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Italy

Siena

Hotel:

Palazzo Ravizza – The breakfast of breads and meats were great.  Fresh fruits and coffee were perfect. The view out the window was breathtaking and sunsets spectacular.

 

Transportation:

Driver from Florence Airport to Siena: Licio.  Great.  Hired through hotel.

 

Restaurants:

Trattoria la Torre – Also no menu, just the owner Alberto.  He told me what they had (in Italiano), I asked to see the menu, he replied, “I am the menu.” Great picci pasta and raviolis both with bolognese.

Antica Osteria Divo – Best dinner in Siena.  I had zucchini roll with mozzarella and pea cream, picci pasta with wild boar ragu, and a potato encrusted fish.  All were amazing.

Activities:

Siena Duomo Crypt – Inside there was an area that was newly excavated that was very cool.

Façade at Siena Duomo – We climbed to top and had an amazing view of Siena.

Piazza del Campo – It was great for people watching and photographs (day and night).

Medieval Streets – We just hiked the streets and every turn was a beautiful, picturesque, and quaint.

Gelato – We lined up at the busiest one and were not disappointed.

Chianti Wine Tour – It was half-day and hired through hotel.  We went to Sant’ Appiano where they gave us a 6 pour tasting with snacks.  Their blends were delicious. 

Tenuta Casanova – They made amazing truffle oil and a balsamic-type vinegar.

The driver of wine tour also took us to Monteriggioni Fortress  and Castellina in Chianti for photo opportunities and a gelato stop.

Phrase I picked up:

Mi piace molto – I like it very much

City take away:

Everyone drinks from fountains, not water fountains but decorative ones in the towns’ squares.

 

Florence

Hotel:

Hotel dei Macchiaioli – The best part of this hotel is its central location and very helpful staff.  The breakfast is fine (you should order a double espresso from the bar instead of having the machine coffee in dining area).

 

Transportation:

Taxi from hotel to bus station.  Bus from Siena to Florence.  Cab ride to hotel.

(We took a train from Florence to Rome. It wasn’t until after we arrived to the main train station en route to Rome did I realize I bought online train tickets to depart from other train station.)

 

Activities:

Florence Duomo – Definitely climb to top of cupola.  The line was at the side entrance.  It’s a different line to get into church.  The gelato stand by side entrance was very good.

Ponte Vecchio – It was a must see but so crowded.  There was a statue there with a gate that folks put locks on to ‘seal their love,’ but it’s illegal.

Accademia – David was awesome.  But like the Mona Lisa at the Louve… it feels like you see the one attraction then you’re done.  Advance tickets are a MUST!

Convent of San Marco – Make sure to see dorms on 2nd floor.

Medici Chapel – The new sacristy was very impressive and Michelangelo created all the tombs.  (Also don’t confuse this chapel with the San Lorenzo.)

Santa Maria Novella – It was a very beautiful church but we couldn’t find the old perfumery that was mentioned in Rick Steves’ Florence tour.

Piazza Michelangelo – From this park we saw one of the most spectacular sunsets and what a view of Florence.  The pink hills in the distance were an elegant surprise.

National Museum of Bargello – This place had gorgeous statues and an awesome courtyard filled with coats of arms.

Galileo Museum – This was a very cool (modern) space.  We stayed near an English speaking school tour guide.  The museum houses Galileo’s middle finger which was hilarious and prophetic.

Santa Croce Basilica – It’s where all of the greats (Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli) are buried.  I loved the museum section where you can see the stained glass and frescos up close.

Pitti Palace – This place was vast and overwhelming.  You’ll probably do the garden after the palace so pickup a snack before you head up into Boboli Garden.

Uffizi – It was a must and it’s made even better and more manageable with Rick Steves’ audio guide.  Advance tickets here – also a MUST.

 

Restaurants:

Trattoria Enzo e Piero – Our hotel recommended this family-run restaurant and it was a lovely treat.  We started with this white bean appetizer with beans from the Valdarno region.  I had pasta with truffle oil and hubby had a special ham (that’s what it was called!) with roasted potatoes.  It was all delicious, simple and cozy.

Osteria De’ Benci – In our travels we met a young couple from NYC who recommended this restaurant and it was great!  I had this drunken pasta (pasta cooked in red wine) and demanded hubby figure out how to recreated it.  We also had a hot pepper steak. All was delicious with a great staff.

Trattoria Katti – This restaurant was all the rage with the Rick Steves’ devotees.  In fact, when we were there three tables talked about it.  It was proclaimed ‘a must’ but it was underwhelming.  (We’ve had a few mediocre meals in Italy but none were with such a highly rated place.)  My gnocchis were heavy, the spinach cold, and the saffron polenta was bland.  Hubby’s sausage and beans were tasty but the expectations were too high.

