PART TWO: WALK
Italy is a destination that beckons for a blend of adventures. Because transportation is fairly easy and there is so much to see, a trip to Italy can be molded to what is that you want the most (history? Wine? Pizza?).
Each location and region that we visited held different gems to discover; from ancient stories of civilization to family-owned businesses, we were able to meander cities, farms, vineyards, and coastlines to better understand what makes Italy, Italy.
We walked. A lot. When we went to Pompeii, we ambled over 22,000 steps in the ruinous town. Our Fitbits were blowin’ up and we were enjoying all the time perusing this beautiful country on foot.
FLORENCE & TUSCANY
We were greeted in Florence by our first Airbnb host, Gio. Her apartment (appropriately named La Casa di Gio) was delightful – perfectly stylish, elegant, and functional for our stay. Plus, Gio shared a bit about her family’s history (they had a long lineage of goldsmiths) and made us feel right at home. Our first big Florence adventure was to the Boboli Gardens. We later learned that the infamous Medici Family had a part in constructing the layout and vision for the estate. The gardens were lush (not filled with flowers, but a lot of various greenery) that allowed us to have the perfect opportunity to stroll the property at whatever pace that we wished. We spent a couple of hours here, noting the renaissance statues and walking within the various grottos on-site.
Then, we took our scheduled bike tour with Fat Tire Tours around the city. This was the smartest way for us to explore the city (especially since our time in Florence was short). In just a couple of hours, we were able to see the Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza del Duomo, and the Florence Cathedral. Elena was our guide and even in pouring rain, she kept us laughing and entertained throughout our ride across town.
With my lost bag finally returned, we were able to head a little south into the rural parts of Tuscany. We passed through San Donato in Poggio to arrive at our Airbnb, Borgo Sicelle. As mentioned in my first blog, our stay was quite rural, with limited amenities nearby. Thus, we purchased groceries ahead of time so we could have breakfasts and a dinner, in addition to dining at the restaurant across the road. After our wine tour on the second day, we attempted to take a dip in the community pool, however, it was just a bit too cold for our liking. In the summer months, we could imagine, this would be the perfect way to cool off after a busy day at the wineries.
On our last full day in the region, we accidently slept until 1:12pm (oops!). The jet lag was still catching up with us, and we needed all the rest that we could get. While we had plans to possibly visit other nearby big towns, we opted for a hike near the property. Our host provided us a makeshift map and we were off! The hike took us through gravel trails and a handful of properties. At various points, we were able to see hilly views of vineyards and olive groves. As you can imagine, these panoramas were exceptionally stunning and kept us going. In all, we hiked for about an hour and made it back to the property. We finished the day with one of our favorite things to do: games. We played foosball, ping pong, and bananagrams. Our stay felt rustic and quiet – two things that we would need as we made our way to the large metropolis of Naples.
NAPLES & AMALFI COAST
To arrive in Naples, we had to take a car and bus to get to Florence, and then an almost-four-hour-long train ride. We booked our tickets with Frecciarossa (the high-speed lines with Trenitalia) and it made for the fastest possible ride. Then, we rode a local train to the “Dante” stop in Naples to reach our Airbnb (named for the poet, as in Dante who wrote Inferno). As we exited the train and climbed the stairs to reach the nearby square, I found a city that was both mesmerizing and chaotic. Naples has a very differently flavor than other Italian cities. It feels grittier and more chaotic, and we sensed that right away. Our accommodation was located nearby, though in the midst of a great deal of scaffolding and tiny elevators. The elevator was the size of a phone booth and each ride cost 10 cents. People were moving much more furiously than in Tuscany and the differences in social environments (rural vs. urban) was quite clear.
Naples served as a landing spot so that we could visit Pompeii. Pompeii was a must-see on our list from the very beginning of our planning, so much so that we booked our tickets well in advance. Of course (because, how can you ever anticipate these sorts of things?), the day that we planned to visit Pompeii was on the day of one of the biggest climate protests in Italy. Young environmental activists gathered from all over to attend. Thus, the train station had to shut down the escalators and we missed our first train. Luckily, we were able to catch another one and be on our way. To get to the actual Pompeii ruins, we had to take a taxi from the train station in Pompeii (the ride was short however, so we walked back to the station when we finished later in the day). The site is absolutely massive, and we decided to get an audio guide to help us navigate and observe our surroundings. There were very few signs anywhere and the guide helped us know what we were looking at. We were able to see plaster casts of some inhabitants (though we didn’t see as many as we thought there might be) and even a dog. From baths, to temples, to homes, and mosaics, there is so much to see at Pompeii. Because the city was so well-preserved, you can see writings on the wall and stones or tiles that still look to be used. All of this is incredible, considering the eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred in 79 AD, covering Pompeii in volcanic ash and mud.
Leaving Naples, we had decided early on to book private transportation to the Amalfi Coast. We had read that the roads were winding and full of cliffs, so to ease our stress we decided to “treat ourselves” and get a fancy car to take us to our next accommodation. Ultimately, we were escorted in a 2019 Mercedes Benz. I enjoyed every last second of the ride. We were enveloped by stone-filled mountains and hills and breathtaking views. When we finally arrived in Ravello, I was in love (with Chelsea, of course, but also the place). Our Ravello Airbnb was the best Airbnb I have ever stayed in. It is nothing short of magical. It includes a large terrace with views over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Indeed, this was the best part of our honeymoon.
