Two weeks in Italy; What I saw, ate, and experienced

I recently took a trip to Italy with EF Ultimate Break. I have always had Italy on my travel priority list. I wanted to see a few specific things: the Capitoline Wolf (a.k.a. the bronze she-wolf), the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel (which is actually in the Vatican City, which is considered a country removed from Italy), Lake Como, and the narrow canals in Venice. I was lucky enough to see all of that and more. Along with the sites, I ate... a lot. I had gelato every single day, because when in Italy. I had some of the best food I have ever had including a delicious pistachio pesto, sausage, basil, and smoked provola pizza (Pistacchio e salsiccia) that I have thought about every day since from Starita in Naples. Fun fact, this restaurant, and pizza were a suggestion from our EF tour director; it pays to have a Napoli native on the ride with you. 

Let's talk destinations.

We started our tour of Italia in Venice. Venice is by far one of the most unique places I have ever been. I had read about the canals and bridges that make up Venezia but was unaware of how many there were. There are no cars on the island, so there are no roads. I took a gondola ride, which looks so much harder to steer than I imagined, but it was so much fun. Another fun fact, while on our gondola ride, we witnessed an accepted proposal on one of the canal bridges. It was truly magical. I feel like I need more time in Venice and will hopefully return soon.

Photo by Kelley Klein

Next, we were on to Verona. O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Visiting Juliet's balcony was our main purpose for stopping in Verona, but there are so many things to see and do there. Verona is another location that has to remain on my travel list because I have to come back.

Onto Milano. Milan was a location that wasn't very high on my list originally, but that I enjoyed immensely. I suppose because I associate Milan with the fashion world, it just didn't pique my interest. I actually love fashion, by the way. Italian fashion houses like Gucci, Armani, Prada, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, and so many more call Milan their home. Shopping for a Gucci wasn't exactly in my budget, so stopping in Milan seemed like a waste. Turns out Milan offers so much more. I'm sorry I overlooked it. Of course, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where such fashion houses live is beautiful, but next door is the historical and architectural beauty, the Duomo di Milano. 

Photo by Kelley Klein

Next was one of my bucket list destinations, Lake Como. I have always wanted to see the lake, because of the colorful towns that border it, the blue water, and the interesting mountains and trees lining the shore. We traveled through the lake to the lakeside town of Bellagio. Bellagio was a picturesque town with gardens, a villa with panoramic views, and gelato shops everywhere. I got what I came for and would love to return maybe next time for a longer stay on the lake. 

Photo by Kelley Klein

Following our beautiful trip to Bellagio, we moved on to a day trip in Monterosso. Monterosso is one village in the area of Cinque Terre (in the province of La Spezia). Fun fact, Portorosso, the setting in the animated film Luca is based on Monterosso. Monterosso is known for pesto, so I ate all the pesto I could get my grubby little hands on. It was a lovely hot day and we enjoyed lunch at a local seaside restaurant La Terrazza Cigolini.

Photo by Kelley Klein

After a beautiful day at sea, we made our way to Florence. Florence was probably my favorite stop on this trip and quite possibly my favorite European city that I have visited thus far. The energy was alive, the streets were busy but not too busy, the architecture was phenomenal, the food was incredible, and the history was long-lived and interesting. We visited the Uffizi Gallery, where we saw works from Leonardo DaVinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raffaello Sanzio, Baccio Bandinelli, and so many more important artists. Along with Uffizi, Florence is home to the Accademia Gallery where the famous Statue of David sculpted by Michelangelo resides. In addition to typical museums, we hiked (yes, hiked) up to Villa Bardini where for only 10€ we got panoramic views of the city, access to vast gardens, and entrance to a photography gallery about Italian photographer Lisetta Carmi. The gardens were gorgeous, the view immaculate, and the gallery held images unlike anything I had seen before; the subject was women in different cultures and experiences, including those of the transgender community. It was both fascinating and exciting to visit. We then went out looking for Galileo's home, which we found with a nice little plack on the door. Supposedly, he discovered a planet from that very roof. Our time in Florence winded down with Venchi gelato, a walk through the leather market, and some live violin in the piazza next to Ponte Vecchio.

