnu got the calabrese pizza (Margherita with spicy sausage…I think), and I went with the classic Margherita. We had no problems finishing off our respective pies! I really liked the crust and sauce here. So fresh and balanced!

Florence_Gusta Pizza 
Venchi Gelato – See my Rome post. Someone needs to bring this place to the US!

Mercato Centrale – We went here after our Cinque Terre excursion with our new friends. I didn’t try any food at this time, but after walking around and seeing all the goods, Vishnu and I knew we had to come back for lunch the next day. This indoor Italian market is both an actual market (kind of like a farmer’s market) where you can buy fruits, veggies, meats, etc. as well as a food market with tons of different stations and stalls. I was intrigued by the vegan stall, so I got a veggie burger. It came with vegan mayo, beets, slaw, and a bunch of other delicious add ons. Vishnu got a panini of some sort. And obviously, we had to get a tiramisu cup to share! I wish we had known about this place sooner – would’ve loved to explore more.

Florence_Mercato Centrale1

Florence_Mercato Centrale2 
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco – My friend Shannon told me about this restaurant. She’s actually friends with the owner (they met during one of her trips to Florence), and luckily, he was there when we went so we got to meet him!

We decided to eat here on our last night in Florence, and I’m so glad we saved this meal for last because it was phenomenal! And I’m not saying that because of Shannon. This is the kind of food you savor because you don’t want it to end! We started with some bruschetta and a couple of pieces of burrata topped with thin slices of truffle. That burrata was divine. One of the best things we’ve ever eaten even. For his main dish, Vishnu ordered the wild boar and polenta because boar is a Tuscan delicacy. He loved it and said it was different from any pork dish he’s ever had (that’s the best I could get out of him)! I ordered ricotta and spinach dumplings. And O-M-G! I have never eaten so slowly in my life. They were soft and creamy and literally melted in my mouth. And we obviously ended the night on a sweet note with not one but two different desserts. We went with the tiramisu and the panna cotta. I was 100% sure that the tiramisu was going to steal the show, but in reality, the panna cotta was the star of the meal. It was like no other dessert I’ve ever had before. Creamy, cold, and topped with a rich dark chocolate sauce. The best!

If we ever go back to Florence, this restaurant will be #1 on our list!

Florence_Cinghiale Bianco 
And that’s it…I’m done recapping! If you have any questions about our trip or want more details (is that even possible?!), please don’t hesitate to email me. More than happy to share!

Now excuse me while I reread my own recaps so I can relive our trip!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Three Things Thursday (10)

There’s been a whole lot of Italy happening on the blog lately, so I thought I would mix things up by sharing some current (and random) tidbits via a Three Things Thursday post.3-Things-Thursday-BadgeOne – Apartment hunting in St. Petersburg

Vishnu and I are driving up to St. Pete to do a little apartment hunting this weekend. We’ve narrowed down our list of potential homes to four apartment complexes, and we’re crossing our fingers that at least one of them pans out for us. And even though I’m dreading the actual move, I’m kind of excited about living in a new city for a year. Vishnu, on the other hand, is a little nervous. But that probably has more to do with the fact that in about two months’ time he’ll be starting the next big chapter in his life…as a doctor!

St Petersburg_FL
[Source]

 Two – Voluspa candle

My colleague and friend Thea gifted me a beautiful Voluspa candle for my birthday, and after using it as a decorative piece for the last four months, I finally used it for its intended purpose last night. Thea gave me the apricot and aprilia candle, and it smells heavenly. I think I’m going to make post-dinner candle lighting a thing now. It’s such a relaxing way to end the day!

Voluspa

Three – A Minted winner!

I’m excited to announce that Rachel is the winner of my Minted giveaway! Rachel, please email me at myinnershakti@gmail.com for all the details.

And a big thanks to Minted for helping me host this giveaway!

Well, that’s all I have for this week’s Three Things Thursday. Check in tomorrow for my final Italy recap post about Florence!

