Italy…what a place! When we planned this trip many months ago we knew Italy would be a big focus. Why? Because it contains so many of the things we love: pizza, pasta, wine, gelato and large portions! OK, it wasn’t just the food. The amazing history and beauty of this country also drew us in and It certainly did not disappoint. We ended up spending nearly a month touring this amazing country. The length of time we spent here kind of caught us by surprise, but when you realize all the amazing places to see and experience, it almost felt like we needed more time. So, without further adieu here is our 4 week tour of the big boot:
After we left Switzerland we headed straight south to Firenze to begin a big loop of the northern part of Italy. It was not the most efficient way to travel, but we designed this portion of our trip to intercept some friends in Lake Como (more on that later). Yes, we passed Lake Como on the way to Florence, but we needed to kill some time, so off we went.
When you drive into Florence you realize two things pretty fast: the historic center of town is incredible (the Duomo and the steeples immediately grab your eye) and driving around this city is like being in a full contact go-kart race. Thank goodness Nolan was used to driving in NYC because it was nuts. Once we finally found our Airbnb, we realized we were smack in the middle of historic Florence, steps away from the famous Basilica of Santa Croce (the principal Franciscan church in Florence). Incredible! We parked the car and didn’t touch it for three days as we explored this city.
On the first day all we did was walk. We started near the Duomo and made our way over the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge and around the outside of the city, ending at the Piazzale Michelangelo. We had our first Italian dinner at a family-style restaurant that was recommended to us. The look on Kirby’s face said, “Yep, eating pasta EVERY SINGLE NIGHT we are in Italy.” This premonition came true btw…
On the second day, we climbed stairs...lots of them. We climbed the famous Giotto's Bell Tower and then later in the day climbed the Duomo. The perspectives from atop these two vantage points were very similar, yet very different. The Bell Tower not only gives you amazing views of the city but also of the Dome itself, completed in 1436 by Brunelleschi. When you climb the Dome itself you get amazing sprawling views of the city, but also get to see the amazing paintings inside!
We even were able to get in late to see the amazing sculpture of David. This iconic piece of work is huge and takes your breath away when you see it from the gallery hall. It is one of those things that totally lives up to all the hype it receives. Incredible to see it in person!
Our last day in Florence, we got our art fix. We got up early and toured the halls of the Ufiizi Gallery. This has to be the Italian equivalent of the Louvre in Paris, so many historic works to take in. The highlights for us were of course the famous “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli and the originals by DaVinci, particularly “The Adoration of the Magi".
Florence was an amazing way to start our tour of Italy. We were able to return to the Piazzale Michaelangelo on our last night for some sunset photos and found ourselves just taking in the view. The skyline is iconic and absolutely stunning. Very different from any other city and something everyone needs to experience at least once in their lives. This was actually Nolan’s third time and it still was not old to him…
The second stop in our Italian tour was Venice. Since we were driving in, you quickly realize that this city is truly built on water. There are NO roads! We had to park in a huge garage outside the confines of the city and then take all of our stuff on a water taxi to our new Airbnb. Quite an intro! A little side note we learned while we were here: Venice was built in the early 1500's A.D., consists of about 118 small islands connected by numerous canals and bridges, and the foundation is mostly made of WOOD! Incredible engineering by the Italians!
To us, Venice was basically one big museum. We did not plan very much, but found that just wandering the narrow corridors, crossing the bridges and experiencing the canals was enough. It is amazing. Some of the coolest things we saw were when we were wandering around and got totally lost! The whole city has this romantic aura about it. The gondolas, the architecture and the canals are all just so beautiful.
Over our three nights we experienced the famous St. Marks square, climbed the bell tower, took a gondola ride and crossed more bridges than we had in multiple years living in New York City. But again, perhaps the best parts about Venice are the unplanned. Just walking this city is an experience, particularly at night. We will never forget the moonlit canals with the faint sound of accordions in the background. It was like walking around a movie set. If you are going to Italy, Venice has to be on the short list as well!
