You would need months (or years!) to explore the cities of Italy. It’s a beautiful country with a different story for each region. Here, I focus on Rome and Tuscany, two of my favorites during my 5 week stay. Sit back, relax, and prepare to be blown away!
I’ve never been so blown away by history as I was with Rome. Each turn presented something new – sculptures, fountains, museums, cathedrals – each with a story as deep and profound as the next. The Coliseum specifically caught my attention, a near 2,000-year-old construction of beasts and gladiators. I arrived before open and waited (a short) 20 minutes before entering the colossal amphitheater. The halls were packed within two hours, but that was plenty of time to see the ruins without interruption.
The Vatican was also impressive, but too busy for my taste. They permit 3,000 guests to enter those walls, but I’d argue 25-30% for comfort. While the art and architecture was impeccable, I found myself rushing for the exit halfway through having had enough of the crowds and pop-up shops.
Like the Coliseum, book online, arrive early, and know the rooms before you get there. See the artists and chapels you want before the hordes overtake them.
The amount of history is endless – see the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Circo Massimo, Piramide Cestia, Rose Garden, Spanish Steps, and Pincian Hill. If you have time for a day-trip, hit Pisa – an adorable town with (surprisingly) few tourists encircling the tower. If you have a few days, travel to Pompei – an ancient city that exudes tradition and tragedy (the audio-guide is one of the best I’ve heard).
TIP: Read about these places before arriving! Get some background so when you approach these monstrous marvels, you can truly appreciate what they stand for.
No Italian post would be complete without the food. Gelato quickly becomes part of the daily routine – and with so many gelaterias, why wouldn’t it! I urge you to budget 2-4€/day for a treat that doesn’t taste the same anywhere in the world (my favorite, Il Gelato di Claudio Torce in Aventino). Similarly, the mozzarella, which melts of milk when you cut into it. I remember my first breakfast where an entire ball of mozzarella was introduced to the table (…we ate the entire thing…). And the pizza, oh the pizza. There are many styles that each serve different appetites (Roman/Neapolitan, round/square). I recommend the prosciutto e funghi fom my favorite spot, Sapori e Delizie.
I could go on forever. The wine… cured meats… fried artichoke… pasta… bakeries…
Rome: The City of Fountains
There’s something beautiful about a city so abundant with water. You can refill almost anywhere – from small spigots to iconic fountains (there’s even free sparkling water at the base of The Coliseum). These same aqueducts were used to carry water to the ancient Romans, and that tradition has been preserved and maintained in the modern day. Water gives life, and Rome is rich with life!
The Tuscan Countryside
Tuscany offered some of the most beautiful countryside of my travels. It wasn’t mountains or glaciers or big city centers; it was a retreat of peace, beauty, and tranquility. The roads were bare as we drove past vineyards, rolling hills and farmland. Perfectly kempt trees and huge oleander flowers decorated the roadside. Watching the sun move from mid-day to sunset was magical, and you never need a place to go. Just drive.
I would return to Italy just for the people. They’re the most generous, exuberant, quirky people I’ve met. They love food, they love family, and they love talking with their hands (particularly frightening when they’re in the driver’s seat…). It’s the first time I’d felt at home since my departure.
A perfect example was my Couchsurfing experience. I stayed with a wonderful guy in Lunghezza, an area juat outside of Rome. He immediately welcomed me into his life, introduced his friends and shared his stories. Within the first week, our group had gone on a 15 mi bike ride of Rome’s city center, attended the annual Strawberry Festival in Nemi, and shared a home-cooked meal over wine and grappa. I don’t think they’ll ever understand how much that meant to me, and how big of an impact they had on my Italian experience. I’ll forever be grateful.