That’s what they told us. They were right.
Katie and I just took our big vacation for 2015, and it might have been the vacation of a lifetime. We had the distinct privilege of spending a few nights in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Let’s go ahead and state the obvious: these places are amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to go, you need to go. Katie and I have traveled to some amazing places, but they really couldn’t stand up to the Italian triumvirate. In fact, we had so much fun that it’s really hard to distill the vacation into a blog post. I’ve done my best by organizing it into our “Top Five” for each city.
“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” – Truman Capote
1. The City Itself
Walk outside. Look down. What’s your street made out of? It’s not made out of water? Alright then, it’s not as cool as Venice. The streets are canals. I feel like I’m Hansel saying, “It’s in the computer,” whenever I say that. It really is a sight that you just have to see for yourself. There’s nothing else like it. Water slaps at basement doorways. Brick supports keep buildings from slumping into one another. Gondoliers sing beneath bridges and under windows. It’s wonderful.
2. Grand Canal Tour (featuring Rick Steves)
Really, the Grand Canal is the main street of the city. Taxi drivers and vaporettos and tour boats fight for space in the same crowded waters that were once home to merchant shipments and royal schooners. There’s no better way to see the city. Katie and I shouldered our way to the front of a Line 1 Vaporetto, popped in our headphones, and listened to the historical descriptions from Rick Steves.
Many wise sources suggested we just roam. Just go! Enjoy! Explore! They were right. Venice’s more populated streets are pretty congested with foot traffic. We found it far more fun to wander. Most of what you see in a city as old and historic as Venice is just as cool and amazing as the popular landmarks are.
Venice is known for these small snacks, typically served at bars or no-seating restaurants. It mostly consists of tiny, breaded sandwiches that came with little tastes of meat, or cheese spreads, or dried nuts. Just delicious. Our favorite place was Osteria Alsquero. This little spot was off the beaten path and overlooked a repair center for gondolas. Katie did get laughed at for ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon. Like, the guy literally looked at another customer, raised his eyebrows, and said, “A cappuccino!”
Yes, we know it’s a chain, and no, we don’t care at all. This Italian based gelato shop is just one of the best. Do yourself a favor and order the Crema di Grom and the Pistachio and thank me later.
“A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority.” – Samuel Johnson
1. The Statue of David
We left Venice impressed. It was a nice enough city. A single walk through Florence’s streets left that image in pieces. Nothing captured Florence’s combination of art and grandeur like the Statue of David. It’s also just huge. Pictures don’t really do justice to how the statue towers over you as you stand before it.
2. Gelateria Edoardo (Consolation Prize: Gelateria La Carraia)
We knew we’d experience a lot of gelato. But I never expected to be flattened by a particular place. I just kind of expected it all to be pretty delicious. Edoardo changed that. This little gelateria sits in the shadow of the Duomo and has the single best taste of pistachio flavor I’ve ever had. The crazy part is none of the other places even come close. We should give La Carraia’s “Cookies” flavor a shout out, but it’s really just a distant second.
3. Piazzale Michelangelo
Here’s how this one goes. You walk up a lot of stairs. A lot. I can get pretty pessimistic pretty quickly, as Katie knows. I complained with every ounce of my being… until we arrived at Piazzale Michelangelo. It provides a view of Florence from above and just happened to be one of our favorite places to sit and enjoy the view. Hat tip to Lauren Visser on this one.
4. Italian Food
For whatever reason, Venice fell short. Maybe we went to the wrong places or ordered the wrong things, but we left a little underwhelmed. Where was the legendary Italian cuisine we’d imagined eating? Answer: Florence.
My brother and his girlfriend suggested 4 Leoni. I might have had the freshest, most delicious porcini mushrooms I’ve ever tasted there. We followed that up with Il Latini. There I persuaded Katie to let the server “take care of us.” For a flat fee, he brought out three different appetizers, three different pastas, six different meats, deserts, and the house wine. The meal left me thinking heaven’s a little closer to Italy than Switzerland.
5. The Wine Tour
Florence is known for the wine produced in the Chianti region. One of the best decisions I ever made was marrying Katie. For a whole lot of reasons, but also because she makes excellent decisions regarding our activities. She nailed it on this trip with a wine tour in Florence and a food tour in Rome. It was incredibly fun to learn what makes a Chianti wine a Chianti wine (80% sangiovese minimum and always look for the black rooster on the neck of the bottle). We also enjoyed a great home-cooked meal and meeting a lot of other American folks on the same tour.
“Italy has changed, but Rome is Rome.” – Robert De Niro
As outmatched as Venice was by Florence, Florence was equally incapable of keeping pace with Rome. How could any city hope to compare? The Colosseum stands at the center of the reasoning for this. There’s just not a place that can match the history and grandeur and story that is Rome. Katie and I stayed in a bed and breakfast just a fourth of a mile from the Colosseum. Every morning we’d wake up, round the corner, and find it waiting for us. Really one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life:
2. Italian Food – Part Two
It’s all about that cacio e pepe. All. About. It.
Once more, we followed the wise suggestions of others and sought out places we could order one of Rome’s local dishes. We ate at La Carbonara the first night. Outside of the city center and beyond our wildest dreams. We thought Florence had set the bar, but our meals at La Carbonara and Da Sergio absolutely crushed the record for food enjoyment. But if there was one place we’d suggest for someone to visit, it would be Nonna Betta. A traditional restaurant inside of Rome’s Jewish ghetto, this location stood out for its high quality ingredients and incredibly fresh taste. We just happened to be there during artichoke season. Thus, the fried artichoke appetizer was to die for. Katie’s Artichoke Lasagna was even better. Highly suggest a visit.
This is cheating, but we’re also going to include our food tour through the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere. We visited several bakeries, a butcher, a cheesemaker, a local market, a gelateria, and several restaurants. We had to loosen the belts by the end of the afternoon, but it was well worth it. Our favorite taste from the tour might have been suppli. These little fried rice balls are stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce. Off the charts!
3. The Forum (featuring Rick Steves)
Aided once more by a downloaded podcast, we took to the Forum eagerly. It’s seriously the coolest. How cool? Well, we got absolutely poured on the whole time and still came away loving it. The history is amazing and the vastness of the ruins really are just sort of stunning. If you love history, everything in Rome carries weight and meaning for you.
4. Our First Air BnB Attempt
I know that there’s been some controversy lately with some of the company’s policies, but we really had an excellent experience. Our host’s name was Paolo. I went into it thinking we’d rented a room connected to his apartment. Not at all. It was a full flat with a little bedroom, all for us. He was incredibly kind, sincere, and just a great host. He provided us with wine and fresh fruit and everything we could ask for at a hotel. And at the end of the day, we came home to a little flat right outside the Colosseum, rather than a stiff hotel room. I just highly suggest finding people with a ton of favorable reviews. It’s a great way to save money and enjoy even more of your experience in a foreign country.
5. Selfie-Stick Salesmen
This experience just wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t been offered a selfie-stick around two hundred times. The craze has gone too far. Too far, people. We even noticed museums have signs requesting you don’t use them inside. It has to stop! It has to stop!
So again, this just doesn’t do any justice to our trip. Italy stunned us. Switzerland has been great to us in so many ways, but Zurich is a reserved and quiet place. We felt really at home in Italy and really welcomed at every turn. The food was great and the people were fun. Really can’t wait to go back in November to join the Zaccardos on their trip to Rome. Thanks for reading, everyone.