So my Spring Break blog is going to be a little different than my other ones, because if I told you about everything that happened over my 11 day trek through Italy, it would never end. So here is the cliff notes version:
17 bottles of wine
9 cups of gelato
1 amazing Spring Break
(Calculated carefully by Shannon)
Stop One: Milan
Hostel: Hotel San Tomaso
This phenomena is similar to the Spanish concept of tapas, but even better. During happy hour(s) many Italian bars offer “apertivo” where you buy a cocktail for 8-10 euros and get unlimited food from a buffet with traditional (and sometimes not-so-traditional) Italian appetizers and small dishes. AKA who needs an actual dinner after apertivo??
- Lake Como
We ventured out of Milan for a day to spend time at the beautiful Lake Como. It is only an hour (or so) train ride north of Milan near the Swiss border. It was a whole 8 euros round trip. We got off the train and just started walking around the lake. We enjoyed the quaint town and found a little park at the edge of the bay to spend some time taking in the scenery. We got lunch at a small local café near the water and enjoyed some Italian wine and pasta with a view. After lunch, we spent some time exploring the city and found a small dessert market in the little town square, where Shannon got gelato (naturally) and I got chocolate covered strawberries. Overall, a must-do while in Milan!
The inside of the Duomo is absolutely beautiful (as is most churches in Europe); however, the true gem is on top. You can buy tickets to walk on the roof of the Duomo! You can buy them online or at the door (I bought them online to move through the line faster) and you can choose to use the stairs or elevator (stairs are cheaper and pretty easy). From the rooftop terrace we could see a beautiful skyline of Milan with snow-covered mountains in the distance. It made for great pictures and an even greater view.
- Arch de Pacce Park
Per usual, we got a little tired after lunch and needed a small siesta…and what better place than a beautiful Italian park. The Arch de Pacce stands at the forefront of the park with Castle Sforza on the opposing side. We walked through the castle and found a nice patch of grass on the parking looking towards the Arch and enjoyed people-walking and a few minutes of shut eye.
For those who like shopping, this is the place for you. The main center of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II has the beautiful walls, glass ceilings and open doors to stores like Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. For those of you, like me, who make a little less money than a Prada shopper, there are tons of stores branching off the main part of the Galleria where you can still get your fashion on.
Stop Two: Florence
Hostel: Locando Rocco
Recommend: No way!
- The Grape Escape wine tour through Tuscany
The best part of Italy was…the wine. So naturally, we had to go see where the famous Italian Chianti originated. We started our wine tour at Tenuta Torciano, a tasting school and winery. We started with the white Vernaccia di San Gimignano then we switched to red and tried the Chianti, the Chianti Clasico Riserva and the Brunello di Montalcino. We also tried some rich truffle flavored extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, followed by a dessert rosé. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. After that, we headed to a second winery, Pietraserena Winery, where we learned about the wine production and had a second round of tastings including a white wine, a Chianti and a rosé accompanied with the best bruschetta that I have ever had. We ended the day in the small Tuscan town of San Gimignano and ate the pizza, the world’s best gelato and had one more glass of Chianti. The beautiful scenery was also a perk of the whole trip. Our van was full of couples (minus me and Shannon) so our tour guide referred to us as the “spring breakers”. Insert American stereotype cliché.
- Gusta Pizza
Gusta Pizza, home of the best Pizza I had the whole time I was in Italy. This tiny restaurant not far from the Ponte Vecchio served authentic wood-fired stone oven pizza. We weren’t the only ones who thought it was delicious….the whole place was filled with tourists and locals alike.
- Piazzale de Michelangelo
We love panoramic views. We’ve climbed every cathedral dome from Spain to Rome. But no view compared to the view from the Piazzale de Michelangelo. One night we trekked across the bridge, walked to the far corner of the city, and climbed the hill to find the piazza. There was a guitarist playing and singing in the background at the bottom of the steps and we uncorked a bottle of wine and enjoyed the music, scenery, and wine with friends. It is amazing how a (free) view and a 6-euro bottle of wine can be one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
Florence also has a duomo…not at all to be confused with the duomo in Milan. This beautiful cathedral has an iconic exterior with vibrant colors and designs. We climbed over 400 stairs (twice) to see the city from the top of the bell tower and then again from the dome itself. We also happened to visit on Palm Sunday and were given some palms.
