Ah, Italia. Land of some of my favorite foods, beautiful countryside, and the richest history I’ve ever been able to witness. I went on a trip through parts of Europe back at the end of March, and I have written about all of them except for Italy, which is where I spent the majority of my trip. Sorry it took me so long, I had literally thousands of photos to go through, and I have been busy with classes and exams. Well, now that I’m here, I might as well start my story. Just a quick note, I don’t normally pitch individuals or shops, but I was impressed by some in Italy and they deserve some praise, so I included them. Just a heads up, I’ve got another long blog for you in this one.
My time in Italy started when our (my flat mate and I) overnight bus arrived in Florence. We wanted to head straight to our hostel so that we could drop off our bags and not tote them around the city with us. It wasn’t a terribly long walk and we arrived at our hostel, which was Plus Florence (more about this hostel later). We were able to place our bags in the luggage room since our beds weren’t ready yet, and we set of to get our first taste of the Italian street markets just down the street from us. There were LOTS of vendors, but most of them had very similar, if not the same, products. The market had the general souvenirs, with key chains, t-shirts/ jackets, and other trinkets. It also offered purses, belts and jackets of every kind of leather, masks, scarves and even pasta. We walked around for a bit exploring the vendors, but not buying anything. We decided to work out a system on who to buy from, before we made our purchases (I was looking for a scarf, my friend for a leather jacket). As for the jacket, we knew how much good quality leather went for in the U.S., so we converted to Euros, allowed for a little leeway and started asking the sellers how low they would go in price. We figured if they were willing to go below 100 Euro (€), their product was not of lasting quality. Finally we found a guy with reasonable prices and a nice/ not pushy demeanor and told him we would be back. That day I didn’t find a scarf that caught my eye.
After our browsing, we decided to grab some food at a little restaurant on the walk home (the choices were many, we just wanted cheap for our first night). If I recall correctly, we ate at Giardino di Barbano, just a few blocks from our hostel. I had Spaghetti Pesto my friend had Penne and we split some Caprese. Our food was delicious, decent portions and really affordable (about €5 a plate and €2 glasses of house wine). After our food, we headed back to our hostel and called it a night; that was our Sunday.
Monday morning, we had a quick breakfast at a little shop (lots of them offered deals on a cappuccino and pastry for less than €3) and we decided to head towards the Uffizi, the Duomo and all the other attractions. We soon discovered that nothing is open on Mondays in Florence (attractions wise), which turned out pretty well, considering all of our photo opportunities from the outsides of things. We grabbed paninis for lunch and had some gelato.
The next day we woke up a little earlier, grabbed breakfast in a new place and headed off to the Academia Gallery to stand in line for the David Statue. We were told it might be a two hour wait, but we ended up waiting nearly four (you can reserve a pass and not wait quite as long). Once inside we were able to see the David up close, as well as a number of other incomplete statues my Michelangelo. In addition, there was a plaster mold room, containing the molds from some of the statues we saw on our earlier trip to Paris. There was also a video explaining the mold making process, and how it is replicated when faux statues and busts are needed. After our David viewing, we headed back to the markets to do some shopping. There we found what we were looking for. I met a nice vendor at a scarf booth (not pushy, which is what I look for), who had scarves that the other vendors didn’t. I was looking at one in particular when he asked if I wanted to try it. I did, and he put it on for me, showing me two different ways to tie the scarf. This alone impressed me, but then I saw the scarf that called to me. It was a peach color, with butterflies, birds and flowers in bright magenta and teal. It was his only one of that design and I decided I had to have it. The scarf is cotton with a touch of silk, only €10 and I love it (and now I know two new ways to wear it).
My friend also found the leather jacket booth she had scouted before and started talking with the salesman. He walked her into his shop (just behind the booth he had set up) and asked her about styles and colors she wanted. She tried on a few, but her favorite (and the best looking in my opinion too) was a deep blue one. He told us that their factories were in Italy (even had a video playing of it), how the leather was treated and answered any questions my flat mate asked. They negotiated prices for a bit (almost coming to a stand still), but finally they settled after he gave a demonstration. This man grantees his products, and to prove this point he pulled out a lighter and burned the sleeve of the jacket to show that there was no heat/ light damage to the leather. I was impressed; my friend was sold and gave him the price he was looking for. He even told her if it was damaged or anything started coming apart five or six years down the road, send it back to him to fix or replace. If you are looking for a leather jacket in Florence, Dante Leather Shop is where this purchase was made.
