Blazing heat overwhelmed my tired frame, but nonetheless the lush, rolling landscapes took my breath away. By the end of my 10 day European tour, I was exhausted. Early alarms set for 4 a.m. to make the journey from London to Paris. Late nights giggling with my roomies in our hotel in Paris. Miles and miles (and miles!!) of walking. So, when our night train pulled into the station in Milan, we all arrived in a fog (which probably stemmed from the fact that the previous night had probably been one of the worst experiences of my life). But our fatigue quickly met the absolutely stunning sights in Italy. Here’s a brief guide to Italy beyond pizza and the Pope.
Even if you’re not Catholic, a trip to the Vatican Museum is definitely worth the time. Beautiful art ranging from the Sistine Chapel to the Pietà by Michelangelo to The School of Athens by Raphael all take residence in this place. When in Rome, a stop at the Colosseum is necessary. It’s so so big, and they’re so so many tourists (and pickpockets!) so good luck getting a picture of the entire structure without a photobomber! I thought it would feel like an oven inside, but one of the key things I remember was how fairly cool it was on our tour (yay, modernization). For some gorgeous architecture and to see the tomb of Raphael, head over to the Pantheon while in Rome. Some other key visits for your time in Rome: Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain (toss a coin in!) and the Spanish Steps. But in the end, the charming town of Assisi won me over best. This quaint town claims the Basilica of Saint Francis as its own as well as cute little walking streets lined with shops. The fact that it was a quiet, small town and that it looked like it came straight off of a postcard both made it my favorite place in Italy.
I’m the kind of the person who likes to do, to see, to visit, to learn, to check boxes off aka I’m definitely a busy body. But to be honest, the most memorable and enjoyable experience I had from my time in Italy wasn’t on the itinerary. While my friends either konked out from sleep deprivation or took the pictures of the first group drooling on our several hour bus ride from Assisi to Rome, I pulled out my headphones and got cozy in my window seat. Just jamming to Coldplay’s Ghost Stories along with my Taylor Swift tunes while watching the scenery roll by before my eyes was the highlight. After a long trip, my body enjoyed the A/C and the time off my aching feet, but it’s also not like I can exactly see this kind of drop-dead gorgeous setting anywhere near me back home. Another top experience was visiting Rome at night. Since I was in a tour group, everything was planned to every last minute, waking up at 7 a.m. and usually getting back to the hotel in the evening. That meant we were snugly in bed at a decent hour… okay, well, that was the plan. In actuality, we were talking while slowly getting ready for bed (and making all our friends jealous by posting selfies of us at Coloseum… yeah, whatever). So, even though on our very last night, the itinerary called for a long 15-16 hour day with our night tour of Rome, it was a for-sure highlight. While seeing any city during the day is wonderful (and means museums and shops are open), taking a trip during the night cuts out a lot of the traffic, sun and tourists and gives you a whole new sense of the city. Food:
You’ve heard the rumors, and yes, they’re true. Italy has wonderful food, and you will tell yourself that all those miles you’ve walked justify the ungodly amount of gelato you will demolish. So, first off, yeah, you gotta eat pizza, pasta, risotto and all that good stuff. Just so you can mentally prepare yourself, gelato stores are, well, not exactly few and far between so pack your sweet tooth. The best gelato I had was at a place right outside the Duomo in Florence: one scoop of chocolate chip, another of Nutella. I repeat: they make Nutella gelato! Absolutely wonderful and unforgettable! Another scrumptious find I found several blocks from the Pantheon was a Granita di Caffe, an absolute necessity for Starbucks gold card members (and those aspiring to that status, too). It’s basically a classy and stronger frappuccino with its alternating layers of cream and iced espresso. Mix it together for the consistency of an American frappuccino. Although extremely rich (I couldn’t finish it!), it was one of the most memorable eats I indulged in while in Italy. And outside the place I drank my granita, they had a vending machine that sold coffee beans. Why can’t I live here?! (Oh, and FYI: there’s a Lindt chocolate store in Rome near the Pantheon, and they sell chocolate lip gloss…?!).
Finally, a few tips for logistics. If you plan on visiting any basilica or religious building, pack clothes accordingly, meaning these places often require women to cover their knees and shoulders. Maxi skirts and scarves (to throw over your shorts) work wonderfully! Another thing to keep in mind would be the insane amount of pickpockets. So, keep an eye on your bags. A cross body bag is fabulous as you can keep it right at your side versus a backpack which is mostly unattended. Finally, Italy is an oven. And no, not a nice, happy pizza oven. You. Will. Bake. Pack a hat, sunscreen and deodorant. ‘Nuff said.
After all these tips, don’t forget to take a break from your Nikon lense to actually see all these wonderful places and beautiful sceneries with your own two eyes. Oh, and get ready for some mouthwatering pepperoni pizza and Nutella gelato.