After we spent six nights exploring two amazing cities in Italy, we were ready for a little R&R. As soon as we pulled into the Lake Como area we knew were going to get it! The Lake is huge and the towns that hug the shores are all iconic. Steep slopes, colorful homes built on top of one another and beautiful Italian boats everywhere. It was awesome and we can see why George Clooney chooses this as his go-to vacation spot.
We also got a bonus appearance in Lake Como from our friends, Paul & Karen Russo. Karen, who Kirby used to nanny for in grad school, was Kirby's Matron of Honor in our wedding and their son Mac was our ring bearer. They are like an extension of our family so it was great to spend a few nights with some familiar faces. We all shared a house in downtown Menaggio, which could not have been a better spot to explore the area.
We explored the town of Veranna one day, including a huge hike to the castle that sits above it. We also went to dinner on Comacina Island where the restaurant has been serving the same traditional menu since 1947. It was an amazing experience. But, our favorite day was our last, where we rented a boat for the whole day and explored the entire lake from the water. It was incredible to see all the different towns, extravagant villas and amazing landscapes this area has to offer. It was an awesome day and one of the best days of the trip so far!
After Lake Como, we decided we wanted a little more sun so we went south to a tiny Riviera town called Camogli. The town is located in between Recco and Portofino and sits right on the Mediterranean. We splurged a bit here and did a hotel and basically spent our time sitting on the beach, drinking Aperol Spritz's and doing a whole lot of nothing. It was great!
Camogli is a fishing village and really is a hidden gem. It has a population of less than 5,500 people and does not get the hype the surrounding Riviera towns do, which was fine by us. It was very cool to walk into town and eat dinner at these tiny restaurants and enjoy seafood that was caught just earlier that day. The people are extremely friendly and we came out feeling extremely relaxed and ready to tackle Italy's capital city.
From Camogli we headed further south and made the long drive into Rome. Once again the drive was stressful (Italians seem not to pay attention to lane lines) and when we arrived we realized that Rome is HOT! The city in the summer is scorching during the middle of the day. We planned around this and did most of our sightseeing either early in the mornings or at night.
We aren’t huge “tour group” people, but in Rome we actually did two of them. The first, was a morning tour of the Vatican where we were ushered through the halls bright and early and got an early look at the Sistine Chapel before the hordes of people got there. It was worth it! We had 10-15 minutes just to stand and admire the masterpiece all around us. No photos are allowed inside the chapel but it will be forever engrained in our minds. Just beautiful all around! After this we toured the Vatican itself as well as St. Peter’s Basilica, which is enormous and easily dwarfs other iconic cathedrals such as the Notre Dame in Paris.
On day two we toured the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. This was also incredible and very helpful to have a guide explain how these structures were built, what they were actually used for and what they looked like back in the day. It was very cool to see and experience this and we can safely say that no one builds things like the Romans did. After we recovered from the heat, we waited until dark and explored the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. We were amazed to see how many tourists there still were at 10pm! It was crazy, but we cannot imagine what these would have looked like in the middle of the day.
On the last day in Rome, we walked through Piazza Navona and also visited the Pantheon (one of the few monuments that is free in Rome). This was also impressive to see. It is one of the only remaining structures that is mostly intact from ancient Rome and the engineering is remarkable. Very cool to see and experience.
While Rome is hot in the summer and very busy it is an incredible place to see and visit. It was the political capital of the Western World for so long and it was fun to try and imagine what the place looked like all those years ago. So much history, one could easily spend weeks there trying to see it all and still come up short.
Amalfi Coast –
After Rome we decided a nice five nights on the Amalfi Coast was in order. We rented a beautiful home in the small town of Praiano, which sits in between Positano and Amalfi. It was the perfect spot to stay for the next week!
We also got the added bonus of picking up another friend from home, Wes Wharton, who is currently on his own adventure around the world alone! His Instagram is a great follow for anyone who is interested (@tomcheddy). Wes is terrific and decided to spend four nights with us exploring this beautiful part of the world.
Our days were filled with plenty of Aperol Spritz’s and enjoying the sun and the blue waters of Praiano. Though, one day we did manage to do the steep hike “The Walk of the Gods” (we didn’t last long). But once again our favorite day involved a boat: we rented a small boat to explore the entire coast and even did a loop around the gorgeous island of Capri. Once again, it was incredible to see the steep towns that grace the coast from the water and to swim amongst the yachts. We found a few hidden spots, including a few caves to park ourselves and had an amazing day.
