From March 29th to April 11th, I ventured to Italy for two weeks of eating, playing, and exploring my way through the Italian cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice. The Eternal City is the last city in my trio of major European capitals on my travel bucket list—London was in 2015 and Paris was in 2016, so naturally Rome was next on the hit list. I was also curious to witness the birthplace of the Renaissance in Florence and wander about the winding canals of the floating city of Venice, so I extended my sojourn into a two week excursion to cover multiple destinations. Thus, my fortnight of an Italian extravaganza was born!
While solo travel in the spring is a tradition of mine, this particular trip was quite the spur-of-the-moment decision. Due to the sudden life changes that had occurred at the start of the year, I had originally postponed my trip planning as I tried to determine my next career steps. However, after encountering bouts of anxiety over the uncontrollable uncertainty of my current situation, I realized that I wasn’t ready to enter the next phase just yet. I needed a break. I needed a temporary escape. I needed a vacation.
So, three weeks before my eventual departure, I booked an open-jaw ticket from Vancouver to Rome, and from Venice to Vancouver—and added train tickets from Rome to Florence and from Florence to Venice—and I vowed to take a breather and mend my mind, body, heart, and soul through living la dolce vita in Roma, Firenze, and Venezia.
A Roman Holiday in Rome
March 30th to April 4th
Upon landing at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, I boarded the train to Roma Termini station and hightailed it to my fun and friendly hostel at The Yellow in order to maximize DAY 1 in the city. After checking into my room, I had my first taste of authentic Italian food at Pizzeria del Secolo. I experienced Rome’s underground Metro system, which takes passengers round the main stops in the city centres. My destination was Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish Steps are located. Loaded with throngs of fellow tourists, the city square also has Fontana della Barcaccia, the first of many water fountains I would find around Rome. I snaked through the crowds of people to climb up the baroque stairway of the Spanish Steps and get my first view of the ancient city. In dire need of a caffeine fix, I ordered a cappuccino at Rome’s oldest coffee bar, Antico Caffè Greco. Too jetlagged to attempt any mind-stimulating activities, I opted to stroll along the shopping streets of the Via Condotti and Via del Corso, and ended up buying a leather jacket and clothes from Mango and make-up from the Milan-based cosmetics brand, KIKO. I had my first scoop of Italian gelato at Fatamorgana and explored Piazza del Popolo. Before sundown, I headed over to Trevi Fountain where I made three wishes and tossed three coins into the fountain.
On DAY 2, I headed to Piazza Venezia to see Altare della Patria, the massive marble-made monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of Italy, and to see the column of Trajan’s Forum. I walked with the gladiators and emperors from ancient empires ago at the trifecta of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. Famished after all of the rummaging of ancient ruins, I had lasagna at Trattoria Luzzi and spaghetti carbonara at Mamma Angela. The dining culture in the restaurants of Italy was top notch and had me coming back for the terrace ambiance, rich flavours, perfectly portioned dishes, and kind service.
On DAY 3, I visited another one of the seven hills of Rome, Capitoline Hill and the surrounding Piazza del Campidoglio. Ever on the search for royal palaces, I viewed the apartments and private art collections of two of Rome’s most esteemed families at Palazzo Doria Pamphilj and Palazzo Colonna (which has the gorgeously-decorated great halls I’ve seen – move over, Hall of Mirrors in Versailles!). After another coffee boost at another famous bar, Sant’Eustachio il Caffè, I walked over to Piazza Navona to see the Obelisk of Domitian and the three fountains, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Nettuno, and Fontana del Moro. I got my coffee boost at another famous bar, Sant’Eustachio il Caffè before walking over to the Pantheon, the impressively preserved architectural wonder of the great Roman Empire built as a temple to honour all Gods. To cap off the day, I had spaghetti bolognese at La Scaletta and a pistachio treat from Rome’s oldest gelateria, Giolitti.
