Ok, it’s no secret I looooove to travel. Especially since I live in Sicily. If only money was no object! But whenever possible, the hubby and I like to take getaway trips. What I’ve tried to do here, is to list some of the note worthy places to see and places we’ve personally stayed at in order to help you plan a trip if ever coming our way. Being the “travel agent” of the family, I usually try to read as many on line reviews before I book a hotel anywhere. Plus, not one for “organized” excursions, we usually just pick a city, look up the main attractions, and like to scout the area by feetsies (…..I’m sure it’s not a word, but I like to uses it!…..) and public transportation, of course looking like the proverbial tourist with a water bottle, a hat, and a camera dangling from the neck! Wanting to add to my collection of things I carry with me, I was tempted on the last trip to by one of those multi-colored self propelling hats that shoot air onto your forehead, kind of like a mini hat “fan”, but my husband gave me that “you’re not serious” Italian bulged-out eye look followed by a few excited Italian words (something to the effect of being crazy) which I wasn’t capable of translating at the time! But really, that’s the way to go. Just go and explore!
Let’s plan your trip!
A great hotel to stay at is Trilussa Palace Hotel. It was the first hotel in Rome I ever stayed at. I think it’s the best one for a couple of reasons:
1) It’s located in Trestevere, which is an outskirt town of Rome. Meaning it’s where the locals live. So the food is better and more authentic. Go where the Romans go! The tram stops right in front of the hotel and is only a few minutes into the main attractions (Colosseum, Spanish steps, etc).
2) The rooms are larger sized that typical European rooms. For those who have never traveled to Europe, be mindful that space is an issue, hence the narrow streets and mass amounts of buildings with many floors. So hotels are no exception. Rooms are generally smaller than those of American hotels. This hotel is perfect if you are really planning to spend the day out and just need the room to sleep. There are a lot of tiny streets and shops nearby where you can get a good cappuccino and cornetto for breakfast or a pizza for lunch. Don’t leave Rome before trying a “spremuta”. It’s basically fresh 100% squeezed orange juice, but I promise you it’s nothing like you have ever tasted! Down here in Sicily, we have blood oranges, and a spremuta made with those are to die for =)
3) Every Sunday morning, in front of the hotel they have (or at least had) a huge street market (mercato) where they sell just about everything! It’s was my first taste of how Italians buy and trade. Nothing like a swap meet back home in the States. No, this is much more animated and the deals we got! You can’t come to Italy and not visit a mercato! Note that not everything sold there is Italian made, as a lot of things are imported from other countries, hence the low prices. So here’s a tip: Usually, an Italian vendor will have a little cardboard sign saying “prodotto 100% Italiano” (Italian product) or you will see “vera pelle “ (real leather). Trust me, this is important if you are paying 30 to 50 euros for what seems to be a “leather” bag. Or, you can do what my mother in law does- she smells the bag! Real leather smells like leather! So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. At first, I had no idea why she was doing that (poor thing, she was trying to explain to both my mother and I in Italian, of course we couldn’t understand at the time!) But this has since been my no-fail method. And I have a big nose, so I never go wrong! Now, I must say that I’ve bought MANY synthetic leather like purses for 5 euro or less, they look great and usually last about a good year ‘s worth of everyday use. I even make a yearly trip to the local mercato here in Sicily to get about 8 or so of these bags to bring back home to my mom =) Hey, for 5 euro, I can get a bunch of them for the same price as one real leather bag, and seasonally or occasionally rotate the bags. Weather you find a real leather bag for a good price, or you buy a bunch of stylish everyday bags, you’ll still go home happy!
I won’t go into detail of what you can see in Rome, because obviously there are lots of good travel sites filled with information on top attractions. I will however, give you some inside tips on places I’ve been to personally while there, and if you have the time to look up these places and know you will be nearby, I think you’ll definitely enjoy the experience.