The Amalfi Coast is easily one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. Each town has its own characteristics and charm and the waters that surround it are some of the clearest dark blue waters we have ever seen. The other best part about it is, because the towns are so steep, you don’t feel as bad eating pizza all day since you get your workout in just coming in and out of your place! An amazing place to spend a week and it will definitely be on our list of places to come back to again!
Even though we could have easily stayed in Amalfi for another week, we had to unfortunately head north to Tuscany...such a tough life right now. On the way though, we decided to spend a day exploring the ruins of Pompeii.
For those who aren’t familiar – Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption from Mt. Vesuvius. In fact, when we were in Rome, we were told that due to the extreme heat, many of the Romans used to head to Pompeii to spend their summers. The city itself was buried in volcanic ash for centuries until 1748, when it was re-discovered and slowly excavated. Now, the ruins sit almost as they did in 79 A.D. before the eruption. In some cases, whole structures are just as they were. It is as if the city is completely stuck in time.
A few things struck us about this place: 1) It is huge! We had no idea how spread out the site would actually be, 2) We cannot imagine how long it must have taken archeologists to reveal this city as it sits today. You are even able to see microscopic details when entering the old homes and structures, such as fresco paintings on the walls...it is crazy! Lastly, it is very eery to walk the town and constantly see Mt. Vesuvius out of the corner of your eye staring down at the town it once destroyed.
While Pompeii is not the easiest place to navigate or get around (the stone roads are quite uneven), it was incredible to explore this place. We are not sure you can find another place so densely filled with history. It is literally as if parts of this city were untouched for centuries! Highly recommend a day spent here!
Our last stop in Italy was Tuscany. We decided to spend five nights here because: a) We love wine and b) We wanted to no longer feel intimidated by Italian wine lists. This was not vacation, it was research!
We stayed in arguably our best Airbnb yet on a farm with an Italian family on the outskirts of the town of Murlo. Murlo basically sits right in the middle of three important wine cities of Tuscany: Montalcino, Montepulciano and Siena. It was an incredible place to explore, but more importantly our host family took us in as if we were one of their own! They cooked for us two nights, their son gave us a full cooking lesson another and they constantly wanted us to be in the gardens picking fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. Oh and not to mention, they produced their own wine and olive oil right there! It was awesome!!
We focused three days on wine exploration, so spent a day in Montalcino (where Brunellos are produced), a day in Montepulciano (where Nobile de Montepulcianos are produced) and a day in the city of Siena (which is arguably the center of the Italian wine trade and right on the border of where Chianti is produced). These three days were awesome and great learning experiences. So much history in Italian wine making and we barely scratched the surface: Italy has 20 growing regions and we only hit three!
Most importantly though it was amazing to sit outside of our Airbnb, take in the amazing rolling hills in Tuscany while drinking amazing wine and eating some of the best home cooked Italian we have ever had. It was a great way to spend five nights and we literally got sad when we had to say goodbye to our extended Italian family and leave Italy…
OK, one last stop. We had to see the Leaning Tower before the left Italy. We took a quick detour on our way to France, parked the car and made our way to the square where the tower sits. It's exactly as you would expect and really does lean. We still aren't sure if we thought it was better seeing the tower or all the people lined up on the walkway trying to nail the perfect picture "holding" the tower up. Ahh well, here are ours -
We crammed a lot into four weeks but Italy certainly knows how to leave an impression on you. From the amazing and diverse cities, to the incredible landscapes, it is truly one-of-a-kind. Furthermore, the culture, the people and the FOOD are all top notch. We hope we can make it a regular occurrence to return to this amazing country and to be immersed in this culture again and again. We also learned a few recipes and a few wine tricks to bring home with us as well!
After Italy, we made a few stops in France, including: the beach, lavender, wine country, and finally, the Eiffel tower! We will have the France blog up by the end of the week (hopefully!?) and then will fill everyone in on what is next for us....