Photo by Kelley Klein

Roma! Rome was our next stop and a highly anticipated one at that. I was looking forward to architecture, Roman Empire history, and of course the Colosseum. We were taken on a lovely guided tour by a local guide named Alesia, who did such a great job! I learned so much. The Roman Forum was so cool (nothing like walking through ancient ruins!). Of course, I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, because why not? I made all the Lizzie McGuire references possible while looking out for my own Paolo. We also visited the Jewish Ghetto, where we tried fried artichoke and learned about Italy's place during the second world war. If you ever visit, keep an eye out for these little gold tiles in the ground. The tiles are there to remember the Jews that were taken from their homes during the Holocaust. They tell you the name, date, and location of death and are placed in front of where they lived. Another intriguing part of Rome was the Catacombs. We went underground to see where Christians (some 600 years ago) were buried underground, to save money and preserve their bodies for the second coming of Christ. It was cold and dark but so interesting. We paid a visit to the Capitoline Museum, where I was able to check off the 1st century BC bronze statue of the she-wolf. I have always loved the story of Remus and Romulus, the mythical twin founders of Rome. 

Photo by Kelley Klein

Quick stop: Pompeii is and was so fascinating. The remains are well worth seeing!

Next stop: Isle of Capri. If you are a beachy gal or guy, Capri is a lovely place to visit. The water is immaculate, with possibly some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen before. We stopped at a lovely restaurant on a hill where the window view was something of a fantasy and the handmade gnocchi was no joke (I also got a quattro formagio or four-cheese pizza). We rented a boat and took a tour around the island. Our boat captain knew what we wanted because he was playing all the hits from Dean Martin to Abba. I nearly lost my mind when Abba's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) started blasting through the boat speaker. Myself and my girlfriends jumping and singing on a boat in the Tyrrhenian Sea with a view of the faraglioni rocks was so magical. Very truly, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Photo by Kelley Klein

It was time for a stop in Sorrento where we stayed for a couple of nights. Sorrento was kind of our landing spot while we ventured out into other places so I didn't see enough and will have to return. However, our hotel had the most incredible seaside views overlooking the blue-green water.

Photo by Kelley Klein

Now onto the famous Napoli for well, the best pizza I have ever had. We walked to the Spanish Ghetto, where I got some fresh lemon ice and marveled at all things Diego Maradona. Then visited a lovely church to see some picturesque architecture and then on to Gran Caffè Gambrinus where we enjoyed some lattes and fruit. Naples is another city I will have to return to. As mentioned earlier in this post, Naples gave us the pizza experience of a lifetime at Starita where I enjoyed a pistachio pesto and sausage pizza that I think about minimally once a day since then. Our tour director, a football fan and a big fan of Naples taught us the Napoli 'fight song' Ultras Napoli and we were clapping and chanting down the street. Believe it or not, folks were joining in. It was such a beautiful city and there were most definitely some things I missed.

Photo by Kelley Klein

We then took a ferry to Palermo on the big island of Sicily but we didn't stay long. We made a stop in Cefalù for some beach time. Though to be honest, four or five of us were getting a cold so I was kind of out of commission. I plopped down at a cafe for most of the day where I enjoyed fresh orange juice and a latte before locating a store selling tissues and cough drops to help push through. The village was absolutely stunning. The water was crystal blue and the sun was perfectly lit in the sky making the water shine. 

Photo by Kelley Klein

It was time for an excursion to Mt. Etna. Mount Etna is an active volcano that sits between Messina and Catania. At the time of writing this post, Etna last erupted in May 2023. For obvious reasons, we were not granted free rein on Etna, but what we saw was spectacular. It was around 15 degrees cooler, with black rock, sand, and these interesting short-rooted plants everywhere. We were allowed to take a lava rock or two to commemorate. We then visited Agriturismo Murgo, a winery that sits on the lava-rich soil beneath Etna for a wine tasting. It was a very cool experience and I recommend going if you ever find yourself on the east side of Sicily.

Photo by Kelley Klein

The next day we visited quite possibly one of the prettiest towns I have ever had the pleasure of getting lost in, Taormina. If you've seen HBO's White Lotus, you've seen bits and pieces of Taormina. Of all the places we visited, this town had the most casual magic. Every corner was pretty. Every outlook was breathtaking. I fell in love with the pistachio arancini (rice balls stuffed with a veggie and cheese and then deep fried) from Rosticceria Da Cristina. Incredible. We visited the Greek Theatre, which looked a little different because apparently the day prior, Harrison Ford had been there promoting his newest film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny during the Taormina Film Festival. All in all, such a cool city. Definitely a must-do.

Photo by Kelley Klein

That wraps up my incredible experience traveling through Italy with EF. I had such a good time. I made some lovely friends. I ate better than I ever have. And now I am tempted to learn Italian. I want to acknowledge how fun our tour director, Maurizio was. How in tune and kind the Italian citizens were with our tourist energy and applauding our attempts at speaking in Italian. And lastly, I will be back.

Ciao!

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