Our Favorite Things…Italian Edition

On our last day in Italy, we were relaxing at a cafe in Rome after a long, hot day of sight seeing.  We were reminiscing about our travels over the past two weeks and we went through our trip, city by city, and decided what were our favorite and least favorite things about each place.

I should say that in all honesty, there was no least favorite thing.  The trip was pretty perfect in every way.  No mishaps whatsoever.  Flights were smooth and on time…all of our apartments were lovely….we didn’t lose anything or have anything stolen…no one got sick…the food was delicious…all of our pre-booked tickets and train travel was great…I mean, there were no hiccups at all.   The 100 degree weather was definitely a bit hard to handle at times…but last year we complained about Paris being cold and rainy….so maybe the weather is never perfect, no matter what.  So with that being said, here is our list:


MILAN

Favorite Thing: Tour of the Last Supper

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There were a lot of beautiful things to see in Milan.   Before we visited Siena’s cathedral (which happened later in the trip), I had determined that Milan’s Duomo was the most beautiful that I had ever seen!  Milan is an elegant and vibrant city, but we all agreed that getting the chance to see The Last Supper with our own eyes was really special and was our favorite thing about going to Milan. It’s iconic.  And as I described in my blog post, you can’t describe the way the fresco glows on the wall and how large and magnificent it actually is.  We saw the other famous da Vinci piece, the Mona Lisa at the Louvre last year, but that doesn’t hold a candle to The Last Supper.

Least Favorite Thing: (this is not a cop out) Our Own Hesitancy!

It’s true.  Milan was our first stop on the trip.  We were jet lagged, it was our first time in Italy…first time trying to speak Italian to taxi drivers and grocery store clerks.  It takes a few days to get your feet wet and to get comfortable in a different culture.   Even simple things like ordering a cappuccino at a caffe has its own rules (you pay for it first then order).  So I feel like we didn’t explore Milan as much as we could have.  We played it a bit too safe.  We also too quickly tried to replicate our two weeks in Paris last year (where we attempted to pretend we were Parisian and shopped at farmers markets and were all C’est la vie).  When we got to Milan, we bought groceries and cooked meals in our apartment instead of going out and enjoying the delicious food of northern Italy.  I feel like we might have missed a little.  Luckily, we got over the hesitancy by the time we left Milan and savored the rest of our time in Italy.  Despite it all, we loved our time in this lovely city.

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VENICE

Favorite Thing: It is a tie between our private boat tour down the Grand Canal and our gondola ride.

The thing about Venice is what is obvious…it is a city built on water.  The water is an intrinsic part of the city.  There are foot paths and bridges all over the islands…but the water is the life blood of Venice and in order to properly see the city, you have to see it from the water.  And the experience is even escalated when you step down into a gondola and you are literally inches from the water.  Your perspective of the grand palazzos standing in their decayed elegance totally changes.

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IMG_8843IMG_8809 The private boat tour really introduced us to Venice.  What was great about the tour (and the tour guide) is that we saw several sides to Venice, including the “working” side.  We saw all of the service boats (ambulances, cranes for construction, garbage boats and even a hearse) as well as hospitals and universities and government offices, schools and even the cemetery that sits out on a lonely island in the lagoon. Despite a dying population, it is very much a working city.  It’s not all about souvenirs and selfie sticks.  The tour gave us a chance to explore all of the different districts…and look at the city from several different perspectives.  This city is beautiful from any angle…it does not have a bad side.

The gondola ride was sheer bliss.  It was like getting into a hammock on a warm summer day and taking a nap.  We purposefully chose a gondolier that was off the beaten path and we requested that he stay in the back canals away from all of the people.  He did briefly take us out onto the Grand Canal (which was actually amazing)…but mostly we were just quietly drifting by picturesque buildings draped in lush vines.  Time froze on the ride.  It could have been 1756, 1934 or 2015.  It was almost surreal and beautifully lulling and soothing.  What I thought was the ultimate in cheesy tourist things ended up being what will always be a great memory.

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Least Favorite Thing: The Madding Crowds (yes, its “madding”, not “maddening”).