One night we went to a small bar called the Shot Café. It’s very Americanized and full of study abroad students, but nonetheless, very fun. We managed to make friends with a few locals though and they took us to a local club. But beware; Italians like to do everything backward! We didn’t have to pay a cover, but instead we had to pay to get out at the end!
Stop Three: Venice
Hostel: Ostella S. Fosca
- Gondola Ride
The one thing I pictured doing in Venice was a gondola ride. Unfortunately, they don’t come cheap as all the gondola drivers have a set price they ask for. (Don’t worry though; we still managed to get the price lowered a little.) As high as my expectations were, they were exceeded. Our driver sang a beautiful song in Italian as he weaved us in and out of the narrow canals. It was a scene out of a movie.
As soon as you get to Italy, the unique glass figurines are visible everywhere. All of these glass products are produced on a tiny island just off the coast of mainland Venice. We took a day to visit the island of Murano via Water Bus. There we looked through hundreds of glass shops and visited a factory where a glass artesian demonstrated the design process to create the beautiful glass sculptures. The tiny island was quaint and complete with lunch on a small terrace with some refreshing white wine.
- St. Marco’s Square
This is the central destination for tourists complete with a cathedral, bell tower, museums and places to eat. We visited the beautiful cathedral. We “climbed” the clock tower to see a panorama of the city. And we looked at the museum lines and reconsidered our interest in Venetian history. But the coolest part of the St. Marco’s Square wasn’t visible until nighttime. Each night the square floods with water and above ground pathways are set out to guide people to higher ground. One night we got some gelato and just watched the water flood into the square.
- Clock Tower
Earlier I mentioned that we “climbed” the clock tower…which was a little bit of a lie since there was actually an elevator on this one! When we walked off the elevator all the bells were ringing to mark the hour. I felt like an Italian (female) and less hunched Quasimoto. There were also some great views. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so you can just see for yourself.
- Taverna del Campiello Remer
I already mentioned apertivo during Milan. After our first experience there, we made it our goal to go to the best apertivo restaurants in each destination in Italy. Every review we read raved about Taverna del Campiello Remer, so we naturally had to try it. One small problem. It wasn’t on the map. And there were (at minimum) three streets in Venice with the name “Remer”. Least to say, after two hours of hopelessly walking around the winding roads and bridges of Venice, we didn’t find it. But the next day, we did find it. And it was delicious. Mission accomplished.
Stop Four: Rome
Hostel: The Yellow
Recommend: MUST STAY HERE
- Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Square
To end our Roman Holiday, we had tickets for reserved seats on St. Peter’s Square for Easter mass. Now it would have just been too perfect if it‘d been sunny and clear like it was every single day for the rest of the break, so it poured. Nevertheless, the freezing rain didn’t dampen the gravity of the experience. It was amazing to see people from all over the world pack all the streets leading into St. Peter’s Square for the chance to be apart of the Easter mass. The service represented all parts of the world as different parts were spoken in different languages. The readings were read in English, Spanish, and French with the gospel in Latin. Other parts of the service were read in Chinese, Italian, and more. It was truly amazing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!
- Discovering Rome in the streets
All roads lead to Rome, but once you get there, good luck… All the winding roads made it slightly confusing to get around, but each corner was full of surprises. We managed to find the Piazza Novana, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and some more amazing gelato. Unfortunately the Trevi Fountain was under construction, but it was almost what dreams are made of!
- Colosseum and the Roman Forum
Obviously. As touristy as these attractions might be, they didn’t fail to take my breath away. I still have yet to understand how the Romans were constructing masterpieces like the Colosseum and a Roman city (some still remaining) over 2000ish years ago while Native Americans were living in tipis…Pure #wanderlust (as Shannon would say).
- Sunset at the Spanish Steps
I’m a sucker for a good sunset and we had another good one sitting at the top of the Spanish steps, with another good bottle of wine. Since we were a little homesick by Rome, the Spanish embassy made us feel right at home again.
- The Bar-Yellow
My last favorite from Italy wasn’t Italian at all. The Bar Yellow (attached to our hostel) was prime location (next door) with amazing food (not Italian) and inexpensive drinks. Within the three days we were in Rome, we managed to become somewhat regulars. The chicken skewers, nachos, the burger and the seasoned fries are all musts.
Overall, I would say our trip to Italy was a success. With a final tally of 17 bottles of wine, 13 pizzas, 11 days, 9 cups of gelato and 4 cities, I would definitely say that it was 1 amazing Spring Break.
Spring Break of the Century: Check. To hear more about my study abroad experience, check out my next blog, Sevilla, Andalucia.