Pizzeria\Restaurant: That’s Amore (via in Arcione 115)
Near the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna): Caffeteria Barcaccia (perfect for ordering a drink like a cappucino, spremuta (orange juice), etc.
Pizzeria Ristorante: Capriccio (viale trestevere)
To us, and to all Florentines, this region is definitely the cultural capital of Italy (Milano being the fashion capital). Apart from the numerous museums, galleries, and artistic centers, you will find Florence filled with Jewelry chops and other types of shops most definitely catered to foreigners. The mercato is huge, but it is commercial. We got married in Florence and stayed a week there, so I can recommend a great hotel: Hotel Alba. The hotel we stayed at was very spacious and offered a huge continental breakfast (Italian\American style) with fresh coffee or cappuccino brought to your table.
Ok, if you only make it to Italy once in your life, make sure you go to Venice, the city on water. It’s just an incredible place. We were there as part of our Honeymoon, and it’s everything people say it it…..just beautiful! Now, I am going to give you one place you absolutely won’t want to miss. A small tiny outdoor restaurant that is literally alongside the Rialto River. The food was fabulous and we ate there twice in the 3 days we were there. It’s called Antico Caffè Ristorante Al Buso. We spent only € 35,00 for complete meals….first course, second course, dessert and beverage….. (I would have paid €100 for that view! It was on the water’s edge…you could literally lean over and put your hand in the water.) I kept the bill so that I would have all the information to go back again! The telephone number is 041-5289078….if they don’t speak English, have your hotel make reservations for you! Be sure to ask for a table at the water’s edge!
Parma, Verona, Bologna These small towns are all nearby and definitely worth seeing. This part of Italy is know to be the gastronomical capital. For example, the balsamic vinegar so well know, is from Modena. The Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese is from Parma, along with its famous prosciutto. The food in this region is what gave Italy it’s gastronomical name worldwide. Do one thing, and one thing only here: EAT!
Capri \ Sorento The Island of Capri is definitely as beautiful as films describe it. I think it’s where the rich and famous of Italy, and probably the rest of the world, have their summer homes. With it’s beautiful blue waters, it’s really a beach haven. Sorrento is definitely the Cinque Terre of the south. Sorrento is the home of the famous Limoncello, as lemon trees are in abundance. Our hotel was right on the main piazza and although it was a bit small, the location was the best. Now, surprisingly enough, I found Sorrento to be much cheaper than expected as far as everything, food, hotel, etc. The food in these region is delicious as they tend to add olives to many dishes and you’ll find the pizza is thicker crusted, probably influenced by near Napoli (Naples), home of the Italian pizza. It is actually Napolitan pizza that we have come to recognize as “Italian pizza” around the world. Here in Sicily for example, the pizza is very thin crusted. In Rome, it’s much thicker crusted. Now, back to Sorrento…..the hotel we stayed at that I highly, I mean highly, recommend is Albergo Nice (on Corso Italia). It’s a great place to stay given the budget we had and that we were looking for a no frills hotel…just a place to sleep. To eat, go to the Fauno Bar in the piazza Tasso. It’s really not a bar, but a huge outdoor restaurant. I remember a dish we both ordered, it was a meal that consisted of half a pizza and half pasta! That way, you can try both =)
Ok, now let’s teach you some Italian to get around!
For the most common words and phrases, check out this website: www.reidsitaly.com…..there you will find some great cheat sheets you can print out. Those will help you get around, but don’t worry, in most tourist spots, you will be able to get around pretty easily without really speaking the language as there are signs everywhere pointing out the most popular attractions. Now, if you get lost and need to ask for directions, even if you speak Italian, you will get lost! Why? Because, my husband says, his fellow Italians are notorious for giving bad directions =) =) =) I think it’s just every one has their own idea and way of getting around and nobody seems to agree on the same direction! =) But getting lost is part of the Italian culture, so if it happens to you, just stop by the nearest gelateria and rest a bit by getting a nice cup of pistacchio (pistachio) gelato (ice cream)! You will find your way back to the hotel….I promise =) Now, if you ever get lost in Sicily…..just give me a call, I’ll help you find your way back!
