Italy: Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, & Rome

In early October I went on a two week trip to Italy with my family.  We went to Venice, the Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome. We started out in Venice and stayed at this beautiful airbnb outside of the main square. It was conveniently located near several main vaporetto stops. Vaporettos are the “bus” system used in Venice, but instead of a bus it’s a boat. One of my favorite things to do there was just take a vaperetto ride, which you could do anytime if you bought a 2 or 3 day pass, for about $30. I loved Venice, but I would suggest you stay away from St. Mark’s square or Rialto Bridge if you want to avoid crowds. I have never seen crowds like that before. And so many Aperol spritzes! If you get even 20 minutes outside of the main square walking, you can find a completely quiet Venice.

I absolutely loved going to St. Mark’s Basilica and listening to a Rick Steves tour. One tip on going to the Basilica that saved a ton of time was that you can reserve your entry time online, up to 10 minutes in advance, and bypass the enormous line outside. One day we took a boat to the Islands of Burano and Murano, which were both really beautiful. If you go, head straight to Burano, and hit Murano on your way back, which will save you a lot of time waiting for a vaporetto. I also really enjoyed the 4 hour food tour we went on. We were able to try so many kinds of cicchetti and learn about Venetian culture.  Cicchetti is a Venetian specific style of food, very similar to Spanish tapas. Supposedly mostly eaten by the younger generation, who don’t make time to cook anymore. They just eat the small bites in bars on their way home. We also had a farm to table 4 course dinner at CoVino. Thank you New York Times for the suggestion. I would also recommend seeing the Doge’s Palace as a place to not miss!

Next stop was the Cinque Terre, which took about 6 hours to get to from Venice by train, with three transfers. We stayed at this amazing hotel, Hotel Villa Adriana, which I would go to again in a heartbeat. It was so beautiful, and served the most delicious Italian breakfast spread, with all types of cheeses, meats, and pastries. Very reasonably priced too, as I had a little single room for about $100 a night. The Cinque Terre was my favorite of all of the areas we visited in Italy, because it was all food, boats, swimming, and hiking. My favorite food I tried of the whole trip was there too, the fish cone! The specialty of Riomaggiore, is fried fish served in a paper cone, of course. Each of the 5 towns are connected by trails, trains, and boats, so it is very easy to get between them. My friend Gwen had joined us for this portion of the trip, and we would easily lose track of time swimming, or eating in one of the villages.  I did end up hiking between Corniglia and Vernazza solo, which was supposed to be the easiest of the hikes, taking only an hour. We spent a lot of time swimming in Vernazza and Manarolla as well, which both have wonderful places you can take a dip. One evening we headed over to Levanto for dinner, which seemed like the quieter of all of the towns, and technically isn’t one of the 5 Cinque Terre towns. This would be the type of place that Italians might stay on vacation, it seems a little more low key, with less tourists.

After the Cinque Terre we headed to Florence. Again, we totally scored with our place, thanks to my Dad! Hotel Il Bargelino was wonderful as were the hosts. One full day in Florence we did touristy attractions, we went to the Uffizi, the Duomo, and the Accedemia. It was pertinent that you book a time for entry well in advance for each of these. You cannot climb to the top of the duomo without this, and there is a long line to enter the Uffizi, even with a reservation. I cried while seeing the Birth of Venice. My friend and I commented how helpful it was at the Uffizi to have downloaded the Rick Steves audio guide in advance. In Florence we really enjoyed the art of the long dinner. Typically Americans will go to dinner at 7pm and eat until 9pm, and then the Italians will head out for their dinner around 9:30. It winds up being beneficial to the restaurants since they can have two dinner services. Florence claims to have created gelato, so we at plenty of that there, though I can’t say that’s much different than the rest of our trip.

While my sister, her husband, and my friend Gwen headed their separate ways, my parents and I ended the trip in Rome. It’s funny, looking back now,  I think at a certain point I stopped taking pictures with my actual camera in Florence. I have hardly any on camera from Rome. In Rome, again we stayed at the most lovely VRBO. We had a 2 bedroom apartment, and our host was so gracious. Again, I would highly recommend staying there. In Rome we spent a full day at the Vatican, taking a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, we ended the day with mass at the Vatican, which was a remarkable experience. We then headed to see the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain, and I had the best gelato of my trip, at Don Nino. I would say to not miss the Trevi Fountain at night! The next day we did a full half day tour of the Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, and we headed to the Pantheon, upon my insistence. I really didn’t want to head back home without seeing it. We sure did make sure we hit all the sights in the two days we were there. It was definitely a busy, yet unforgettable few days spent with my parents in Rome.

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