This night for dinner, we went for a little pricier food and found ourselves at Trattoria Katti. It has mixed reviews on Trip Adviser, but my friend and I loved it. It is a family run place (just be aware their English is minimal) in a small, but cozy restaurant. There were only a few other diners, and it was a quite place. We ordered our food, were given our drinks and some bread for the table. We were excited, because both my flat mate and I love bread, but more so because there was olive oil and balsamic on the table too, which we used for the bread and caprese (we love Italian food and what I guess you could call its condiments). A bit later we got our food, gnocchi for me and penne with spicy sausage for my friend. It was the best Italian food I have ever eaten. The portions were rather large and looked amazing. I was full about half way through my dish and I couldn’t stop eating until it was nearly gone. In addition to enjoying our meal, we met a few other Americans a bit more traveled than ourselves, talked a bit about their experiences in Italy and what we could expect. It was a great experience.
The next day we walked down to the Uffizi Gallery, bought reserved tickets for later in the day (we didn’t want to stand in line for hours) and headed out too explore the area around the river. On our way out, we saw a number of artists setting up to do portraits. My flat mate had wanted to get one for her parents done in Paris, but didn’t have the time. She decided she would get one in Florence and negotiated a price with the artist she had picked, who was named Canu Vittorio. While she sat, I documented the event with my camera. The sketching process was really quite fascinating. The artist was very nice and even let me get up close for photos while he worked. The sketch turned out great. Mr. Vittorio talked with us a bit about our travels and gave me his name and phone number for this blog when I asked. If anyone reading is heading to Florence and want a great sketch done, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to give his info to you.
After this we walked along the river (it was a gorgeous day) exploring souvenir booths, little shops and just enjoying the scenery. After walking over a few bridges and taking lots of photos, we headed back towards the Uffizi. We stopped for a quick lunch at a place just down the street from the gallery with a view of the river. The food was mediocre and the gelato was alright. The view and the outdoor tables were worth the sit down however. I actually had pizza for lunch (I’m not usually a big fan), but I was underwhelmed. We went back to stand in line at our reservation time, and were inside within a few minutes. I am a fan of art, and while the Louvre houses some of my favorite statues, the Uffizi houses some of my favorite paintings. While much of the Uffizi was under construction during our visit and not all of the pieces were on display (they are expanding a wing to make more room), we were able to see The Birth of Venus and related paintings. I love mythology and some of the paintings representing Roman (and also Greek) deities are my favorites, Botticelli’s La Primavera (or Allegory of Spring) for example. Going to places like the Uffizi just amaze me. There are paintings on the walls that are older than my whole country by over 200 years, not to mention the gallery itself was built in 1581. One thing traveling did for me was make me realize that America is so young. After we had our fill of art, we headed out to the shops and markets. We decided that instead of buying dinner at a restaurant, we wanted to do a bit of a picnic. We went into a small shop, used our best Italian (the owners only spoke a few words of English) and bought fresh pesto, tomatoes, and mozzarella. Then we found a bakery and picked up a large hunk of focaccia and bottle of wine. All the food was fresh and locally made, and it was the perfect dinner, possibly the best we had. The freshness pushed a good meal to a great meal, during which my friend and I realized that two scoops of pesto is never enough.
