Rome- The Only Disappointing Part Of Our Italy Trip

Well Rome- you lost your shine. Wyatt and I visited 8 years ago and it fast became one of my favorite European cities. This time around, I found it gross, dirty and heaving with people. I’m glad the kiddos got to see the amazing historic sites though. We were only there for one night and one full day before wrapping up our amazing fortnight in Italy. Here is some of what we saw in Rome.

Our first obvious visit was to the colosseum. It is sad to see trash and plastic bags strewn all over this magnificent ruin. Apparently there was a change in local government a few years ago, and now the collection of trash only happens periodically. The city smells really bad in the summer swelter. The amount of tourists roaming Rome is astronomical so we didn’t bother going inside. (The irony is not lost on me that we were also tourists and therefore part of the problem.)

We then took a wander along the outside of the Roman forum and took in the sites from the perimeter. The heat was heavy! But it was like stepping back several centuries in time!

Of course it was not the ancient Roman ruins that had our two enthralled. It was the man with no face that we met along the way…..

The obligatory ice cream break was taken on the way to the Pantheon. At this stage the temperature was hitting high nineties and this Seattle family needed reprieve.

The Pantheon is another impressive ancient building that again, was teeming with people. This was one of the few buildings we actually went inside as the lines moved fast.

Of all the tourists attractions that we visited in Rome this time around, the Trevi fountain was the most disappointing. It’s actually dangerous how many people are jammed into this little area. We were barely able to squeeze onto a step to take a photo.

At this stage the littles were really feeling the crowds and the humidity. Our flight was at the un-Godly hour of five am which meant we would be getting up in the middle of the night. It was time to call it a day! On the way back to the Airbnb we ran into the Victor Emmanuel Monument, as well as a few other classic statues and fountains.

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Thank you Northern Italy for an incredible two week trip. Hopefully we will be back sometime in the future to explore Southern Italy.

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A Stunning Evening In The Hilltop Town of Assisi

Assisi is a stunning pilgrimage town set high up in the Umbria hills of central Italy. This might be my favorite adventure from our two week trip. I will say the drive into this gem of a town was more than a little hairy!! Google Maps basically sent us up-hill a pedestrianized tiny road that looked like the one below, while a massive group of tourists were on a guided walking tour. Wyatt had to eek the car through the extremely narrow, walled, medieval street while trying not to roll over the (what seemed like) hundreds of clueless tourists

This happened not once…..but twice!

The stress and tension in the car was at an all time high as Wyatt navigated us to our destination. The Airbnb was not easy to find…..

….but when we did find it, the views from the upstairs bedroom window were simply stunning!

There was a small, amazing restaurant across from the Airbnb and after taking a beat from the treacherous drive into the quaint town, and filling our bellies, we were ready to start exploring.

The first thing we did was check out The Temple of Minerva with its ancient Roman columns and beautiful clock tower.

It is perched upon Piazza del Comune, a lively square right in the heart of Assisi.

There’s a Harry Potter store in the vicinity. Ro was in heaven!

Saint Francis was actually born and died in the town which makes it one of the most important pilgrim destinations in Italy. Monks, priests and nuns are noticeable among the many people exploring the streets.

Next, we discovered the Basilica Di Santa Chiara. It was founded by Saint Clare in 1257 and her tomb lies inside its walls.

Not surprisingly, there are religious buildings all over this town. The Cathedral of San Rafino was where Saint Francis and Saint Clare were baptized.

The kiddos spotted some locals playing soccer behind the church and slowed down to take a peek.

Chiesa Nuova was a hidden little church we stumbled upon. Apparently it sits upon Saint Francis’s childhood home.

The most popular tourist attraction/ pilgrimage center of the region is The Basilica of Saint Francis. It is home to the tomb of Saint Francis. As our Airbnb overlooked the basilica we explored it last.

There was a private, cozy overlook of the basilica right below our Airbnb and we ended up watching the sun sink behind the horizon to these incredible views.

Also fitting that an old- time English pilgrim who had spent over six months walking to Assisi from Jerusalem happened to be there at the same time and shared his story with us. It was the perfect way to spend our ten year wedding anniversary.

A Few Days Spent In Florence- Birth Place of the Renaissance.

The capital city of Tuscany, Florence is a must- see if you are taking a trip to Italy. Our Airbnb was in a great location, just outside the city walls. A quick 15-20 minute stroll took us into the heart of the bustling city. Florence is known as the birthplace of The Renaissance, and within a few minutes of strolling around and feasting our eyes on the many beautiful buildings, waterfall features and abundance of intricate statues, we could see why.

Here are some of the highlights from our three day trip.

Il Duomo

Florence’s cathedral is one of the most awe inducing buildings I have ever laid eyes on. It is massive and the patterns on the structure are very distinct. It took 140 years to build Il Duomo. Sounds about right when you see the scale of the buildings.

The photos don’t really do the scope of this phenomenon justice. The video might do a better job.