Your turn to share – what are three things you’ve been thinking about/doing this week! If you’re a blogger, write a post and link back to one or all of the hostesses: Raj from Pink Chai Living, Nisha from Love Laugh Mirch, or Salma from The Write Balance. Then share a link to your post (not your blog’s home page).

Rome, Italy

The next stop on our trip was Rome.  And what a city!  I couldn’t get over how cosmopolitan and commercial it was while still being home to so many ancient ruins and historical structures.  One part of me was excited to get my shopping on, while the other part wanted to soak in all the history.  Luckily, we were able to do both!

Rome2
We took the local train from Sorrento to Naples and then the Eurail from Naples to Rome.  I think the total trip was under two hours.  Upon checking into our hotel and relaxing for 30 minutes, we made our way over to the Trevi Fountain area for dinner.  We wanted to get to bed a little early because the next couple of days were going to be full of sightseeing…and LOTS of walking.

WHERE WE STAYED

We stayed at Hotel Stendhal which is centrally located and close to restaurants, shops, and train stations.  Again, the concierge was super helpful and friendly.  However, this hotel was much smaller than the last one.  Our room was almost half the size.  But I can’t complain because everything was super clean (as you can tell that was the #1 priority for me).  I think they even changed our sheets twice in one day.  The breakfast buffet here wasn’t filled with as much variety, especially for vegetarians who wanted more than carbs.  But we…ok fine, I…made it work!

WHAT WE DID (for all of the major sites, you have to buy your tickets in advance or book tours because the lines are incredibly long if you don’t)

Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill – We booked a special Dark Rome Tour of these three things beforehand.  It was special because it included both underground Colosseum and ‘third tier’ level access.  IT. WAS. AMAZING.  Vishnu and I couldn’t get over the fact that we were finally seeing all the things we learned about so many years ago in our World History classes.  To be honest, it didn’t all come crashing back to me, so I’m glad we had a tour guide to explain everything to us and even provide some lesser known insight.

The Colosseum was obviously grander than life.  I could not get over how well preserved it is.  The underground level was interesting but made me a little sad for all the animals and people who awaited their potential deaths down there.  And the view from the third tier was unbelievable.  It was quite a special moment!

Rome_Colosseum
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were also fun to see and explore.  I’d forgotten that Palatine Hill is believed to the birthplace of Rome.  Crazy!  Walking around, you can just imagine what life was like all those years ago.

Rome1
Vatican City – We booked an afternoon tour of Vatican City through Viator and were thankful that we did.  We learned more than we would have walking around on our own.  In fact, before entering the Sistine Chapel, our guide gave us a detailed explanation of each panel and how it all pieced together.  It made the actual experience of seeing it super emotional (for me at least).  We also got to explore one exhibit of the Vatican Museum.  Vishnu wishes we had the opportunity to see more, but like he put it, you’d need days to see everything.  And finally, the final stop of our tour brought us to St. Peter’s Basilica where we used Rick Steves to provide us with all the details.  And it was just as beautiful and grand as you’d imagine it to be!  Seeing Michelangelo’s La Pieta also made me tear up.  I was a hot mess!

Vatican City 1

Vatican City 2
This brings me to a random but somewhat related point.  I am in love with Michelangelo and his work.  I’ve never been an art lover…more of an appreciator.  But after seeing and learning about so much of his work, I have a new found respect for him.  I mean, we all know he was nothing short of a genius, but actually seeing what he created and knowing he did so much of it in his [early] twenties…there are just no words.  Our guides kept telling us that he wasn’t a pleasant man to look at, but all I could think about was how beautiful his mind was!  It’s insane!

La Pieta_Michaelangelo
Heart of Rome walk – My friend Shelly told me about the Heart of Rome walk – a walk through the city that includes various Piazzas, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, etc.  We did this on our last full day in Rome using a Rick Steves’ map to guide us.

Rome_Pantheon2

Rome_Pantheon1
Borghese Gardens – Vishnu wanted to walk through the gardens on our last morning in Rome, so we woke up early, ate breakfast, and made our way over.  There are a number of statues to see and even a bike rental station.  I wish we had more time because that is something I would’ve loved to do!