Ravello is a quaint town in the Campania region. It is best known for the Ravello Festival where the city lives up to its prominence as the “City of Music.” Of every place that we visited in Italy, this would be the place we would recommend the most. During our stay, we were able to explore a stunning pathway towards the Villa Cimbrone, filled with lush gardens and impeccable mountain and sea views. We practiced the Italian art of doing nothing by indulging ourselves with gelato and espresso around town. Relaxed and rejuvenated, this small town brought beauty and peace to this leg of our trip. Also, while in Ravello, we did a 6-hour boat tour that allowed us to see the coasts of Amalfi, Atrani, Castiglione di Ravello, Ravello, Minori and Maiori, and the Pandora Cave. We were able to take a long lunch in the town of Positano, a town that is revered and loved by many – especially celebrities. During the boat tour, we were able to lay out in the sun, drink Prosecco, and hold hands. It was the textbook definition of perfection.
Rome, the capital of Italy, holds a population approaching nearly 3 million people. The city is bustling, modern, and yet still wonderfully ancient. I suppose this could be why many refer to the city as “the eternal city.” Turns out, the origins of this phrase stem from the poet Tibullus in 1st century BC when he coined the phrase to reflect the idea that if Rome was to fall as an empire, then the world would too.
As with every other accommodation we booked, we stayed at an Airbnb. Our booking was with Laura, who was a marvelous host. When we rolled up to her apartment exhausted and sweaty, she exuded a deep gratitude for our stay and explained all of her recommendations for what to see in the city. Best yet, her apartment was located just on the outskirts of the center of the city, making it easy to get to the must-see places, but also away from the massive crowds of people.
On our first full day in Rome, Chelsea was not feeling well. Undeterred, I decided to run errands to get the food, money, and medicine we would need for our stay. On my “short” outing (I was gone for over an hour and a half) I encountered a torrential downpour and potential pick-pocketer. As the rain had calmed, I stepped back out into the sidewalk to make my way towards the pharmacy. A man (out of nowhere) joined me under my umbrella and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, noticeably trying to open my backpack. Luckily, all of my valuables were in my money belt. I quickly evaded the situation by going the opposite direction of what I needed (truly, awareness skills that I have learned from true crime podcasts are forever helpful).
From there, I was able to navigate the area and successfully get Chelsea some cough medication (mostly through large, odd gestures with the pharmacist). Because she was feeling ill, I decided to later explore the city solo. I decided to walk without a purpose, and I loved it. I think cities become a lot more magical when you don’t necessarily have a singular destination in mind. I saw the Piazza de Populo and Spanish Steps – definitely beautiful structures that highlight the elegance and history of the city.
To get around Rome, we used Roma Pass for our stay. For a designated number of hours (in our case, 72) we could ride any mode of public transportation for free. The maps/signage are pretty straight-forward, and so, for the most part, we did not have any problems getting to where we needed to go. We did wait for one bus for longer than expected, but it really only happened once during our time in Rome.
On our second full day, Chelsea was feeling a bit better, however, we opted for a slow morning of coffee and relaxation. In the mid-afternoon, we visited some of the top Rome destinations (the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum). The crowds were unreal – which, by the way, is mind-blowing since early October is not the high-traffic/high-tourist season. Making our way through crowds was serious business, and it’s important to know that if visiting these sites, you need to give yourself enough time to meander through the hordes of people.
Still, they were stunning sites to see! The Pantheon was first built out in 126 AD and is considered one of the best-preserved sites in Rome (it was THE Roman Temple). The Trevi Fountain is the largest fountain in Rome and comes with the old adage of coin-throwing (throw one and you will return to Rome; throw two and you will fall in love with an Italian; and throw three, you will marry the person you met). Needless to say, we didn’t throw any coins, but we did love seeing the structure and appreciating its opulence. We didn’t arrive at the Colosseum until just before sunset, but it ended up being the perfect time to walk around and investigate the area. The lines and colors just popped. Witnessing a place that held an assortment of activities, ranging from executions to competitions to gladiator fights was awe-inspiring. We were captivated about the modern developments around us, especially standing from a place that has been around from almost 2,000 years.
On our last day, we visited the country within a country – the Vatican. Regrettably, we should have done more planning for what we wanted to see within the independent state and how we wanted to go about doing it. Upon arrival, we were able to walk through the walls and enter the main plaza. We were adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica and other various sites we wanted to see. However, we had purchased tickets for the museum, and it wasn’t particularly clear on how to get there. Our tickets were “beat the line” tickets and so once we got to the place we needed to go, it didn’t take long to get inside.
The Vatican Museum is HUGE (and that might be an understatement). We walked through gallery after gallery of different artifacts (including an Egyptian mummy). Our favorite was the map room, which featured map creations (painted in the 1500s) of Italian regions. All of these galleries, first developed by Pope Julius II in 1503, lead to the Sistine Chapel (of course, at the very end). With a quick lunch, it took us about four hours to finally reach the Sistine Chapel, so clearly, there are plenty of museum artifacts to see. The chapel features the works of Michelangelo (spread across the ceiling), especially noting the creation of Adam and other biblical milestones. It was easy to see how (and why) the Vatican attracts more than 6 million visitors a year.
We did so much and yet, I almost feel that we just scraped the surface of what Italy has to offer. Our honeymoon was memorable for this reason: Chelsea and I were able to experience adventure together. In much of the travels I have done in my life, they have been in isolated groups or they have been done solo. How refreshing and wonderful it is to share a place like Italy with the person I love most.