When In Rome

Sorry for the Cliché blog title

Sorry for the Cliché blog title, I had to…

So I literally almost cried about 5 minutes into arriving in Rome… and when I mean  almost cried, I curled up into a little ball, closed my eyes and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack…Driving in Rome will do that to you (don’t worry, I was in the passenger seat).  Luckily this was where we were dropping the car off.

Other than the insane driving, I loved Rome.  I had those happy feelings you get when you think to yourself, yup I would live here.  How can you not though, Rome is STUNNING!

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Where we stayed:

We stayed at an adorable Airbnb in the Rione Monti area.  It was extremely central so we really burned off all the pasta calories while walking to most of our destinations. However, we did have to take a couple of cabs (and almost got scammed by a taxi driver).  See below for what happened and how you can avoid getting ripped off.

Check out our Airbnb HERE.

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What we did:

  1. We probably did the most touristy thing we could possibly do and bought tickets for the Hop on Hop Off bus. Honestly, this is probably the best way to get a visual of all the popular places in the city.  We filled a water bottle with white wine and enjoyed the views (and the breeze).  The Hop on Hop off bus was around €25,00 per person and so unbelievably worth it.
  2. There are a couple MUST sees in Rome. The Pantheon is one of them.  It is also free to enter, but just make sure you don’t try and bring in a gelato like we did.

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  3. The Trevi Fountain is also must see and is extremely packed.  After seeing everyone’s beautiful photos which miraculously all look like they’re the only ones there, I was pretty shocked at the massive crowds (how naive of me).  If you want to get a great photo I suggest you go at the crack of dawn.Italy 2017-2330
  4. The Coliseum is obviously a must see as it is the biggest well-preserved coliseum in the world, expect there to be huge crowds as well.
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  5. Climb the Spanish steps for views of Rome. We had a heat wave in Italy when we were there and yes, it gets a little sweaty.Italy 2017-2358
  6. We drove, walked and bused by Altare della Patria; a massive marble monument. Each time we passed by we were awestruck.  You can’t miss it, it’s actually massive.  Apparently you can take the elevator to the top of it for 7 Euro, but don’t quote me, I saw this on another blog from 2014.Italy 2017-2374
  7. The Giardino Degli Aranci, or commonly know as the Garden of Oranges was perfection.   There were no oranges on the trees but the premise is so well-groomed and spectacular, it didn’t matter. Someone was getting their wedding photos done here and I was super jealous. We walked to the peak of the garden which overlooks the city and watched the sunset.
  8. If you are looking to see something way less touristy but still quite impressive, head over to the stunning Biblioteca Angelica.  It is an extremely old and beautifully charming library.  In fact, it is one of Rome’s first public libraries.  Biblioteca Angelica is still a locals library so you have to be extremely quiet.  You also wont be able to read any of the books if you aren’t fluent in Italian.  The librarian is quite aggressive and allows only one picture (I’m such a rebel, I took 2).  Go see it though, it is absolutely spectacular.

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    Okay shoot me.  Due to time constraints, we decided to skip the Vatican and put it on our list for next time.

Where We Ate/Drank

Lunch:

$ If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat or some great take-away food, head over to Pasta Chef.  It’s located only a short walk from the Colosseum and has a drool worthy menu.  They serve authentic, fresh pasta which is made daily.  The plates and cutlery are biodegradable so your meal is basically guilt free!  We decided on the risotto and the pesto pasta.  It was quick, affordable and delicious!

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Dinner:

$$ We were on the brink of getting very sick of wine so for dinner we decided to get some artisan beer and pizza at one of the hottest spots in Rome, Bir + Fud.  The place itself is buzzing with modern flare and feels very contemporary and hip.  We got there at 7:30 and were able to be seated right away, however, at 8:00 p.m. the place was packed.  If you plan on eating here after 7:30, definitely make a reservation. We shared a pizza and the buffalo mozzarella and ham calzone and ended up having a fork battle over the calzone.  It was cheesy, yummy perfection.  The beer was also spectacular and they have a massive variety to choose from.

$$$  Trattoria Monti is located a little bit away from the center of Rome but VERY worth the small trek.  Clearly this spot is a local gem as every seat was full.  Luckily for us we had made a reservation beforehand.   Trattoria Monti is a little more upper class, so expect a pricier meal.  Despite this, IT IS WORTH IT.  Plus, it has a very welcoming and cozy atmosphere, you may as well be eating at Nonas house.  We settled on an appetizer, the tortello stuffed with ricotta, egg yolk and topped with butter sage sauce and a meaty pasta dish which I forgot the name.  Each meal was incredible and exploding with flavor.  You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

Coffee/drinks:

We grabbed a coffee and people watched in big brown chairs at Café Angelina.  We both had an Iced Coffee to cool down and this was the perfect spot to rest the legs.

