I love you. I really do. Your rich culture, deep history, and beauty inspire me. Your landscapes are straight from a dream. And your food… I’m not sure there are enough adjectives to describe how wonderful your food is. Something about you just makes people feel good. Perhaps the only unfortunate thing about you, is that you did my bikini bod no favors…. I forgive you though. It has been a week since our last encounter and I am already counting the days until we are reunited. Miss you!!
Day 1: Florence, Italy
Carrie and I arrived in Florence Wednesday afternoon around 1:00 p.m. We met up with two friends and had a quick lunch at Market Centrale. The market had a very cool atmosphere and offered a hodgepodge of many Italian foods. I ordered bruschetta with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. After lunch, we took a casual stroll past the Duomo (we wouldn’t tour the cathedral until the next day) and the famous Ponte Veccio bridge. We stopped for our first gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita- a local favorite. I ordered a “cookie” and “frutti de bosco” mixed cone and it was probably the best gelato I had the entire trip. After gelato, we spent some time at Piazza Michelangelo- a beautiful hilltop plaza that overlooks the entire city. On our walk back the city center we caught the sunset in it’s prime and snapped a few pictures. That night we had dinner at Dantes (a traditional italian restaurant) and I ordered spaghetti carbonara that had me leaving full and happy!
Day 2: Florence, Italy
Today Carrie and I did our own solo touring. We bought 15€ passes that got us into the Duomo (dome) of the Florence Cathedral and into the Bell Tower. I would recommend purchasing the passes in advance to avoid lines… Carrie and I didn’t buy the passes in advance, and had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get into the Duomo. At least we had a nice view of the outside of the Basilica while we waited..? The exterior of the Basilica is absolutely beautiful! Its a gothic style building covered with marble panels in various shades of pink and green. The inside of the Basilica doesn’t disappoint either. The ceiling of Duomo is covered in an elaborate painting depicting heaven and hell. We walked through the Basilica before making our way to the top of the Duomo for a view of the city. The view was pretty incredible but we concluded that the view from the Bell Tower was better because it allows you to see all of Florence including the Duomo.
After touring we grabbed a quick lunch at a trip advisor and local approved panini restaurant, Da Vinitierri.I ordered a spicy salami panini with fresh cheese and arugula that was absolutely mouthwatering. There are rumors that the owner bakes his bread fresh daily, and after eating my panini I concur that the bread was indeed very fresh. After lunch, we took on the leather market. Italy, and Florence specifically, is famous for it’s quality leather. The market is similar to Moroccan markets in that bargaining is very common. I did my fair share of bargaining and ended up with a genuine black leather purse for only €20! That night we had dinner at Santo Torreto and I ordered pasta… again (surprise surprise). This time it was gnocchi covered in a creamy pesto and aoili sauce. It was love on a plate.
Day 3: Cinque Terre, Italy
“And on the third day God made Cinque Terre…” Just kidding but you catch my drift. Cinque Terre is almost too beautiful. It’s a mountainous portion of coast along the Italian Riviera that consists of five villages- Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Although all villages are easily connected by train, the coastal hiking trail that covers all five villages is a more popular and scenic option.
I decided to take a solo weekend trip to this travel oasis because it was only a short train ride away from Florence. That’s another beauty of Italy- how well connected it is by train! My hostel was in Manarola, but I narrowly missed check in time (check in was from 11-1 and 3-8, I arrived at 1:20) and I decided to go straight to Monterosso al Mare, the rumored best beach village, to spend some time in the sun. I bought a pizza and a small bottle of wine at the Rick Steves approved Pizzeria “La Smorfia,” to take with me to the beach. It was a blissful afternoon to say the least. That night I returned to Manarola and went to Da Billy Trattoria, as suggested by the Hostel concierge. Guess what I ordered… more pasta!! Except this time I ordered a delicious spaghetti frutti di mare.