From the minute you step off the train you are surrounded by hoards of people.  Lots of people. Tons of people.  Tour groups, families with 6 kids and 20 pieces of luggage…people taking pictures and knocking you over to get to where they are going.  It’s insane.

But the good news is that the crowds are totally avoidable.  The crowds live in specific places and have particular habits.  They also swell like clockwork.

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IMG_8863 IMG_8861 IMG_8857Once you learn the routines and habits of the madding crowds you can avoid them,…it’s like the satisfaction of solving a puzzle… and that’s when you sigh with relief and simply relax and enjoy the beauty of Venice.

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BOLOGNA

Favorite Thing: Sitting in Piazza Santo Stefano on a Perfect Afternoon

IMG_9279 IMG_9272Sometimes it is the simple things that we enjoy the most.  It doesn’t always have to be exciting or expensive or exclusive to be special.   On this particular afternoon, we had stumbled upon this gorgeous little church, Santo Stefano, which was sitting quietly in the afternoon sun on the far corner of a piazza.  It was virtually empty…and when we entered the doors, a curtain of time fell behind us.  Suddenly, it was the 8th century in Italy.  We wandered around the ancient rooms with frescoed angels gazing down at us…it was a transformative experience.

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IMG_9201 IMG_9217 IMG_9222 IMG_9247 IMG_9259And the afternoon only improved.  We walked across the Piazza to an outdoor cafe and pulled up a chair.  For the first time on our trip, we had an Aperol spritz (very popular in northern Italy)…Lena had her Sprite…the waiter brought over a generous plate of apertivo snacks…the sun was extending its last bands of light across the glowing, orange bricks….and we were just in the most relaxed state of mind.  Our vacation had reached a peak relaxation point.

IMG_9265 IMG_9276 IMG_9285 IMG_9283Least Favorite Thing: The Climb Down the Asinelli Tower

Okay, so Josette and Lena got out-voted on this one.  Actually, I don’t think they had a least favorite thing for Bologna, so I won out.

IMG_9164  IMG_9149IMG_9152IMG_9147It’s no secret that I don’t like heights.  It’s actually less that I don’t like heights and more that heights don’t like me…I get vertigo.  I get dizzy and feel like I’m falling backwards.  But life is short.  I’m not going to not fly on airplanes or not climb a 1,000 year old tower and get a great view of Bologna.  It’s mind over matter.  And the climb up was not that bad.  No worse than a root canal or stepping on a piece of glass.  But the climb down was absolutely the worst thing ever for someone with a fear of heights.  The old, wood stairs were open…you could see all the way down the 300 foot tower.  I wasn’t sure I could go down…so I had to just say “Jesus take the wheel”…and I looked straight ahead and slowly and painfully walked down…step by step.  And FYI, It was actually painful…my heels dug into the wood stair treads all the way down.  The best part of all of this traumatic experience??  Josette and Lena were laughing hysterically at me…Lena could barely breath she was laughing so hard.  But I made it down…and I’m glad I didn’t let fear get the better of me.

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FLORENCE

Favorite Thing: Day Trip to Tuscany

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We are not typically a tour taking family.  We like to explore at our own pace and we usually do enough research before hand to know what we are going to see.  But for whatever reason, on this trip, we decided to book a few tours, one being a day trip out of Florence to see Siena, have lunch at a farm/vineyard, visit San Gigamano and then stop for another wine tasting at a second vineyard. I have thoroughly and completely described the magnificent lunch that we had at Tenuta Casanova.  The food was absolutely delicious…but the combination of the setting and the food and  wine…and being with one another on this amazing trip made it a very special afternoon.  Visiting Siena was also a treat.  The postcard perfect town is perched high up on a hill and the cathedral was a true testament to man’s ability to elevate the spirit through architecture and art.   This was not only our favorite thing that we did in Florence…it may well be our favorite day of the entire two week trip.