Borghese Gardens

WHERE WE ATE (that was notable)

MaccheroniWe ended up eating here twice.  The first night we went for dinner and ordered two of the most mentioned dishes from all the reviews we read – pasta carbonara and cacio e pepe (spaghetti with a goat cheese and pepper sauce).  We also ordered a couple of salads.  I’m glad we did that because the pasta dishes were a bit underwhelming.  Personally, they didn’t live up to all the Trip Advisor and Yelp hype!  After rereading some of the reviews, Vishnu decided that he wanted to give the restaurant another chance, so we went back for lunch.  And this time we ordered what we thought sounded good – gnocchi gorgonzola for Vishnu and pasta arrabbiata for me.  And both dishes were delicious!  We also ordered a cheese plate to share, which went great with the house wine!

Rome_Pasta
Old Bridge Gelato – This little gelato shop is located right outside of Vatican City.  When we first saw it, there was a long line, so we decided to visit after our tour.  I’m glad we did because the gelato was super creamy and the flavors were on point!

Gelateria Venchi – Outside of Capri, this was the best gelato in Italy.  The fancy exterior almost kept me away, but we decided to venture in and check out the flavors.  When I saw that one of them was a dark chocolate nougat with a caramel, almond, and hazelnut topping, I was sold!  What dreams are made of, people!  This stuff was freaking delicious – so so rich!  In fact, you’ll see in my Florence recap that we found a Venchi there and had it again (same flavor and everything!).

Est, Est, Est – Our Colosseum tour guide mentioned this place when we asked about her favorite pizza place in Rome, so obviously we had to go!  I would say this was one of my favorite pizza experiences in Italy.  The crust isn’t thin and dry, but it’s not a Sicilian crust either. It falls in the middle and is quite delicious.  I decided to go with a plain Margherita and Vishnu went with the Diabolo (Margherita with some kind of spicy meat).  The sauce to cheese ratio was perfect, and the whole experience was quite satisfying!

Rome_ Est Est Est
So that’s Rome in a nutshell.  Next up…Florence!

Sorrento, Italy

Sorrento was the first stop on our trip, and ultimately, it ended up being our favorite city!  There’s something to be said for the magical beauty of mountains/cliffs set against a body of water.  So picturesque!  It was also a great home base for exploring the Amalfi Coast.  The train and bus systems are super easy to navigate – one of the main reasons we were able to take three day trips during our time here.

On our first day, we checked in, showered, ate, and then set out to walk the streets of Sorrento.  It was fun finding random side streets to explore.  We also spent a great deal of time looking out at the water and marveling at the fact that we were finally here.

Sorrento 1
WHERE WE STAYED

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Royal and loved it!  The concierge was friendly and did everything possible to make sure we were comfortable during our stay.  Our room was clean and huge (for European standards).  It kind of felt like we were staying at a bed and breakfast.  Very cozy!  The location was perfect too – walking distance to everything!  A breakfast buffet was also included in our stay.  The spread included all kinds of things, including pastries, toast, eggs, different meats and cheeses, juices, coffee, etc.  A great way to start our day!

WHAT WE DID

Pompeii and Vesuvius – We took the train to the Pompeii ruins and then did a “tour” of Mt. Vesuvius.  Most people said Pompeii took them 2-3 hours to walk through…well, it took us almost four!  The ruins are incredible and sad at the same time.  You can almost feel what the residents of Pompeii must have felt on that fateful day.

Pompeii
The tour of Mt. Vesuvius was also very memorable.  We took a bus up to a certain point and had the option to hike to the crater.  We hiked!  And it was so worth it.  The views from the top of Vesuvius are breathtaking.  I could have spent all day up there!

Mt. Vesuvius
Capri – We took a ferry to Capri but had no real plan after that.  Immediately upon walking off the port, we saw a sign for a two hour boat tour of the island. The tour included a stop at the Blue Grotto as well.  We decided to get on the next boat and take it from there.  You guys!  It was amazing.  Capri is a beautiful, majestic island, and we got to see it from all sides.