Day 4: Cinque Terre, Italy
On Saturday I woke up at 9:00 a.m. with the intention of hiking the entire seven mile coastal trail. But before I began, I decided to check out the event booking agency Arbaspaa, to see about local wine tasting opportunities. I scheduled a wine tasting for 6:00 p.m. with the local winery Enoteca Internazionale. After scheduling the wine tasting I took a short train ride to Riomaggiore to start my hike. Riomaggiore is the smallest of the towns but is no less beautiful. This part of the hike was the hardest however because the normal trail was closed due to landslides. The detour was essentially all uphill climbing. It made for a pretty cool view though…
The next stop on the hike was Manarola. Manarola is easily the prettiest town in my opinion. But it’s also the most photographed of all the villages so some must agree with me. I had already spent a lot of time in Manarola the previous night though so I walked through the village pretty quickly and began my trek to the next town- Corniglia.
The walk from Manarola to Corniglia was no less scenic and it was relatively easy. Corniglia as a village however, was my least favorite. Not to say the village wasn’t beautiful, it was just the only village not on the coast.
The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was my favorite although it was the longest- 2 miles. It consisted of several stair-step climbs but the views were stunning. Vernazza is also one of the most beautiful villages. Its oceanfront and extremely colorful. I stopped for some foccaccia bread in Vernazza before beginning the last part of the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso al mare.
The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was a bit more challenging because it required descending a lot of steep stairs and narrow passageways. However, the panoramic view of Monterosso’s two beaches near the end of the hike was well worth the exercise.
When the hike was over I awarded myself with the wine tasting at Enoteca Internazionale. Luckily the tasting was in Monterosso, where I had ended my hike. The tasting included three different local wines. Two white wines and a spicy dessert wine to finish. I was also served a plate of cheese to compliment the white wines and brown sugar cookies to compliment the dessert wine. I was pretty impressed with all three wines and my experience overall at Enoteca Internazionale. I would definitely recommend the wine tasting if you have spare time in Cinque Terre!
Day 5: Desenzano del garda, Italy
On Sunday I took a quick detour to Desenzano del Garda, Italy to visit my Dad’s girlfriend. Desenzano is an eastern Italy town on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda. Our hotel overlooked the lake and the Swiss Alps! We spent the day walking around the town and doing some casual shopping before stopping for a wine and cheese lunch/dinner. We also grabbed gelato after our meal, naturally. Although my time here was short, I really enjoyed it. One cool thing about Desenzano is that it is off the beaten path and not so saturated with travelers. It was interesting to see more of the true Italian culture and everyday lifestyle.
Day 6: Rome, Italy
The next day I took an early morning train from Desenzano to Rome. Originally Carrie and I had planned to avoid hotel costs and spend the night out because our flight was at 6:30 am the next day and the airport was a 45 minute drive from the city center. However, we quickly realized that it would be better to have a place to stay that night one we arrived to Rome pretty exhausted from all the weekend travel. We booked a room through HotelTonight, a useful site that finds cheap, last minute deals on hotel rooms. Upon arrival, we dropped off our luggage in the hotel room and set out to tour Rome… in a day. It seemed like an impossible feat but surprisingly we made it to many of the city’s iconic sites. We started with a tour of the colosseum and surrounding Roman ruins. I have to admit, the Colosseum was a bit underwhelming in person but when you consider it’s history and the architectural genius of the time period, it’s actually pretty impressive. After touring the Colosseum we took the metro to the Vatican City and toured Saint Peter’s Basilica. No exaggeration, this was the most beautiful church I have ever seen. It was elaborately decorated from floor to ceiling. Aside from its sheer beauty, it was incredible to think about it’s historical importance. It truly left me speechless and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to visit. Next we took the metro back to city center and ate dinner at a popular pizzeria near the Spanish Steps. We finished the day with a walk to the Trevi Fountain to see it in all its nighttime glory. We had no shame in throwing in a few coins in ourselves and taking our own touristy pictures.
I can’t sing enough praise about Italy, its wonderful culture, beautiful landscapes, and incredible food. Each part of my trip was equally enjoyable and allowed me to see many different sides of the country. Florence was very comparable to Sevilla in size and layout- so of course I loved it. Cinque Terre showed me some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Desenzano allowed me to see a less touristy side of Italy. And Rome.. well Rome is Rome. It certainly lives up to the hype. I know that I will most certainly return to Italy in the future and I pray that it’s someday soon.