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   Least Favorite Thing: The unavoidable crowds

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Unlike Venice, which is made up of several little islands…divided by canals…where you can find quiet corners to escape the crowds…the historic center of Florence is a very small place…and it was very hard to get away from the onslaught of tourists.  They descend on the town very early in the morning and don’t seem to go away at night.  And more so than anywhere else we visited, there were massive groups of tourists that were terrified of being split up…and they just plowed their way through town.  I won’t go as far as to say that the crowds ruined our visit to Florence, it is too much of a little jewel of a city, but I will say that I would never go there again during the height of the tourist season.  It was overwhelming and definitely our least favorite thing about Florence.


ROME

Favorite Thing: The Amazement of Seeing So Much Ancient History in One Place

Rome has so much incredible history and there is literally so much to see that it is impossible to choose one particular place as our favorite.  For me, the highlight was getting to visit the Pantheon…probably the most amazing, pure and simple structure that is also overwhelmingly beautiful and an architectural and engineering masterpiece.  For Josette is was visiting the Roman Forum and for Lena it was the Colosseum.   We’ve been to many many old buildings in Europe…but seeing Roman ruins…things from 8th century BC is mind blowing.  We walked down the same street that Julius Ceasar walked on the day he was assassinated.   We also visited places where the very first Christians worshiped (in secret) and got to see the haunting catacombs where they were finally laid to rest.

Not to mention the masterpieces of art and sculpture, fantastical fountains…Rome has it all.

While we were touring these sites, there were moments when I had flashbacks of all of the history and art textbooks from elementary school all the way through college…pages rapidly flapping by with images of Roman Emporers and temples, fanciful baroque church facades…marble sculptures of perfect human forms, the arms of St. Peter’s stretching out…and here we were standing amidst all of it.  It was amazing to be able to see all of this in person and was our favorite thing about Rome.

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Least Favorite Thing: It was our last stop…and we had to go home.

I’m glad we saved Rome for our last stop.  It is massive and dense and intense.  It is a real city…layered with unfathomable amounts of historic fabric.  Your eyes can’t quite absorb all that they are seeing…your brain can’t process all of the history in one place, your feet can’t bear the amount of walking and climbing and your stomach can’t seem to get enough of what you are tasting (see my blog post about what we ate).   We loved Rome.  We loved Italy.  We loved this trip.

And these were our favorite (and least favorite) things.

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20 thoughts on “Our Favorite Things…Italian Edition

  1. Thank you! Thank you! This was the best entry yet. Really enjoyed seeing what you all chose for your favorites and least favorites. Where to next year??

  2. As I reflect on our trip, I found Venice and Rome to be my favorite cities. I will get to Europe one day. I just hope I am not too old to enjoy the sights and sounds.

  3. Wow….what a great treasure of eye candy I have found in your blog! Thank you for taking the time to share….I know it’s labor-intensive, but what a great way to reflect for years to come on your trip to Italy!
    We are planning our first trip to Italy for the fall of 2016. Can you share info on your Tuscan tour of Sienna? Looks perfect! And rental info on your apt in Florence? Please? Thank you!

  4. We enjoyed spending the day with you touring Tuscany. We agree that it was the best day of our 2 1/2 weeks in Italy. We didn’t go to Milan or Bologna but did go to Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi coast.

    1. Hi Robin- Wow! How did you find my blog (out of curiosity)? We decided to stay north on this trip to Italy…I think we will do those lovely coastal towns sans child! Thanks for checking out my blog.

  5. This blog is a treasure – obviously such an incredible amount of work went into it. And the photography is simply stunning. I have spent hours looking at all of the Italy pictures! Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to post all of this.

    Would you mind sharing what camera lens(es) you used for all the pictures? We are thinking about what equipment to bring on our Italy trip next spring. I tend to get lazy and just use my iphone these days, but your beautiful photos are making me rethink that plan. We have a variety of lenses but don’t want to be lugging too much equipment around. My husband defaults to our 50 mm f/1.8 lens, do you think that would do the trick? Our zoom lens is just so heavy! Thanks for any insight.