Il Santo Bevitore – The only sad part, we found this place on our last day in Florence and were only there for lunch.  It was a great atmosphere with mainly locals.  I had this linguine with smoked red mullet eggs and olive oil.  It was so flavorful.  Hubby had broccoli-pesto pasta with anchovies.  It was nearly as amazing as my dish.

Trattoria San Lorenzo – While at il Santo Bevitore, the Italians next to us recommended this restaurant and it was great.  A small family run place.  I had the picci pasta with a duck bolognese that was ridiculously yummy.  Hubby enjoyed a tasty steak with shaved parmesan cheese.

 

Phrases I picked up:

Sono piena – I am full

Tutto bene? Va bene – How is everything? It’s good.

 

City take away:

Tuscan bread is horrible.  They don’t use salt in their breads, so you can properly taste the cured meats, but I’m a savory girl who loves bread and I just stared at the bread baskets with disdain.

Rome

Hotel:

Daphne Inn – It’s tough to find.  And there are two locations.  Ours was on Santo Basilio next door to Alice’s Pizza (They have good slices!)  It’s a nice boutique hotel.  It was a good price for the very central location.

 

Transportation:

Train from Florence then cab to hotel.

(Note the train station mishap from above!)

 

Activities:

Photo by Matt TomlinColosseum – There were just so many pictures to take. Inside. Outside. Nighttime.  This was another place where you should definitely reserve tickets.  And Rick Steves’ audio guide was also handy.

Forum – A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum… we couldn’t find it.  We kept going on a road that looked like it would take us to an entrance.  But three churches later and we were still on the outside looking in.  We finally found an entrance on Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Trevi Fountain – As my friend Cara said, throw a coin over your shoulder then get out.  It’s a beautiful and impressive fountain but it is so very crowded.

Spanish Steps – We randomly found it and were at the top of the steps (Via Gregoriana and Piazza della Trinita dei Monti) so it was a quick and easy trek down.  A fun place to people watch before or after the shopping district.

Via dei Condotti – This is the street for all the high-end shopping.  We also walked along the parallels streets.  We found a cute home good store, Animalier di Gramacciono,  at 76a Via della Croce.

Piazza del Popolo – This plaza was in the movie Angels and Demons.  (We watched that after we were in Rome.)  From there we walked up to the gardens (there were several: Piazzale Napoleone and Piazzle Siena just two names for reference).  It was so beautiful and reminded us of Central Park or the Boston Common.

Pantheon – It’s a very cool building where Rick Steves’ audio was very helpful.

Vatican – We were there for Palm Sunday and went for mass.  It was very cool to go to church with tens of thousands of others and the Pope presiding.  I also bought rosary beads, now blessed by the Pope, for my Catholic family and friends.Photo by Matt Tomlin

Vatican Museum – This was a MUST advance ticket site.  The line wrapped around the Vatican walls!  There was so much to see in the museum and we really just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.

Sistine Chapel – The ticket for the Vatican Museum gets you into the Sistine Chapel.  And it was spectacular.  This was another site that the Rick Steves’ audio guide was key.

St. Peter’s Basilica – Rick Steves’ guide gives a good exit strategy out of the museum to the Basilica. We didn’t listen well and went the long way around.  This was another place where you can climb up to the cupola.  It’s 551 steps to the top for a view of the Vatican.

Borghese museum – This museum was so high maintenance.  You need advance tickets.  You need to pick up the tickets 30 minutes in advance (no sooner).  Then you need to wait until your time slot opens before you can enter.  You have a limited time to enjoy the museum.  You also have to check your bags (camera, phone, wallet, everything).  There were beautiful sculptures and paintings but I’m not sure it was worth the hassle.

 

Restaurants:

Tullio – A pricey but lovely restaurant.  All the pastas were homemade and delicious.  We had a zucchini flower appetizer that was yummy and it had the best spinach side dish.

Giolitti – This place did have the best gelato but it was also the most expensive.  We sat at a table (where the prices are even higher but we didn’t have the patience for the VERY long lines).  They top their gelatos with whip cream, very delicious whip cream! This is a good pre or post Pantheon site.

Trattoria al 19 – We wandered in here after an evening of photographing the Colosseum.  Their antipastas were really innovative and yummy.  The pasta was not hand rolled but they did have tasty sauces.   The meats were good and the grill squid was delicious.  Sadly, the spinach was not good at all.

Caruso Gelato – This one gets a win for best gelato at a reasonable price.  It had the best pistachio and was as delicious as Golitti’s, just not as expensive.