We didn’t go in as the lines were huge, but we did grab an evening glass of wine for me and an ice cream for the kids at one of the nearby outdoor cafes.

Piazzale Michelangelo

The next morning we got up early and made the hike up to the square known as Piazzale Michelangelo. It is perched atop a hill overlooking the city, which makes it the ideal place to soak in the panoramic views of the red terracotta skyline of Florence. It was overcast the morning we made the trek which suited us fine and gave us some relief from the sweltering heat on the way up.

Of course, once we made it to the top everyone indulged in a well deserved ice cream.

There’s also a replica of Michelangelo’s famous statue, the David. Even though I really wanted to see the real statue, this is the closest I came to seeing good old David as the queues for the real thing were insane.

We took a different route down and were greeted by some more gorgeous views, cool waterfalls and old Renaissance era buildings.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio is a very famous and old bridge with stores and markets spanning it’s length. It’s built across the river Arno.

We saw it from afar and we walked through it on our return journey to our lodging. No pics were snapped while we were on the busy bridge though.

Piazza della Signoria

We also stumbled upon Palazzo Vecchio on our exploration of the city.

This castle like building is the town hall and overlooks Piazza della Signori- a square full of ancient statues, clock towers and a famous fountain of Neptune.

The Basilica of Santa Crose

There are churches and religious buildings dotted all over this city. We got to wander the Piazza di Sante Croce as the bells of the basilica rang out.

This building also homes the tombs of many Renaissance artists including Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

And the Highlight of the Florence Trip For Our Kids….

As we were wandering the Florentine streets, we happened to come upon a carousel. Of course, the pleading for a ride began. The easy answer was Yes. Of Course.

Mercato Centrale Food Court

We had heard that there was an excellent indoor food court upstairs at the Mercato Centrale. It was so busy, we could not find a place to sit. We ended up going across the road to a little hole in the wall pizzeria, having an excellent meal and watching a massive thunder storm roll by.

We topped off our Florence trip by finding a small Irish bar and watching the US women’s soccer team win the World Cup!

Cinque Terre: The Stunning Five Villages Of The Italian Ligurian Coast

Cinque Terre means “Five Lands” and these five little villages blew our socks off. We had heard you should leave the car behind, so we parked the car at the train station at La Spezia early in the morning and hopped on the train. I’m so glad we heeded this advice as each town is only a few minutes away from one another and the views on the train ride were spectacular.

First up was the seaside town of Monterosso. The aqua marine water and white sandy beach were breathtaking as we alighted the train.

We decided to take a stroll up the boardwalk and soak it all in.

When we had sauntered back down to the beach, the two littles demanded a dip in the Italian ocean. The crystal clear water was blissfully warm. It was hard to get them out!

While the train ride between each village does not take long, the train stations are pretty packed in July and there is a little bit of waiting around. Make sure you’ve got lots of water with you!

Next up was the bustling town of Vernazza. The iconic colorful houses lit up our stroll down in to the town and out in to the harbor.

The third village is definitely the middle child of the bunch. When you get off the train this is the view of Corniglia.

That is because Corniglia is that little village up in the top corner of the cliff…..up 388 blooming steps!! At this stage the thermometer on my phone was reading 88 degrees fahrenheit! If I hadn’t promised myself the day before that I would see all five villages, I would have definitely jumped back on the train. Wyatt made the wise choice of waiting at the bottom of the steps with Ro and KJ.

And I slogged up the 388 steps. Because I knew the fam were waiting for me at the bottom, I didn’t explore much of the town. But I did get this spectacular view at the top.

Don’t let the smile fool you. The sweat was dripping off my back and my heart was a- thumping.

I hauled- within fifteen minutes I had made it back down to Wyatt and the two littles. Wyatt was beyond impressed…….. BUT it took me a good half hour after to actually recover! Ha! Trying to catch my breath, we hopped on the train to the fourth village of Manarola.

Manoralo is that quintessential, multicolored, pastel town cut in to the cliff face that pops up on your screensaver every now and again. We took a ramble through the town and out on to the rocky beach where the heat was luring many tourists to take a refreshing dip in the sea. It was beautiful.

The final village pit stop of the day was the steep sleepy town of Riomaggiore. This is where we rested our aching legs and sat down at Il Pescato Cucinato and feasted on some amazing deep fried seafood. Of course, the kiddos found an ice- cream shop across the way.

An absolutely unforgettable day. The two littles walked miles and were exhausted on the train ride back. If I ever go back to Italy, this will be a place I would love to visit again!

A Gorgeous Afternoon in Verona

Early 2000’s Claire Danes and Leo Di Caprio made me absolutely fall in love with Romeo and Juliet. So a visit to Verona was a no- brainer. And it did not disappoint.

Our Airbnb was just outside the bridge, Ponte Pietra, that leads into the pedestrianized center.

Our first port of call was the awesome Roman Amphitheater known as the Verona Arena.