When the Blue Grotto stop came up, Vishnu and I made a quick last minute decision to hop into a smaller boat and just go for it.  Again, totally worth it!  Our guide told us that the sand at the bottom is white, and when the sunlight streams in, the water appears to be this amazing electric blue color.  He also told us to dip our hands in the water for good luck!

Capri_Blue Grotto
After our boat tour, we grabbed some lunch and then set off for a hike to Arco Naturale, a natural arch dating back from the Paleolithic Age.  We were told the hike would take 30-45 minutes.  No one told us about the stairs.  It was a crazy 45 minutes, but we finally made it.  Vishnu and I were speechless.  The view of the arch and the water and the clear blue sky was unforgettable.  The sheer beauty of it all made me tear up a bit!

Capri_Arco Naturale
Unfortunately, that one hike was all we had time for.  The last ferry back to Sorrento left around 6 pm, and we were cutting it close.

Amalfi Coast – We rode the SITA bus to both Positano and Amalfi on our last full day in Sorrento.  Every article, review, and blog post I read said that the bus ride is scary and not for people with weak stomachs.  I thought it was perfectly fine.  Maybe it’s because we’ve rode through much steeper cliffs with much crazier drivers in India!  Anyway, if you decide to go the SITA bus route, definitely sit on the right side of the bus for the best views!

Our first stop was Positano.  We got off at what I think was the city center and then walked down to Spiaggia Beach.  Finally the Mediterranean Sea, and it was stunning!  The most bluest of blues.  I wish we could have swam in it…next time!

We (more like I) then decided on a lunch place that was at the very top of the cliffs closer to the next town over.  I totally didn’t think about how crazy of a hike it would be to get there, but it was.  It took us a sweaty 1.5 hours.  But looking on the bright side, we really got to see Positano (that’s what I kept telling Vishnu anyway!).

Positano
After lunch, we walked down to the SITA bus station and rode to Amalfi.  By the time we got there, I was exhausted…like couldn’t keep my eyes open.  So instead of getting off and walking around, we just enjoyed the views from the comfort of our seats.  I know, I know.  But my legs/feet were absolutely killing me by this point!

I will say that from all the different places we went, Positano ended up being our favorite overall.  The colorful cliff side homes facing the blue sea, our adventurous hike up the cliff, and the amazing lunch we experienced just couldn’t be topped!

WHERE WE ATE (that was notable)

Pizzeria Da Franco (Sorrento) – Great casual pizza place near the train station.  We ended up going here twice.  The crust is thin, chewy, and perfectly charred from the wood fire oven.  Really good distribution of toppings too.  And the red sauce is finger licking good!

Sorrento_Da Francos
Aurora Light (Sorrento) – This restaurant is located in the main square and claims to provide lighter/healthier Italian food.  I don’t know if it was healthier, but it was quite good.  Vishnu ordered the cannelloni stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and I went with the tagliatelle and mushrooms.  I thought both dishes were executed really well (especially mine), but Vishnu thought it could have been a little better.

Sorrento_Aurora Light
Gelateria Davide il Gelato (Sorrento) – This was our first taste of gelato in Italy, and it was good!  To be honest, the Snickers gelato cake Vishnu got stole the show, but my cup of chocolate and hazelnut gelato did the trick as well!  It wasn’t the best we had but it definitely wasn’t the worst.

Le Relais (Grand Hotel Royal, Sorrento) – This was our complimentary meal at the hotel, and it was delicious!  We each got appetizers, a primi course, a secondi course, dessert, and a bottle of wine.  The standout items of the night were the eggplant parmesan (it was tender and buttery) and the molten lava cake (the best we’ve ever had).

Sorrento_Le Relais
Buonocore Gelato (Capri) – BEST gelato in Italy…hands down!  We stopped here after our Arco Naturale hike because so many people were crowded around the gelato counter.  And I’m so glad we did.  Not only is the gelato (me) and sherbet (Vishnu) perfection, but they make the waffle cones in front of you.  In fact, my cone was still a tiny bit warm!  So fresh.  I got a huge scoop of the Fantesie (sp?) di Capri flavor and it was heaven on a cone.  Buonocore set the gelato bar really high…for life!