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$$$$ We headed on over to Jerry Thomas, which is a 1930’s inspired speakeasy bar known for their killer cocktails.  We knocked on huge dark door which was located in a very dark ally and waited outside.  A man came to the door and asked for a password… which we didn’t have.  Luckily when we smiled apologetically he told us it was no problem, we would just have to wait an hour. FYI if you go, you are supposed to find the daily password on their Facebook page.  Soon after, a small family knocked on the door and gave the man the password.  The door man turned them away due to capacity reasons (the bar only holds up to 40 people), then promptly led us into the bar.

The place itself was very charming with it’s old world glamour and dark mystic vibes.  Leon and I sat at the bar and ordered two drinks; I had a Gin concoction and he ordered the Buffalo whiskey sour.  My drink was good, but his literally knocked my socks off.   I made us stay longer so I could have one of my own.  If you can, sit at the bar when you go.  Watching the mixologists is quite fascinating.

I only have one complaint, and please don’t let this deter you from going whatsoever.  The people who were standing behind us (basically touching us it was so packed) decided to light up not only a cigarette, but a cigar too!  There are no windows in this tiny bar and the big door was closed tightly.  So here we are sitting and having the most amazing (and expensive) drinks ever, and these people are smoking on us.  Luckily after about 15 minutes they got seated and left. But still – circulated air.

Tips on Taxi’s

Luckily our Airbnb was pretty central which cut down on the amount of cabs we had to take.   Out of 3 cabs I took, 1 tried to rip us off.  Leon and I were taking a cab to a Speakeasy bar one night after 10pm, the surcharge of €5,80 was already added at the beginning. The cab ride came to 13 Euro, Leon handed him a €20  and the man gave us back €2.  I told him he didn’t give us enough change and he said that there was an additional surcharge anytime after 10 p.m.  I told him the surcharge would have been added to the meter at the beginning of the trip and he frantically pointed to various maps in his cab that said nothing about a further surcharge.  After fighting with him for 2 minutes he finally gave us back our correct change.  So if you’re in Rome, watch out for these kinds of things, like being charged for a surcharge on top of a surcharge.

Here are a couple of ways to make sure you’re not spending more money on cabs than you need to:

  1. Know the surcharges:
  2. Watch out for fixed taxi prices
     If someone wants to give you a fixed price within the city – chances are you are getting ripped off.  Make sure they turn the meter on, if they don’t, get out!
  3. Check and say the amount of money you give to the cab driver
    instead of just giving the cab driver a bill, say “here is X amount of Euro”.  I’ve read taxi scams where cab drivers will switch bills and then say you haven’t given them enough money.
  4. Try to give them exact change.
    Cab drivers might pull the “I have no change” card to try and swindle a couple extra dollars from you.
  5. Grab a cab from an official taxi pickup
    This will lessen the chance of you getting picked up by an unregistered (and possibly shady) taxi cab.  Registered cabs are white and have their licence number on the side!!

Anyway, Rome was an amazing surprise.  I expected it to be a dirty city with way too many tourists but it turned out to be my favorite stop this trip.

2 Stops to Make Between Florence and Rome

Leon and I stopped in two places on our way to Rome from Florence and thought they deserved an honorable mention.

Leon and I stopped in two places on our way to Rome from Florence and thought they deserved an honorable mention.

We didn’t want to take the long way to Rome so Leon threw me his phone and told me to find a place to stop for a glass of wine along the A1 Autostrada.  After a 5 minute Google search, I settled on Altarocca Wine resort, located by Umbria, Italy.  Unfortunately, my directional skills are less than par and I missed the turn-off to go up the paved hill to our destination.  The map showed another way around, so I went with that.  Within minutes into this second route we found ourselves creeping up a bumpy dirt path that scaled a rural mountain.  We were both freaking out because the road, err- trail, was awfully narrow and extremely rocky with no places to turn around.  We trudged on with Leon saying “oh shit” the entire way; certainly a rock was going to pop one of our little feeble Fiat tires.  20 minutes into bush whacking, the brush parted ways and we passed the cutest little house perched on the mountain.  After this, the road was much better and we finally got to our destination (our blue car was now light brown). We were pleasantly surprised.  For blindly choosing a spot to stop at, we hit the jackpot.  This winery was a “wine resort” with a beautiful pool deck and bar looking over the Tuscan landscape.  We asked the employees working on the pool deck where we could go for a drink (because surely the pool was just for people who are staying at the resort), but no, they told us to sit at a table and they served us right there as we absorbed the view.  We tried 4 different wines, whites and reds and loved each one of them.  This place is a gem! At around €140 a night, we will surely be staying the next time we visit.

