I’m starting to settle down for the holidays and I thought, if maybe just for me, I’d document my trip to Italy this last September. All my marketing instincts told me to make it picture heavy and concise. Easy to digest. But I threw that out the window and wrote a book. With a mix of camera photos and iPhone photos it’s basically a journal of my trip. Believe it or not, it’s still the abbreviated version. I warn you now, this is a long one.
It had been a few years since I had taken an international trip just for myself, outside of friend commitments, just to explore and unwind. Italy has always been my number one place I wanted to go and spend time in. I wanted to do it right which in my mind meant not staying in hostels, not making it a quick trip and being able to afford a few excursions. I wanted to take it all in, explore as much as possible, and experience the culture. For that reason I never went in my twenties. I was waiting for the right time.
Each year I make a resolution list. It’s really less of a resolution and more of a to-do list. I establish a list of things I want to accomplish each year that helps encourage me to reach a little higher and stay goal-oriented. Sometimes it’s big goals like a job promotion, sometimes they’re dumb habits I want to kick, sometimes it’s things completely outside of my control (Like not injuring myself. If you know my history with knee problems this makes sense). This year it was to go on an international trip and I decided Italy had waited long enough. I had the ability to take two weeks off and I had the money to eat more than just croissants everyday. Check check.
Two of my girlfriends quickly jumped on the opportunity to join me. Neither wanted to take as much time off and both had certain cities they wanted to visit. So they staggered their trips, each taking a week with me. As we started planning I decided to do the first couple days alone in order to see a city I refused to miss. Cinque Terre. It sounds dumb, but when I worked at Nordstrom I helped launch a men’s shoe line that’s entire story was around Cinque Terre, touting the beauty of the city and quality of the Italian leather. If anyone has seen photos of the area, you probably want to go too. I have never traveled internationally alone before, let alone in a place I didn’t speak the language. So I was nervous. Maybe a lot of nervous. But I was doing it.
Cinque Terre - Monterosso al Mare
Three days before my trip I bought a book on learning Italian and went to work. The book was perfect. It started basically at the airport and taught me things like how to catch a taxi, where’s the train, etc. It then went on to checking into hotels, how to order at dinner, how to ask for directions. It even had a whole section on talking to Italian men and going to the hospital if I was injured. Went without needing the last one, thank God. Can’t say the men part went very well either. haha.
Cinque Terre was amazing. I stayed in Monterosso al Mare. It was so much more romantic than I imagined. The weather was perfect, it was the least hilly of the five towns and it had the best beach. I wandered around eating gelato and shopping for nicknacks. At 1pm I reserved a boat to take me down the shoreline to see the five towns I knew I wasn’t going to have time to see in 1.5 days. My tour guide Guiliano was the Italian tour guide you imagine. He told me everything I could know about the towns, how to pronounce them correctly, and 50% more I never understood with his thick accent. He smoked like a chimney, let me go swimming in the water and told me at the end, if I was ever in any trouble I could call him. Welcome to Italy.
The next day I wanted to walk the famous path, but found the only train leaving to Firenze that was less than 6 hours was at 10am. I had to cut my day short and meet Michelle who was arriving that afternoon. I made it to the train station, figured out how to read the board to find my platform and asked someone if “this is my train” about ever 10 mins, terrified I was going to miss mine. They are not clearly marked!
To no one’s surprise I made it to Firenze. Which is really Florence to American’s. Why we rename cities is strange to me, but to the rest of the world, Firenze! It was gorgeous. Michelle and I stayed in the largest Airbnb we’d booked the entire trip. It was a two bedroom condo right by the bridges and walking distance to everything. Highlights consisted of seeing the statue of David, exploring the Duomo and walking up thousands of steps in a dimly-lit claustrophobic staircase in a long dress with 3,000 of our closest strangers. But worth it. The paintings on the ceiling, the views, the architecture and history… incredible. The market was also a blast. Full of fresh food, spices, different lunch counters. The meat and cheese guy fell in love with us which prompted us to buy way more than anticipated. Then we enjoyed the most amazing dinner we’ve ever had. Recommended by our Airbnb host, the staff gave us free apps, we ordered expensive wine and the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. Also the best truffle pasta served in a parmesan crisp. Take me back now.
