If you’ve read many of our blogs about travelling, you’ll probably have begun to notice a pattern of how we travel. We tend to attempt to walk an entire city, eating and drinking our way through the best food, coffee, sweets, and drink the city has to offer, while being as completely cheap as possible. Our trip to Italy was no different. And it was perfect.
We arrived in Rome Monday evening and slowly made our way to our hotel. It was about a 45 minute walk, but we decided to walk it to begin to see the city, and we were amazed immediately. On our way to our hotel, we passed the Colosseum, the Forum, multiple different Piazzas, and so much more. We were pleasantly surprised by our priceline express deal hotel, and headed out to find some food at about 11 pm. We had heard Romans tend to eat late, so we were hoping we would be right on time for dinner. We stumbled upon Pizzeria al Marmi, and figured any place that looks like a cafeteria, is full of Italians, and has middle aged Italian men working their wood fired oven, was probably a good choice. It was our first of three visits in three days. The pizza we had was unlike any pizza we had ever had before, and so cheap! When we showed up again the second night, the host remembered us and our order, and we were ready to move in next door and eat there every night. After pizza we wandered around the neighbourhood we were staying in, Trastevere, and found an awesome craft beer bar where we each tried an Italian craft beer, and plotted out our coffee stops for the next morning.
Our days all started with a stop in a coffee shop, where you stand at the counter to drink your coffee (unless you want to pay more to sit down), and you pay less than a euro for an espresso. Most days we had an unspoken competition, Jared to drink as many espressos as he could, and me to eat as many gelatos as I could. I had three gelatos on Tuesday, so I think I won for the week. But really, we fell in love with the coffee in Italy. It was so different than the third wave coffee we love, but it seemed like such a part of the culture. In the mornings, you stop for a quick espresso or cappuccino (almost as cheap as an espresso!)-and probably a croissant if you’re smart- and you enjoy it standing at the counter, and then you go on with your day. People pop in and out for an espresso throughout the day, and its all so cheap and so good! We love coffee.
Tuesday consisted of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel (ohmygosh), St Peter’s Basilica, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and every cool Piazza, church, and square we could find. The history and beauty of Rome is incredible. Seeing the works of art in the Vatican was unreal, and standing in the Sistine Chapel was an experience we will never forget [along with the annoying people who wouldn’t be quiet, and the repetitive “silencio”, which was ignored]. We enjoyed some pizza from Marco Roscioli, a small take away cafe that was incredible. We also had castagnoles, a small donut hole looking pastry that melted in your mouth, I almost walked back at 7 am Saturday morning to buy more before leaving…. In case you haven’t noticed, we ate well. We spent the afternoon wandering and relaxing, and ended up at a wine bar for dinner. I had the most fantastic glass of wine I think I’ve ever had, and I have no idea what it was called. Many of the bars in Rome had what they called “aperitivos”, which is basically an appetizer buffet that is free during “happy hour” (typically until 9 or 10 pm). The food was once again, delicious, even at this buffet type place. We naturally, finished our evening with another pizza from our favorite place, and fell into our bed exhausted.
Wednesday we visited some of the most ancient areas of the city, including the Colosseum, the Forum, the Palatine, Circus Maximus and we made our way to the Appian Way. We almost didn’t pay to go into the Colosseum, and we are certainly glad we decided to go in. Being inside the Colosseum and remembering all that happened in it, was indescribable. The Forum is a square with ancient uncovered buildings including government buildings, churches, and the marketplace. We decided to walk to the Appian Way, in hopes of seeing the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. We had plans to walk there, rent bikes, and bike the rest of the way to the Catacombs, where we could visit crypts of Christian martyrs and popes. The Appian Way is an ancient Roman road which has changed very little over the years, and was supposed to be a cool road to walk and bike along. Our plans were foiled in many ways. First, although we had read that the road was still in use, we didn’t expect an ancient Roman road to be quite so busy with traffic. I quickly put my foot down that I would not be biking along the tiny one lane, two way road, which had no shoulder and it seemed no speed limit. We decided to walk to the catacombs, as we had come this far. I think we may have seen three other people silly enough to walk the road… But we made it to the catacombs!! And they were closed on Wednesdays. Who in the world only closes on Wednesdays!?! Oh well. We made the 5 mile walk back to our hotel, determining that we must have walked over 10 miles in one day, and consoled ourselves with the idea of our favourite pizza place for dinner. Alas, they are also closed on Wednesdays. Once we got over our disappointment, we found a restaurant to eat the most delicious gnocchi and [more] pizza, and the cheapest wine I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.
Thursday we set out for Cinque Terre. I have wanted to visit Cinque Terre for as long as I can remember, and it was on my list of “must dos” while we are living here. It exceeded my expectations by miles, and Jared was in love as well. We both kept saying to each other “can you believe we are here??” We stayed in a guesthouse in Vernazza, with a balcony overlooking the town, which must be 5 times the cost in the summer. (Side note, if you want to travel Europe cheaply, we’ve found June and July to be the most expensive months, and January is dirt cheap, but dark and cold…) We hiked from Vernazza to Monterosso our first afternoon, somewhat unintentionally. We hiked up out of Vernazza to get a view of the city, and ended up hiking straight up hill for about an hour. We had planned to ride the train to Monterosso that evening, but when we looked at the map, we thought we were probably about half way to Monterosso, and the map said it was a two hour hike. We figured, we’ve gone up hill for an hour, we’re probably half way there, and it can’t be much more up hill. Oh how wrong we were. We were not on the train we thought we were, we were on the long hike. The 3-4 hour hike. Which went up hill, a lot more. I will say that we always had cell service, and our phone flashlights may have helped us down into Monterosso, but we were glad we did it in the end. Some of our best pictures came from that hike! And the sorest of muscles. The train ride back was all of 3 minutes.
We planned to hike more on Thursday, however the easier, beach side trails had been closed due to rock slides, and with impending rain, and shaky legs, I wasn’t up for the the mountain hikes that day. So we rode the train between all the villages, and explored them all. For those who aren’t familiar with Cinque Terre, it is a series of five small villages right on the coast of Italy, near Pisa. I imagine it to be crawling with people in the summer, but in the winter, most things were shut up, and there seemed to be about 5 other tourists around. We ate pizza (surprise surprise) on focaccia bread, and went back for another slice of just the focaccia. I cannot stress how incredible the Italian food was! Exploring the villages was just incredible. They are built into the mountain sides, so you just wind around through alleys and up staircases and suddenly come out on top of mountain sides, overlooking the ocean or other villages. The houses are colorfully painted and it makes the villages beautiful. We loved Cinque Terre and would go back in a heartbeat.
We took an evening train back to Rome, and stayed the night close to the train station, so we could easily get to the airport the next morning. We took advantage of our last night in Rome, and ate more amazing pizza, accompanied by wine, and took our time wandering the streets, soaking it all in. We loved Italy; its people, its food, its drink, its culture, its history, and its beauty.