    1. Wow! Thanks for the compliments! So….I have to tell you that for the last 10 years I used a Canon Rebel DSL our camera, but before this trip I purchased a very expensive Samsung mirror- less digital camera…which does not have a viewfinder, only a LED screen on the back of the camera. This proved to be a nightmare in Italy as it was extremely sunny and bright and I could never see what was on the view finder. So many of the interior shots inside cathedrals and museums were done with the Samsung camera, however, I would say 50% of the pictures from this blog were taken with my iPhone 6. I am not a professional photographer, but the iPhone 6 is an incredible instrument and there are many apps that can help you to take great pictures! Seriously! I love KitCam in particular. Thanks again for checking out my blog and for the compliments!

      1. I have been toying with the idea of leaving my rebel at home and just using my iPhone…..when I see the gorgeous photos you have taken with yours, I think it makes it a no brainier! Off to look at KitCam! Thanks again for this delightful blog!

      2. Back in the early 90’s, I was using a “real” SLR camera with actual film (usually B &W) and I actually developed my own photos in the dark room. So it is shocking that I would ever advise anyone to use their phone as a camera (?!?!?). But in all honesty, the iphone camera is really good. And with all of the apps and programs we have today, post editing can create amazing pictures. That being said, nothing is worse than regret…so if you can fit it in your bags, I would bring the Rebel just in case.

      3. In some of the pics, you seem to have a traditional SLR with lens – is that the Samsung or the old Rebel? We also have a mirrorless SLR, but it is much smaller. That is the camera we used on our last trip to Europe (and will probably bring again just to have), but I love the idea of using my iPhone. I agree that the iPhone 6 camera is fantastic, and I have taken some great pics with it, but it is nice to have validation from someone who is obviously an avid photographer! Thanks for the KitCam recommendation also.

      4. I did not bring the Rebel (SLR) on this trip…all of the pictures are with my Samsung NX300 or the iphone. I don’t know why I love KitCam so much…but I do. In my post about Bologna…ALL of the pictures in sepia and B&W were taken with my iphone using the KitCam app. I will say that I paid (in app purchase) for all of the various “lenses” and film types…but it was a nominal fee and worth every penny.

  6. Hi There – I found your blog on Fodor’s forums and have to say your blog design is absolutely beautiful, one of the best travel blogs I’ve seen! My husband and I leave for our 2-week honeymoon next month to Venice-Bologna (day trip to Ravenna)-Montepulciano-Siena-Florence and your photos and trip summaries are really getting me excited for the trip! We’ll be in Bologna on my birthday, so I’m looking forward to a day of patio surfing! Also, your description of the gondola ride made me smile:)

    1. Gina- thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for all of your kind words. And what you said makes me smile because the one and only reason I linked the blog was to inspire and inform fellow travelers. So…I guess I have achieved that. I’m an architect, not a writer..so I’m sometimes treading in unsure water when I try to describe a place.

      You will love all of those stops on your trip and a for different reasons. Venice is probably the most magical place I’ve ever seen…and as romantic as Paris. Both cities seduce you with all of their beauty. Siena is, as you saw, this little gem on a hilltop with that gorgeous cathedral and Bologna just had this look and vibe that was so wonderful. I’m so glad you aware going there! Please go to that piazza at Santo Stefano…visit the church and then have an appertivo and people watch.

      Congratulations on your wedding and have a safe and wonderful time in Italy!

  7. I’ve now finished your whole blog and am still stunned with your amazing photos. I am so glad I came across it – keeping it bookmarked so I can return to it as I get closer to my trip in May 2016. I would love to know the places you stayed in Florence and Venice. There are so may options out there I end up totally confused.
    Thanks again for sharing – look forward to any future trips your family heads off in.
    Sue

  8. Your blog is amazing! I feel as if I have been to Italy just looking at it through your eyes. We are planning a trip next October, and your blog has me excited to visit this amazing country. What nice memories you are giving your daughter, too. 🙂

    1. Thanks for compliments Susan (pilgrimqz@gmail.com) and for taking the time to read my blog. I’m glad that I can inspire your trip to Italy! It really is an amazing and beautiful country. And yes…she may be only 7, but our daughter is a precocious New Yorker and she does appreciate travel. I didn’t start traveling until my late 30’s…so for her to have checked off London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice,etc….it’s pretty amazing. I hope all of your travels are safe and as wonderful as ours was.

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