Our last adventure in Florence was a cooking class in Chianti out in the Tuscan hills. It was an Airbnb Experience and a wonderful women welcomed us and six other Americans into her home. All the ingredients were from her garden or the local market, organic, and the recipes were simple. We made fresh rosemary crackers, eggplant dip, eggplant parmesan, fresh pasta with a lemon sauce, and an apple bake with reduced red wine sauce. And we drank probably 10 bottles of wine. Her home was exactly how I imagined Tuscany to look, chickens walking around, a patio to watch the sunset on and olive trees everywhere. But nothing can be perfect… so to even things out Michelle and I got over 100 mosquito bites. Turns out we are both just their type. It was still worth every bite. For us and the mosquitos.
The next day we left for Rome or Roma as the Italians say. We met up with my other travel partner Jessica and the three of us romped around the city for three days. In Rome we did serious touristing. We saw the colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, Altare della Patria (which is seriously the most impressive building I’ve seen). We ate the best pizza, found the highest rated gelato in the city, tons of wine and had our biggest night out of the trip. Italy is surprisingly sleepy, so finding a good club was not easy for these tourists. But we did it.
If you guys are still with me, I’m impressed! We are half way! Breathe deep. I will speed it up a little. :)
After Rome we said goodbye to Michelle and Jessica and I took off on an action packed day. We hopped the train down to Naples, to get on a bus to go to Pompeii, to then get back on the bus, to get a boat to take us to Capri. All by dinner time. Pompeii was another bucket list item for me. I’ve had a book about it since I was five years old and the story has always impacted me. I had to see this perfectly preserved city, devastated by a volcano. So we went and as we were driving to Pompeii it dawned on me. I was staring out the window looking at Mount Vesuvius in all it’s glory and thought, this mountain could go off again, right now, and kill me… I survived. But it was still a shuttering thought.
The city looks straight out of a movie and blew my mind how big it was.
Naples and Pompeii
The rest of the trip was beach bound. We made it to Capri and took an elevator trolley up the side of a cliff to our cute little Airbnb overlooking the marina. We spent most our time looking for coffee shops for delicious cappuccinos, more gelato, restaurant hopping and searching for breakfast places that served something other than a croissant. We took another boat tour around the island and saw Mussolini’s private house where he retired in his later years, Sofia Loren’s house, caves and private beach clubs. We couldn’t go to the blue lagoon due to weather which was sad, but we didn’t really have much to complain about. We did a small hike and explored Ana Capri the older part of the island. One great thing about Italy is most beach cities seem to be on a cliff. Which means there are tons of restaurants with the best views you’ve ever seen. It was almost impossible to take a bad picture here.
The last leg of our trip led us to the Amalfi coast. We stopped for two days in Praiano and two days in Positano. Praiano was a sleepier town, where we had the worst weather of the trip. The winds kicked up high and the temperature dropped down to 55 degrees. I didn’t mention it had been 85 degrees everyday before. My one small coat I’d been cursing for taking up space in my luggage finally became useful. There were only two restaurants near our Airbnb and one of them was a Michelin star restaurant. Because it was feet from our place we got a discount, the food was incredible and strangely very affordable. So we went both nights. Apparently we made such a good impression the first night they greeted us back with champagne and limoncello the second night (adjusts princess crown securely on head).
We ended up drinking another bottle of wine with the wait staff so I woke up not prepared for the winding roads over to Positano. The only thing that saved me was a fresh caprese sandwich on focaccia bread and sliced prosciutto. I was either hung over or it was the best sandwich of my life. The answer is both. Sandwich picture below as proof.
Positano was stunning. We witnessed a true Italian wedding between two locals with better style than you and I could wish for on a good day. We stayed in the most unique place. It looked like a castle tower leaning out over the water. I don’t say leaning flippantly. I swear one day that thing’s ending up in the water. But none the less it was incredible and we continued to feel like princesses. We spent the last two days, swimming, renting kayaks, drinking wine and sunbathing. It was surreal to finally be at the end of the trip. I was going to have to face reality back home, but for a few more moments I was still in Italy, and I was so grateful.
Thank you for letting me spill my guts and share my vacation. If you actually read to the end, hit the like button so I know you’re there. :) I’m grateful that this year I got to cross this one off my list, but I have a feeling I’ll be back. Italy hasn’t seen the last of me yet. Grazie Mille.