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Not far from Altarocca wine resort we spotted the majestic city of Orvieto, perched atop of a rocky mountain.  This was our second destination.  The drive had us spiraling around the cobblestone city walls of Orvieto.  This was nothing like I had ever seen.  Inside the walls of the town things were very quiet, however little crowds of people gathered to admire the stunning medieval Cathedral which was adorned with beautiful mosaics.  We walked around a bit but had to retreat back to the car as it was SCORCHING hot, but not before snapping a couple pictures.

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Besides all of the casualties stuck to our windshield, the terrain between Florence and Rome was beautiful as it whizzed by my window at 140 kph.

Florence: The City of Careless Exploration

Ahhh Florence, the city of careless exploration. Wandering around Florence, or shall I say Firenze, is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.

Wandering around Florence (or shall I say Firenze) aimlessly is the best way to experience the rich culture this beautiful city has to offer.  You’ll discover something impressive around every corner; whether it be mouthwatering menus, romantic alleyways, intricate sculptures or carousels smack dab in the center of a plaza.

Where we stayed:

Only stopping once in Verona to stretch our legs, we drove 6 hours from Zadar, Croatia to Florence, Italy.  We arrived at our Airbnb around 8 p.m. and were happily surprised that it was located in the very central Piazza Santa Croce, walking distance from basically everything.  We could see Basilica di Santa Croce from our room! We felt that choosing an Airbnb over a hotel gave us an authentic local experience.

Check out our Airbnb here.

Florence 2017-2071.jpgThis was 10 steps from our front door!

What we did:

Speaking of plazas, Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio are both must sees.  Even if you’re not planning on going to these plazas, you’ll eventually end wandering through anyway.  Piazza della Signoria was my favorite because of the stunning open-air sculpture exhibit.

I love a good panoramic view: when I find myself in a new city I’m always in search for the best location to marvel at a city skyline from above.  So if heights don’t make you nauseous and you are in moderately good shape, make your way to the top if Giotto’s Campanile. It will certainty make a memorable experience. But be prepared to sweat a bit though. The 463 steps to the top definitely gets the heart pumping.   There are floors which you can take breaks on along the way, but beware, the walkways are ridiculously small.  Once you get to the top of the tower you get the most beautiful, panoramic view of Florence.

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We decided to go to the Boboli Gardens an hour before closing.  The lady at the front desk was applaud we waited so late in the day to go; she almost convinced us to skip it!  Luckily a local overheard our conversation and assured us that we had enough time. She told us to start from the top of the gardens and make our way down as the gardens at the top are the most beautiful.  So we bought tickets, started from the top and took our time. We even had enough time for glass of wine and a chat with another traveling couple at the restaurant overlooking the gardens.  It was perfect because we were able to admire the views with almost no people around.   The Boboli Gardens are absolutely magical, but you don’t need longer than an two hours to admire the scenery (they kicked us out an hour after closing).  I STRONGLY recommend going here.

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Where we ate:

As you can imagine, driving for 6 hours from Zadar worked us up an appetite.  We stumbled upon a romantic outdoor patio restaurant in the semi-hidden Plazza Della Passera called 4 Leoni.  They serve artisan food, fresh pasta and delicious wine.  We had to wait for a table because the restaurant was jam packed but it was well worth it.  We shared a mouth- watering Ravioli and a bottle of their house wine, which was surprisingly really tasty.  We weren’t expecting much as we didn’t plan this meal but WOW WAS IT GOOD.

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You have to have at least one white tablecloth, candle lit dinner in Florence.   Ristorante Sant’ Ambrogio  is located in a quiet neighbourhood 7 minutes away from the Il Duomo area and was perfect for this kind of romantic meal.  This restaurant was elegant yet unpretentious and had a great ambiance.  We shared a beef tartare, risotto, tagliatelle pasta, and of course, a bottle of red wine.  It was a true Italian dining experience.