Ditirambo – Delicious.  The bread, beef tartar, cheese/meat/phyllo mint appetizer, pasta with pork cheek and ewe cheese, pistachio gelato with pepper – they were all yummy. The salt encrusted pig was a bit boney.

 

City take away:

You can never go wrong with the Bolognese.

Bathrooms – The toilets don’t have toilet seats (this was throughout Italy).  Just FYI, you’ll be hovering, so your quads will get a nice workout.

 

Amalfi

Hotel:

Hotel Luna Convento – It used to be a convent and its cloister is very cute.  It’s close to the center of town and the rooms have a spectacular view.  We read online to request a room in renovated section, we did.  If you’re going for the pool, note that it doesn’t open until May 1st.

 

Transportation:

We took bus 85 from Rome to Termini Train station.  Took a train to Salerno.  And took a hydrofoil to Amalfi.  There was little information online about ferry service.  We read somewhere the port was across the street from the Salerno train station and it was.  There was a little trailer to buy tickets and it was a beautiful, scenic ride to Amalfi.  I highly recommend the ferry.

 

Activities:

Amalfi was very chill and we just walked around town and took day trips.

Mamma Agata Cooking Course – This was really a highlight of our trip (and technically in Ravello but it was a quick bus rip!).  The cooking class, which was more of a demonstration, was lovely.  The terrace opens out to the most amazing view of the Amalfi Coast.  The food was so delicious.  The homemade wine kept coming and it was one of my favorite wines in Italy.  But the best part was Chiara (mamma’s daughter and translator) and Mamma herself.  It was like we were invited into a friend’s home and watched a delicious meal being prepared.  I love every minute of this day!

Blue Grotto – It was so beautiful and a shade of blue I’ve never seen in my life but it is a bit of a racket.  You pay $35 euro for round trip ferry to Capri, then transportation to the Blue Grotto ($25 euro for cab), $8.50 euro for rowboat into grotto and $4 euro for entrance fee (these are all per person!). We took a ferry to Capri (Great scenic route.  Sit on the right side of boat on the way out and left side on way back for best picture taking opportunities.), a bus to Anacapri then accidentally ended up walking 4 miles to the Blue Grotto.  I do not recommend that.  Just take a boat or taxi from the main port in Capri.  It’s worth the money… the walk was crazy.

Sant’ Andrea Square – We just sat in the square, had some wine, and people watched.

Northern Side of Town – There were these huge cement blocks on the northern side of Amalfi where you can climb and just enjoy the view of the water.

 

 

Restaurants:

Stella Maris – The swordfish with lemon leaf was very fresh.  I asked for some vegetables and they grilled up some yummy stuff.  Hubby had the Lemon risotto with shrimp and it was a winner.  This restaurant sits on the beach and has a great view of the water.

Donna Stella Pizzeria – (Link is Trip Advisor review.) The pizza was good but a bit under cooked.  The potato croquettes were very tasty.  It was #2 to Alice’s Pizza.  (We did not find great pizza in Italy!)

Marina Grande – (Chiara at Mamma Agata recommended this place.) Great meal that started with a great bread bag.  There was this delicious homemade squid ink bread that I could have just kept eating.  The dishes were innovative.  I had a pasta with mussels that was very good.

Eolo – Our favorite meal during our two weeks in Italy.  Two amuse-bouche that were delightful.  I had the mozzarella, tomato, tapanade starter that was fresh and tasty.  We had the Scialatielli pasta with seafood that was divine.  And the pasta stuffed with a cauliflower purée and clams. It was like a pierogi and so delicious.  Pastas were homemade and so much tastier!  For dessert a lemon cream and tequila jelly – WOW!

 

City take away:

Don’t eat anywhere there are “barkers,” folks stopping you on the street, telling you to eat at that restaurant.

Aglianico Wines are my new favorites.

 

Phrases I picked up:

Mi piace moltisimo – I liked it best!

Naples Airport

Transportation:

Amalfi Coast Car Service – Claudio Lucibello was great.  Perfect amount of narrative during our scenic drive to the airport. (Another recommendation from Chiara!)

 

Restaurants:

Antica pasticceria Vincenzo BellaviaI had the best sfogliatelle in my life right in the Naples airport!  In the states they come cream filled; it’s sweet.  But this shop had a spinach one that was amazing.  I ate it, then walked back to order a half dozen more (it’s all they had left) to take home with me.

 

Tips for Italy Trip

-       Download Google translator

-       Buy Euros stateside

-       Get power adapters

-       Invest in comfortable walking shoes

-       Get Rick Steves’ audio guides

-       Chat with folks at hotel, they can make reservations at the big attractions, hook you up with transportation, and help plan itinerary.

 

 

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