When you think of Italy, there are many things that come to mind, tasty pizza, endless gelato and amazing architecture. My mother was celebrating a Big 0 Birthday and we decided to do a trip to Italy together. I was glad that our trip was at the end of the tourist season, I really couldn’t imagine trying to view all the sites whilst fighting off fellow tourists. That is no kind of holiday! Despite it moving into rainy season the weather, thankfully, held up.
Our journey began in Rome, the eternal city. There is really so much to do and see here that 2 days is not enough but I managed to squeeze in most of the sights (The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and Museums). My favourite being a visit to the Colosseum. If you have limited time, make sure this beautiful structure is on your to- do list.
Once we’d gotten in all the must see sights, our time was best spent wandering through the narrow streets, gelato in hand and ending up at Piazza Navona for a hearty Italian meal. Their vegetarian dishes are the tastiest and if you are into lemonade, try the lemon soda. It was my drink of choice for the trip. If you want to shop, I would advise that you hold off until you reach Florence.
After Rome, Venice was our next stop. The first thing you notice when you reach Venice is the distinct absence of traffic, the main island is reachable by boat and movement within is via water bus/ taxi, private boat or gondolas. It does have a slight sewer smell when you first arrive but nothing so strong that it lingers or maybe it is just that you get taken in by the beauty of the Grand Canal. Venice is known for its art exhibitions and I was lucky to pass by “Support” Lorenzo Quinn’s work of art that highlights the rising sea levels caused by climate change.
On the way to Florence, we got to stop at Pisa and take a look at the famous leaning tower. Almost every photo that I have seen of the leaning tower makes you think it is a lone building but it is actually situated in a square which includes a cathedral and baptistery. If you look closely, you can see the two attempts to correct the tower’s lean.
I was most looking forward to Florence and it did not disappoint, we tried blue champagne and even got to meet my fiancé David (see below for a pic of him). Whilst there is not much to see here compared to the capital city, I found this to be the friendliest city and loved the Tuscan Hills. Our final night ended perfectly with a traditional Italian dinner at a Private Castle, originally owned by the Pazzi Family and the birthplace of the Pazzi Conspiracy. The current owners make wine, olive oil and a delicious saffron jam amongst many other produce. They shared these tips for buying olive oil:
1. The younger the better;
2. The container should be a made of a dark coloured glass bottle or stainless steel to prevent sun exposure and lastly;
3. If it is cheap, it’s not good quality olive oil.
For shop- aholics, Florence is known for its leather and gold and is a shopper’s dream especially with the tax refund.
Other than the main cities, there are some quaint towns in the Tuscan region that are worth visiting. Siena is one of them and interestingly holds a medieval themed horse race, known as the Palio with thousands of locals gathering around the square to watch it unfold. I was told by our tour guide that it is not even so much about getting a view of the race, it’s just about being in that atmosphere. Siena is also home to the world’s oldest operating bank founded in 1472, Banca Monet dei Paschi di Siena. If you happen to find yourself here, make sure you try their famous almond pastries called Ricciarelli.
All in all, I have to say Florence stole my heart and I might pull a Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun and look for a villa to renovate!