Capri_Buonocore Gelato
Osteria del Buonconvento (Sorrento) – This restaurant was a short walk from our hotel but not quite in the middle of everything.  For some reason, that made me feel like we were getting a more authentic experience.  And yes, while the food was delicious, the music they played in the main dining room was obnoxious!  Imagine this – beautiful restaurant, Italian food/wine, and Lady Gaga blaring from the speakers.  It was strange.  But music aside, Vishnu’s mushroom ravioli was spectacular – the pasta and the sauce really came together so well.  I kept sneaking bites to the point where he asked if I just wanted to switch plates!

Sorrento 2
La Tagliata (Positano) – This is the restaurant we hiked 1.5 hours for!  The first thing we learned upon sitting down is that there is no menu.  You eat what mama makes.  For us, this included a number of appetizers (beans, pickled vegetables, and eggplant parm), a primi course (made from scratch pastas), a secondi course (grilled meats for Vishnu, pieces of grilled cheese for me, and a salad to share), and dessert.  You guys, we were stuffed, and we didn’t even eat everything.  I really felt like we were at our Italian friend’s house for lunch.  And the views?  AMAZING!  This was such a unique experience, and I’m so glad we didn’t give up and eat somewhere else.

Positano_La Tagliata
Well, that pretty much sums up our stay in Sorrento!  Next up…Rome!

If you had to pick you absolute favorite place in the world, what would you say it is?

Italy – An Overview + A Few Tips

The last two weeks went by in a flash! A big, fun, once-in-a-lifetime kind of flash. That’s how I like to describe our time in Italy. And whenever I do, Vishnu likes to stop and remind me that we have lots more vacations to take in our lifetime. I know that, but still…this trip was something I’ve been looking forward to for years. Even before I met Vishnu. Visiting Italy has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and not only did I get to do just that, but I got to do it with my best friend!

Italy - Positano

As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m going to share more of an overview today along with a few tips and tricks we picked up along the way. I’ll share more detailed posts about Sorrento, Rome, and Florence next week – where we stayed, what we did, where we ate, etc.

Let’s get started…

First and foremost, some people wanted to know how I fit 12 days worth of clothes in a carry-on suitcase. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to squeeze everything in with a little room to spare. I brought three pairs of leggings, two pairs of jeans, a number of tees, two more formal tops, tennis shoes, sandals, two pairs of Toms, a straightner, and toiletries. My first tip is to roll versus fold. And my second tip comes in the form of a jacket. Because I had a good jacket with me, I didn’t need to bring extra sweaters and long sleeved tops.

My real reason for packing light? We had two different connecting flights before reaching our final destination, and I didn’t want my bag to get lost! That would’ve been the worst. And I also didn’t want to be that person dragging her huge suitcase around Italy (all of our hotels were close to train stations, so we never took a cab!).

Italy - suitcase

Speaking of travel, this was the first trip where we covered all major modes of transportation. We obviously travelled by plane and train, but we also rode on a couple of buses and boats as well. I’ll get into the specifics in next week’s posts, but I have to mention Alitalia. This was our first time flying with this airline, and we had a good experience. The food was tasty, the seats were comfortable, and everything was on time. The only thing that could’ve been better was the customer service. The flight attendants hardly smiled and seemed super annoyed at all times. Regardless, I would fly Alitalia again.

Alitalia 
That brings me to the weather. You guys! It was P-E-R-F-E-C-T! We could not have asked for better weather. It only rained (more like drizzled) one day for a couple of hours. Other than that, all we got was sunshine. And the temperature was in the 50s, 60s, and 70s on most days. Perfect I tell you!

And perfect weather meant lots and lots and lots of walking! Our Fitbits told us that on average we walked about 10 miles a day. And I’m not talking about walking on flat roads. While we did casually stroll about here and there, we also climbed stairs (so many stairs!) and hiked and walked hills. My legs are still tired!