So, we’ve got hotel names, places to eat, and our Italian vocabulary…..the only thing left is your plane ticket!
My husband and I have always used Expedia.com because we’ve found that they offer the best prices for the routes offered. Since we travel between Italy and the States once a year, you can say we’ve made many trips! Some things you want to keep in mind when traveling back and forth is this:
1) International flights are long and tiring. Try to dress as comfortably as possible for the flight. Between New York and Rome, there are approximately 9 hours of flight time. If you are coming from the west coast, you need to add another 5 to 6 hours for domestic travel.
2) If you have to make a connecting flight, give yourself at least a 1 1\2 hour time frame between flights. For example, if you are like flying out from the west coast stopping in the east coast to change planes, you will find that the domestic terminal (where you landed) is on the other end of the airport from where the International terminal (where you depart) is! You will have to cross the airport, go through security again, not to mention go to the bathroom before boarding, etc. If you have an International connection, say you connect in Rome on your way to Venice, you will need to do customs in Italy as well. So be mindful of connection times!
3) When passing through security in the USA,you will need to take off your shoes (at least at the time of writing this post) and if you feel uneasy about having to walk barefoot or with socks on the airport floor, bring shower caps and just slide them over your feet! From Italy, you will not be asked to do this (again, at least at the time of this writing) so one or two pairs of shower caps should be enough, depending on your flight(s).
4) Airplane seats are getting smaller, really they are. It’s not us getting larger, trust me. Many airlines are adding additional seats in the newer planes making the seat size several inches smaller. If you travel high season, chances are your plane will be the larger type with left side of the plane-center of the plane-right side of the plane seat configurations like 3-5-3, or 3-4-3 rather than the 2-4-2 or 2-5-2. Since we are two people usually traveling during the holidays, one of us gets the window and middle seat, or the aisle and middle. If you get a left or right side of the plane 2 seat figuration, it’s the best because one person then gets the window, and the other gets the aisle. The reason I’m saying all this is because, at least on Expedia, the type of aircraft is listed (ex. Boeing 747)…..so you can see if the aircraft is larger or smaller. Then, check out SeatGuru.com to find the best seats on your aircraft! You’ll thank me later =)
5) Do not be afraid to ask for special meals. On Expedia, you can actually put in this request electronically at the time of purchasing your tickets. If not, call the airlines directly. Because I have low sodium restriction, I always ask for a low sodium meal and it’s always never been a problem. As a matter of fact, if you look around the plane, you will find many other individuals who request special meals as we are typically brought out the meals a few minutes before everyone else. As far as beverages, it’s been told to not drink carbonated beverages as they tend to dehydrate you. I would recommend drinking plenty of water only.
6) Be very careful with baggage allowance. I can not tell you how many experiences we have had or seen at the airport regarding this. We have flown many different carriers and all policies are strictly enforced. I once had to take out an article out of my checked bag because it was a pound over. So weigh your bags TWICE before leaving home, giving yourself a 1 lb buffer in case the airport scale is different from the one you are using at home. I’ve found DIGITAL bathroom scales to be the easiest and closest ones to the airport scale. Now, we’ve found an easy method to weigh bags accurately: My husband weights himself first. Then weighs himself carrying the suitcase. No fail method! For example: if he is 175lbs alone, and with the bag in hand he is 245lbs, it means the bag weighs exactly 70 lbs.
So you’ve come this far reading all this and you say, “Thanks for the tips, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to travel to Italy” =(
Don’t worry! You can still see this beautiful country through some wonderful videos others have put on the Internet. Here is one that I’ve found and passed around before. It’s Venice, in all her beauty, with a song by Andrea Bocelli sung in Italian and English. So click on the link…..sit back and relax….I’m taking you to Venice! [youtube id=”N8OvgoPFfGk”]