As you walk around Florence, you will eventually run into a street with line-ups down two adjacent sidewalks.  Yup, both line-ups are for sandwiches.  I thought this was hilarious until Leon insisted we try one. So, we lined up for the infamous All’antico Vinaio for half an hour.  It was actually a nice break from walking.  The people watching was pretty good too.  We decided on getting two sandwiches, the L’Inferno and the La Schiacciata Del Boss.  The L’Inferno was hands down the best.

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Located inside Piazza della Repubblica (this is the plaza with the carousel) you will find a very posh coffee shop/ bakery called Caffé Gilli.   We stood at the bar to watch the Italians work their magic behind the espresso machine. There is a 5€ price difference if you sit on the patio versus stand at the bar.  In general we found that throughout Croatia and Italy, many places charge you a “cover charge” for sitting and eating at their establishment. Usually it’s 1 – 2€.

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If you’re looking for a trendy coffee shop, head over to Ditta Artigianale.  It’s very modern despite the surrounding rustic and historic landscape.  This coffee shop was bustling the entire time we spent trying to figuring out our route from Florence to Rome.

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OH MY GOSH THE GELATO IN FLORENCE WAS AMAZING.  Yes I had two a day (for only 1 or 2 Euros each, so why the heck not?!).

A very noteworthy gelato spot was La Carraia, which is located by the river.  There was a little lineup but it went quickly. We had a scoop of the dark chocolate and the strawberry gelato.  They were unbelievably flavorful.  They have tons of flavors to choose from so you might have to go back a couple times.

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Careful – they melt quick 😉

5 Hours in Venice

If you’re spending a hot minute in Venice, it’s all about time management and efficiency. So basically learn from our mistakes.

If you’re spending a hot minute in Venice, it’s all about time management and efficiency.  So basically learn from our mistakes.

Getting there

Leon and I rented a Car from the airport ended up parking at Park San Giuliano because we were under the impression that we could catch a boat into Venice from the pier. We thought wrong. After walking around for an hour we ended up taking the bus into Venice – not a huge deal, but time was of the essence as we weren’t planning on spending the night.
Side note – I have no clue how the bus works – we jumped on and tried to pay but the bus driver didn’t take our money (you probably had to buy a pass from a grocery store). Anyway, we accidentally fair evaded both ways.

What you should do – From the airport, walk 5-10 minutes to the docks. Here, you can catch a €15 boat/ferry into Venice. The views as you approach Venice are supposed to be spectacular. Tickets can be bought on the boat or in advance at the main tourist office. You can also get a private boat or water taxi into the city (If you’re a baller $$$).

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Getting around

We chose to attempt to walk off our jet-lag and explore Venice by foot. I knew If I sat down it would be game over for me. I was EXHASTED.  A less strenuous way to get around is by the Vaporetto (the Venetian water bus).  I suggest if you don’t have a GPS to rely heavily on, take the Vaporetto.  Each ride of the Vaporetto costs €7, but you can buy a TravelCard, which offer unlimited travel from anywhere between 12 hours to 7 days.

What to do

The best thing to do in Venezia is to wander along the canals and admire the majestic views, or perhaps hop on a romantic canal ride (if that’s your cup of tea).  We opted to skip out on the canal ride because it looked a little boring.

Visit the famous Piazza San Marco! It’s crowded and you might have to dodge a couple hungry pigeons, however, despite this, it is still a magnificent place.

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Climb up the Campanile Bell tower for arguably the best views of the clustered roofs of Venice.

To escape the crowds, take a walk down a staircase of encyclopedias to Libreria Acqua Alta. Located in the Cannaregio area, this bookstore is a hidden gem littered with friendly cats and bathtubs filled with books.  The Cannaregio neighborhood is in a quiet, mostly residential area, however, it is also home to many local hot-spots.

The 16 hour flight really worked us up an appetite so we indulged in pastries at Pasticceria Tonolo . Trust me, they were to DIE FOR.

While you’re in Cannaregio, eat at L’Anice Stellato or somewhere in this area instead of the overpriced restaurants near the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’sWe had our heart set on eating here but to our surprise L’Anice Stellato didn’t open up until 7pm (someone PLEASE go and tell me how it is)!  We now know Its very common for places in Italy to shut down after lunch and re-open around 7:00 p.m.