Italian Adventure

From Rome to Rome in 19 days…

The history of Rome, the splendour of the architecture, the bright summer sun and the Italian way of life make Italy a place you’ll never forget, and be eager to return to as soon as possible. My venture took me from Rome to the limoncello capital of the world, Sorrento, and the ancient ruins of Pompeii before heading north through Tuscany, Florence, Cinque Terra, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Lake Garda, Verona, Venice and Orvieto, before returning to Rome.

From the first footstep on the centre of ancient Rome I knew that this place would hold a special place in my heart and one day have me return – perhaps even in retirement – to learn the language, the culture and to integrate myself into the Italian way of life.

I am a lover of history, and watching Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’ for me is more about the scenery of Rome than it is the storyline. Rome is full of history. From the Pantheon and the Colosseum to the majestic openness of the Tuscan vineyards, Italy has something for everyone.

My trip started in Rome, a bustling international-calibre city full of history and tradition, and heavily laden with a Christian Catholic culture with churches dotted in all corners of Rome. The centre-piece, in Vatican City, is St. Peters, the square, and the Sistine Chapel. This is a must for any visitor to Rome. The architecture and art, the spirituality – whether you are religious or not – is something quite unique. A feeling of calmness and peace is palpable once inside St. Peters and it is quite easy to spend at least half of a day wandering about St. Peters and immersing yourself in the centre of the Catholic world. I am not particularly religious, but here it is hard not to admire the splendour of this way of life.

Beyond Vatican City lies the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. There are many sites that a tourist ‘must see’ in Italy’s capital city. The real trick, however, is to look beyond the tourist industry and hunt out those local restaurants, those corner gelato stores and the Italian way of life. It is buried beneath a great deal of tourist attractions in Rome, but it is worth the search. Choose the cafe’s away from the beaten path. Pick those restaurants that do not have pictures of the food they serve. Find a tour guide, and ask questions beyond the traditional tourist perspective. Ask for referrals to the best local restaurants: where Romans would go to eat out.

I recommend at least five days to one week in Rome alone to fully appreciate this vast and spectacular city.

Pompeii is a wonder of the world. Frozen in time, Pompeii is an archaeological dream. The buildings still stand, Mount Vesuvius stands ever present in the background, but be sure to look closer. Look at the roadways constructed by Romans many moons ago. Look how the chariot marks are still visible even today, look at how the roads are inset with material that would reflect moonlight creating an illuminated path for nighttime travel.

Traveling to the south, Sorrento is a quaint town providing easy access to Capri. Capri is a magical island approximately 30 minutes from mainland Italy. While there be sure to locate back-street restaurants as those on main tourist trails are not cost effective and the food is hastily readied for those tourists wiling to pay top dollar. Be sure to visit the Blue Grotto and do not be shy to ask your oarsman to sing while inside the grotto. You cannot imagine the colour of the water inside of the blue grotto. Pictures do not do this justice and I highly recommend that you head into the grotto to fully experience the wonder of this place. Boat rides around the island are available and this is a very relaxing way to spend a couple of hours. One or two days on Capri should be sufficient, but you’ll remember the experience for a lifetime.

Tuscany, and Florence, are must-see destinations. The Duomo in Florence is one of the most spectacular buildings in Italy. Florence has a river-side market and don’t be surprised to hear “polizia” as the numerous street vendors dash for cover away from patrolling police. Be sure to try florentine steak while in Florence. It is one of the best pieces of meat you will ever eat, and being from the Province of Alberta in Canada, I know my steak! If you can, try to see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – though be sneaky with that camera if you want to get a shot of the real thing. If you don’t manage to get a picture of the real thing, take a close-up picture of a postcard in the onsite shop! I can neither admit, or deny, that I did that same thing…

Beyond the Leaning Tower, Pisa is nothing spectacular and a day or two (at most) is all you will need for this part of your trip. Leave plenty of time to line up to get into the Duomo, but otherwise your trip will be limited to the outdoor viewing of the bell-tower, and the obligatory photograph of you “holding up” the tower. Cinque Terra, however, is worth at least a couple of days on your trip. Split between five separate villages, all linked by train, Cinque Terra is quaint, historic and majestic at the same time. I recommend hiking between the villages if you feel energetic, and then taking a boat ride back to the first village to complete your day. Staying in La Spezia is a cheap and local option for hotel accommodation. Once again, though, I caution you to avoid the more obvious places to eat and try to find a smaller “off-the-beaten-path” place to dine. The major tourist restaurants food is quite average at best, and certainly not cost effective.

I have to admit that I did not give Verona the time it probably. My visit was a fleeting one as I travelled from Cinque Terra to Venice. Be sure to visit Juliet’s Balcony and post a message of love on the wall beside it.

Unfortunately I can’t, at this stage, tell you much more about Verona. While in Venice, be sure to visit the glass factories of Murano, and take in the sights of the city by gondola. Again, ask for some singing from your oarsman and you will receive. I also visited a manufacturer of table-cloths. I know that this does not seem so much fun, but a short 45 minutes tour and a good gift for your parents/family awaits. It’s worth the time if you have some time to spare.

This is my first blog, and is of a trip I took over two years ago. However, it left me with many memories that will force me back to Italy as much of it I still feel that I have to explore. Italy is a truly spectacular place to visit, and a place I am considering retiring to when that time arrives. Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions about my trip or Italy generally, and happy traveling!

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