From there, one of the first (obvious) things on the checklist was a visit to Juliet’s balcony. We passed the Torre dei Lomberti along the way. It’s supposed to have amazing views from the top. I have a fear of heights when my two smalls are with me so we declined the climb. There’s a cool outdoor market at the base of the tower.

As expected, Juliet’s courtyard was heaving with people. So we snapped some pics of the love note laden wall and the famous balcony and got out of there.

Next up- the tucked away, much less visited Romeo’s house. Wyatt questioned how it was Romeo’s house if Romeo was a fictional Shakespearean character. I’m going to assume that Romeo and Juliet was based on two well known Veronian families and this was the house of one of the families?….

Ponte de Scaligero is another iconic bridge in Verona and we took a bit of a trek outside the town to take in the view.

At this stage, the heat was starting to get to us all, so we decided to head back to the center for a much needed ice cream break. On the way, we passed some cool statues….

……the Arco dei Gavi……

….through one of the entrance arches in to the city……

…..and some beautiful Roman fountains.

Ice cream was promptly nabbed at Piazza dei Signori.

We also discovered the Scaliger Tombs where one of the most influential families of Verona during the 13th and 14th centuries is buried.

As the evening and the clouds rolled in, we decided to call it a day. Verona captured our hearts- a truly gorgeous city.

Getting Lost in Magical Venice

If I’m being honest, my expectations for Venice were pretty low. I had heard it was dirty and crowded so I tacked on our one night in the area as the necessary must do place when you are in Italy. I’m really glad we did. It ended up being way cooler than I imagined. Our Airbnb was in the Mestre area which is a ten minute bus ride to the entrance of Venice. It wasn’t fancy but it totally did the job.

I’m also really glad we stayed outside the city. The entrance bridge that leads in to the pedestrianized Venice is teeming with weary tourists trying to drag their luggage in to the canal surrounded city.

 

We spent four blissful hours just wandering around checking out the unique vibe of Venice.

Of course, there was an ice cream pit stop.

And we found a cool hole in the wall pizzeria to grab a bite to eat.

 

As it was our ten year wedding anniversary, there may have been little jewelry pit stop.

By hour five, our legs were starting to ache and the heat was starting to swelter. It was around this time we realized we were completely lost and our phones were about to die! Fast thinking on Wyatt’s part saved the day. He popped in to a nearby hotel and grabbed a paper map. It took us about twenty minutes but we found our way out of the maze that is Venice.

So glad we tacked Venice on to the trip. It was a wonderful afternoon!

The Beautiful Italian Alps In The Summer

These few days were one of the highlights (and there were many!) of our Northern Italian adventure. We stayed in the tiny, sleepy village of Voran high up in the mountains. The view from our Airbnb was very ‘Sound of Music’ and you could hear the tinkling of the tin bells around the cows’ necks echoing throughout the valley. The air was crisp and fresh and the people were super friendly. This was the view from our Airbnb front door.When we woke up on morning one, we decided to venture in to the nearby town of Merano and take the cable car up to the ski resort. I wasn’t quite prepared for how high up we would be hoisted, supported by a piece of wire!

There are a ton of hikes you can take at the foot of the resort. And many bell tinkling cows joining us along the way.

 

We actually kind of ended up going nowhere on our one hour hike as I took us on the wrong trail. So to appease the ever growing moan coming from the five and seven year old, Wyatt decided to take them on the toboggan ride at the ski resort. And It. Was. Awesome!! My photos don’t show the half of it. Alpine Bob is one of the longest toboggan runs in Italy and flies down the side of the mountain for 1.1km. Wyatt and the kids were stolked! I could hear Ro’s screams floating up the mountain long after she had passed me.

We were pretty ravenous after our adventure up to the ski resort and our usual google search of cheap eats in Merano revealed Restaurant Pizzeria Mosl might do the job.

OMG! THE best pizza we have ever had! We sat on the terrace and feasted. The vibe was an Austrian, German, Italian mix. We left with very happy bellies.

The next morning we decided to check out Terme Merano. This is a 50,000 square meter park made up of indoor and outdoor pools all of varying temperatures, thermal baths and a small pool where the current pushes you in a forced circle. The idea is a haven of relaxation in nature. As any parent knows, taking two kids to a large swimming pool complex is not exactly what I would call relaxing! In fairness, we all had a great time.

The sprinkling rain started to clear the park out and we heeded the locals and decided to pack it in after two hours.

On the car ride back up the mountain to Voran, we encountered some of the biggest hailstones I have ever seen. It was actually dangerous driving in it as visibility was basically zero. And then the thunder and lightning started. The kiddos spent the evening storm watching by the open door of our Airbnb. The video does not catch it but the storm was right on top of us and the thunder shook the ground. It was pretty spectacular.

 

The next morning the skies were crystal blue and the air was crisp. We said goodbye to our beautiful little Italian Alps cabin and started the journey to our next destination- Venice!