When in Rome… When it rains, it pours. I realized this right away on DAY 4 as I watched the Rome Marathon runners get drenched by buckets of rainwater as they raced through the city streets towards Circus Maximus, the site of the ancient chariot races. After cheering on the athletes from around the globe, I headed to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin to see the Sunday church service. I couldn’t resist getting a photo with the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità), as popularized by the memorable scene in Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday. I went across the road to see the Temple of Hercules Victor, the Temple of Portunus, and the Fountain of the Tritons. I crossed the Ponte Palatino (and saw the remains of the oldest stone bridge in Rome, Ponte Rotto) to visit the charming and cool neighbourhood of Trastevere, where I devoured the best margherita pizza I’ve had at Dar Poeta, found the cutest summer dress from DJ Dress Shop, and saw one of the oldest churches and fountains of Rome at Santa Maria in Trastevere. Taking advantage of free museum admission day on the first Sunday of the month, I checked out the art collection at Palazzo Corsini and explored the fortresses of Castel Sant’Angelo. Possibly my favourite gelato in all of Italy was found across the Sant’Angelo Bridge at Frigidarium, as their signature mixture of cookies, chocolate, caramel, and vanilla flavours was divine!
DAY 5 was the big day I had been waiting for – Vatican City Day! After fuelling up with a cup of mocha from Sciascia Caffè and strawberry gelato from Old Bridge Gelateria, I was ready to take myself to church in the holy land of the world’s smallest country. I started my pilgrimage at the Vatican Museums, where I followed the trail of art masterpieces collected by the various Popes straight to the Sistine Chapel, the site of the most famous ceiling art of all, Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” fresco. I then went over to St. Peter’s Square to enter the holy Catholic shine of St. Peter’s Basilica and hike up the Dome’s 551 steps for the glorious view of Rome from the top of the Vatican City. Consider me #blessed.
On my last day, DAY 6, I had the best pasta during my time in Italy at Ciampini, where I had gnocchi all’amatriciana. I did a tour of Villa Medici’s apartments and gardens and strolled around the gardens of the massive Villa Borghese (the Temple of Asclepius being the highlight) before checking out the exquisite private art collection of the Borghese Gallery. To end my adventures in Rome, I enjoyed the jazztastic music of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox on an evening in Roma at Auditorium Parco della Musica.
A Renaissance Woman in Florence
April 5th to April 8th
I took the train along the countryside towards the artistic and natural beauty of the city under the Tuscany sun—Florence. Upon arriving at the Santa Maria Novella station, I was amazed to discover that my next hostel, Ostello Archi Rossi, was just a three minute walk away. Talk about a prime location! I very soon realized that the rest of Firenze was just as compact and walkable. I set about exploring the city right away on DAY 1 and beelined it to Piazza del Duomo, where I was right in the center of it all—Il Duomo di Firenze (the cathedral), Battistero di San Giovanni (the baptistry), and Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower). I did a tour of the baptistry and the cathedral and then climbed the steps of the bell tower for a sweeping view of Florence (a word of advice – as much as possible, book your tickets to Florence attractions in advance in order to avoid the long line-ups). After taking a reprieve to enjoy a plate of ravioli at the bustling Trattoria Mario, I wandered over to Piazza della Repubblica to the see the golden arch and the lively carousel and to hear the music of the street entertainers. I then walked back over to the Santa Maria Novella area to visit the basilica and the piazza. As the evening hour approached, I went to Ponte Santa Trinita to watch the sunset over the Arno River from the bridge, with a cup of bacio (chocolate and hazelnut) gelato from Gelateria La Carraia in hand. I window-shopped along the shopping streets of Via de’Tornabuoni and Via dei Calzaiuoli, shopped at the Italian department store, COIN, patted the snout of the bronze boar statue of Fontana del Porcellino for good luck, and took snaps of Pizzeria O’Vesuvio (the pizzeria where the Jersey Shore cast worked in Season 4) before heading back to the hostel.
On DAY 2, I started my day by getting caramel gelato from the all-natural artisan gelateria, Perchè No. I viewed the sculptures and treasures of the Palazzo del Bargello museum, with Donatello’s David being the most notable work. I walked over to Santa Croce to see the interior and grounds of the beautiful basilica, where illustrious Italians like Michelangelo and Galileo are buried. I finally climbed up to the top of the Duomo cupola for another incredible view of Florence. Drained, I gobbled down pasta from Il Gatto e la Volpe before heading to my second museum of the day, the Uffizi gallery, home to famous portraits such as Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. In the evening, I indulged in even more gelato from Amorino Gelato (this time with a macaron on top!) and hung out at an Irish pub called Fiddlers Elbow.