Now to our hostel, where we ate this lovely meal. The rooms themselves were decent, clean enough and had ensuite bathroom and shower (two separate places), and large lockers to keep luggage in while you were away. We had problems in several other respects however. As with any hostel, unhygienic roommates can be a problem, but when windows are broken and you cannot open most of them to air out the room, that can be an issue. During our stay at Plus Florence, we discovered that the hostel was also being occupied by a large school age group (I am thinking 12-14) who were running up and down stairs frequently, taking up the restaurant in the basement of the hostel, along with the bar/ dance floor and the lobby. Now I don’t normally mind kids, but when I am trying to enjoy a vacation and they are disturbing it, I don’t really want to have to scold someone’s kids in a foreign country. It was a definite negative to our stay. The hostel did have a sauna and pool, which was nice, but make sure to bring your own towels. They will sell you a towel for three Euros, but the towel was barely big enough to wrap all of my hair. The last thing that gives Plus Florence a low review in my experience, was that both my friend and I left with our allergies acting up (her’s in a sneezing kind of way and mine in a hives kind of way). I wouldn’t suggest staying there unless you can’t find something a bit better.
On our last day in Florence we walked over to the Boboli Gardens. We didn’t end up having time to go all the way up and see them, but we did get some pictures from the bottom level. After that we headed back to the hostel to pick up our stuff and catch the train to Rome, where we were wrapping up our adventure.
The trip through the country of Italy was beautiful. The hills, houses and vineyards were amazing to watch go by. Some day I would love to go back to Italy, rent a car, and just drive through the whole country. Eventually got to Rome, and I packed the most tourism into one day that I have ever done. Our first stops were to drop off luggage at my flat mate’s hostel (she was spending Easter weekend in Rome with a tour group), and then at mine. I knew that I would only have one day in the city, so I booked a bus tour to take me to all of the important sights, and my friend decided to join me. It was raining a bit, so we were a little wet as we sat on the top level of the bus, but it was covered and the photos were better with out glass in the way. The bus tour would be hitting all of the major attractions, and I planned to get off and take photos at my favorites. So we set off and arrived at the first sight I wanted to walk around, The Colosseum (Coliseum). It is amazing to me that any of the structure is still standing considering how old it is. My friend and I both found ourselves wishing for a time machine at this sight, just to see it in its prime. It was the first of many stops on my surreal trip around Rome. The next place I disembarked to see was Trevi Fountain. The fountain was truly wonderful. My friend and I stopped to make some wishes (hopefully ensuring our return to Rome), snap some photos and grab gelato. This gelato was really fantastic and I still think about it. It was probably the best gelato I have ever had and the man in the shop was very sweet, if not a little flirty. We also took a little walk to visit the Pantheon, which was much more amazing on the outside than the inside for me.
Then it was back on the bus and we headed towards the last stop I wanted to photograph, Vatican City. This last sight was packed, given that Easter was only a few days away. We were able to get into St. Peter’s Square fairly easily, but there were people everywhere. Tourists, workers setting up for mass and vendors filled the whole place. We walked around, took photos (mine relating a lot to my recent viewing of Angels and Demons) and then got back on the bus to head back to our hostels. When the tour wrapped up, my friend and I parted ways. I wasn’t satisfied with some of my photos however, and I did the bus tour all over again, this time sitting on a different side. I got off in Vatican City again, but this time I just needed to grab a few souvenirs for family members. The gift shops were very crowded. After my second round of the bus tour was over I was exhausted to I headed back to my hostel (Freedom Traveler), where they were having a free pizza night (they also offered a pasta and wine dinner for 3 Euro). It was a nice little place, quite, with a kitchen downstairs and ensuite bathrooms. I settled in for the night and got up early the next day to catch my flight back to Dublin.
The main transportation center was only a few blocks from my hostel (trains, buses, airport shuttles), and I was able to catch a shuttle to the airport with in an hour. Then it was all waiting until my flight. Rome Fiumicino airport is a small place and it was a bit confusing to actually board my flight. People stood in line at a gate with no airplane, then go outside, boar buses and take those to the planes. This was the first time I had ever done something like that, but it wasn’t too bad.
I made it back to Dublin just fine, if not exhausted. It was the most amazing trip of my life and I am glad it ended in Italy, one of my long time wish list countries. I would love to go back someday and spend more time, but for now I have some really great memories. Photos are below. There are a lot more (and some of much better quality) on my photo blog: http://kldphotoblog.wordpress.com/.
Thanks for reading,