Italy - Cinque Terre hiking 
In my mind all that activity meant one thing – FOOD! And boy did we eat! We ate pizza, pasta, caprese salads, gelato, Italian pastries, etc. So much delicious food. I was in heaven. Overall, if I had to choose, I would say Florence has the best food and wine. Our top two meals happened to be in Florence. That’s not to say Rome and Sorrento were disappointing in any way, but the cuisine in Florence just felt a bit more unique…more on that later!

Italy_Positano_La Tagliata 
Next…the people! The people of Italy are so friendly and welcoming. I’d heard mixed things from friends and colleagues and wasn’t sure what to expect. But every person we encountered (except for the flight attendants) greeted us with a smile and was always willing to help. It may have helped that Vishnu and I did our best to learn and use common Italian words and phrases whenever we could! Grazie, ciao, buonasera, per favore – we said it all!

Italy_Capri_Boat Tour 
And finally, after 12 days in three different Italian cities, we picked up quite a few tips that I thought would be fun to share and hopefully prove to be helpful!

In no particular order…

  1. House wine is the way to go. It’s cheap (sometimes cheaper than water) and pairs nicely with the food. I went red 99% of the time, but the white I did try was equally as good.
  2. Not all gelato is made the same. Go where the lines are.
  3. Learn some Italian and speak it. Don’t be shy. We learned pretty quickly that it’s a sign of respect and very much appreciated.
  4. Walk as much as you can! It’s the best way to see and explore whatever city you’re in. And get lost a little. See how people live and enjoy the entire city…not just the touristy stuff.
  5. With that being said, bring good walking shoes. I wore my Toms 99% of the time, and while they were fine, I often wished I had better shoes to support all the walking and climbing we did.
  6. Tips are not required. Most restaurants tack on the service charge so you don’t need to leave additional money. And the ones that don’t make it very apparent on the receipt.
  7. If you like your pasta a bit more cooked than al dente, make sure to say something. Especially when ordering something like penne.
  8. You have to pay for water everywhere you go. We paid anywhere from 1-4 Euros. To avoid that, carry a water bottle with you and refill it when possible.
  9. Sometimes you have to pay for bread. If you know that you’re not going to eat it, tell your waiter ahead of time so you don’t get charged.
  10. Some restaurants charge a sitting fee. It’s not much (2 Euros/person) but can add up over the course of your trip. Just be sure to ask before being seated.
  11. You have to ask for your check. Italy is not like the US where people sit down, eat quickly, and leave. Dinner can easily take over 1.5 hours. And a lot of that time is waiting for your waiter to bring the check so be sure to ask for it.
  12. Pick hotels that are close to the center of the city. You want something that’s close to the sites you want to see, near restaurants and cafes, and close to public transportation. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier!
  13. Even if you have your iPhone, carry a physical map with you at all times. Our favorite ones came from the hotels themselves. iPhone directions can be somewhat confusing at times, especially with all the roads and intersections. Having a map handy makes navigating a lot easier! So does having a smart husband!
  14. Always be watchful over your belongings, especially in train stations. Make sure your bags are zipped all the way and put more valuable items in harder to reach places.
  15. There’s no need to bring a hairdryer with you. But just know that European hairdryers are not as powerful as American ones. They get the job done…it just takes 3x as long.
  16. Lots of places accept credit cards but not all places. My research led me to believe that we wouldn’t need much cash, but we ended up having to visit an ATM. Not a big deal, but just be aware that a lot of places still don’t accept plastic! Also, research your bank’s fees and all that beforehand.
  17. If you can swing it, plan your trip in either April or October. This tip comes straight from the locals. You’ll get the best weather and the least amount of people.
  18. Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app. It’s essentially the tour guide you never paid for. We used it several times during our trip…while visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, the Uffizi, the Academia, etc. And in addition to the walking tours, he has a number of talks where he discusses different aspects of the culture. I loved the ones about Italian food and dessert – duh!

Well, that’s all I have for now! Like I said, I have three very specific posts planned for next week, so be on the lookout for those.

Happy Friday!

P.S. I haven’t forgotten about the Minted winner!  Be on the lookout for an announcement early next week.