DAY 3 was my day to experience Italian fashion, as I admired the clothes, the dresses, the shoes, and the handbags on display at the Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci museums. I browsed the stacks of books at Paperback Exchange, Florence’s English language bookstore. I got to behold one of the most famous art pieces in the world up close, Michelangelo’s David, at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I walked along the medieval bridge of Ponte Vecchio, now populated with jewelry shops. Finally, I headed over to Piazza della Signoria to see the public sculptures at Loggia dei Lanzi and view the apartments at Palazzo Vecchio before enjoying more pasta at Trattoria Za Za.
For DAY 4, my final day in Florence, I spent the day at the other side of the Arno River to check out Palazzo Pitti (with its royal apartments, Palatine Gallery, and other small museums devoted to costume, silver, and porcelain), I revelled in the peace and quiet of the lovely Boboli and Bardini Gardens. Finally, I ventured over to Piazzale Michelangelo for a final romantic panoramic view of the Italian city. Now that’s amore!
A Very Nice Time in Venice
April 9th to April 11th
Venice is different than the big city of Rome and the small city (with a town-esque feel) of Florence. The floating island-city of Venezia is unique in that it is a pedestrian-only paradise with an village-like vibe. The change of pace was necessary after the jam-packed itineraries of Rome and Florence.
On DAY 1, after arriving at the Venezia Santa Lucia station, I opened up Google Maps (which saved my life in terms of helping me navigate around Venice without getting totally lost) to find my way to my quaint hostel, L’Imbarcadero, which is located right along the water with an amazing view of Chiesa di San Geremia across the way. After stuffing myself with margherita pizza from All’Anfora, I made my way to the iconic Rialto Bridge, from which point I watched the activity of gondolas, ferrovias (ferries), vaporettos (water taxis), and other boats along the Grand Canal. I then wandered over to Libreria Acqua Alta, one of the most awesome bookstores on the planet with cats on books, books in gondolas, and staircases made of books. It was a bookworm’s dream.
On DAY 2, I went to ‘the drawing room of Europe’, Piazza San Marco, to see the hoards of tourists and swarm of pigeons. I energized with a cup of Italian hot chocolate from the world’s oldest café, Caffè Florian. I then toured the courts of Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and crossed the infamous Bridge of Sighs, viewed the holy sights at St. Mark’s Basilica, and took the elevator up the Campanile bell tower for a top view of the islands of Venice. On my way to Ponte dell’Accademia, I passed the Teatro la Fenice opera house, Chiesa di Santo Stefano, and countless other churches. After crossing the pedestrian bridge, I found myself at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which houses a personal collection of modern art pieces from masters such as Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. Next, I ventured to the tip of the island to see the skyline view of Venice from Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
On DAY 3, I sailed away via boat to the neighbouring islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello. During this delightful day trip, I watched a glass-making demonstration in Murano, was all smiles over the colourful rainbow houses and lovely lace scarves of Burano, and chased cats and found a medieval cathedral on Torcello. Back in Venice, I shelled out the rest of my Euros on a lavish gondola ride along the Grand Canal and the smaller canals. And finally, I spent my last evening in Venezia with take-out pasta from We Love Italy, dolce latte gelato from Grom, and a rousing performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” by a street musician along the Grand Canal.
From the spectacular sights to the delicious cuisine, Italy surpassed my highest expectations. Living the sweet life beneath the Mediterranean sun was just the warm and bright experience I needed after months of feeling low. It was nice to escape from real life and just think of the day to day, and the point A to point B of navigation in the race to check off items on my must-see list. During my travels, a new friend said that the best adventures happen outside of our comfort zones. And, as I have found, sometimes in order to move forward, we have to step away and get a new perspective. I did, I did, and now I am all the richer for it. Viva l’Italia!