Italy: My dream travel destination

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I’ve always wanted to go to Italy since I was in school. I love everything about Italy – The people, culture and most importantly the food. I love every pasta under the sun and wine is always my drink of choice. Being in Italy didn’t feel real, it was everything I thought it would be if not more. It was a sensory overload.

The cherry on top of being in Italy was being there with my best friend/love of my life Mike. Even though we fought a lot of the time arguing about whether to take the train or bus, where to eat or him reminding me about my bad choice of clothing ( It was the coldest it’s been in Italy in over 5 years and I packed a light jersey, sandals and pretty jumpsuits even though I was warned prior as usual). It was incredible. We had the most romantic strolls in Rome, ate gelato from every street corner and sat on some steps in Venice for over an hour just talking about life. Sounds cheesy and it was – but I will remember it forever.

When we moved to Johannesburg I said to Mike one day – “let’s save and go to Italy!” (my exact convincing words) because I was fed up about only daydreaming about it and making Pinterest boards that just teased the idea. He agreed so starting from nothing we put away as much as we could every month until we would reach a  reasonable target to book tickets.

This is how we did it all

Tickets and accommodation:

We found an INCREDIBLE deal on kulula.com and I know normally it’s kinda hit or miss with holiday packages but this one was so good we had to take it. It saved us each R10 000 on our budget and also took a lot of stress out of the planning.

Our package included flights but if you speak to the travel agent they can add flights for you. We stayed in the accommodation provided with was 3* and it was perfect. So central, clean and the breakfasts were good.

The whole package per person cost R19 000 (not including the spending money) which was:

  • 3 nights Rome, 3 nights Florence, 4 nights Venice,
  • Train rides from Rome to Florence, Florence to Venice
  • Return Flights on Qatar airways
  • We budgeted R10 000 spending money at the time which equated to 625 Euros.It was more than enough AND I came back with money.

 

This was our trip:

We landed at Rome, Fiumicino International Airport. From there we caught a train to Roma Termini Main station. Our hotel was a 5 minute walk to the station which was super convenient.

ROME (3 nights)

Where we stayed: http://www.booking.com/Share-Yt2gZv

Best way to get around: The underground train/ bus system. It’s so quick and you can get anywhere you need to. It cost us about 10 Euros each for a 3 day pass.

Bucket List goals achieved:

  • Kiss in front of the Trevi Fountain
  • Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain
  • Visit the Roman Ruins at night
  • Eat Pizza in Naple’s (birth place of Pizza)

Best Pizza:  Bonci’s (100% no doubt)

I watched one of Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows where he tried this pizza and so I had to as well. It was just as good as he described. The dough which they make the pizza with is mixed with a starter which is over 100 years old! They also have so many different toppings to choose from. My favorite was the spicy sausage with an aged pecorino cheese topping.28685051_10155684154591849_7686775211526893391_n

Best Pasta: Gorgonzola Gnocchi from Pizzeria Andrea ( 00185, Via dei Mille, 39, 00185 Roma RM, Italy)

One evening me and Mike were walking around the area by our hotel which isn’t very touristy and very  quiet. We were desperate for something to eat and something authentic (obvs) We were walking passed all these eateries until some random Italian man called us to sit down at his family run bistro. We sat down and looked around – we were definitely the only couple of non locals there which was a good sign I guess. We had spent two days in Rome so far and everywhere we ate had a huge service fee but no real service or complimentary snacks (that’s what really matters)

THIS PLACE THOUGH! As we sat down we were welcomed with freshly baked bread, fresh olive tapenade and some paste made from cured meats (probably the best form of cured meat I have ever eaten) All on the house!

We ordered the Gorgonzola Gnocchi of course and when I took that first bite it instantly made me feel all warm inside. The little balls of potato dough melted away in my mouth just the way they’re supposed to and the cheese sauce was rich and creamy.

This meal was so cheap and it cost 2 Euros for a beer which is nothing! It was concluded with their house Limoncello which was the perfect ending to an Italian meal!

Best experience: It’s a serious contest between walking inside the pantheon and then having Negroni’s seated right outside in the piazza OR walking around the Roman ruins at night.

The pantheon was incredible. It’s this massive historical landmark hiding away in between all these traditional Italian homes and restaurants. The inside of the Pantheon was beautiful. The architecture and how everything was built made me question if I was in a dream or really standing there among it all. I’ve never truly understood how small I am in this world until I stood next to/under some of the buildings in Rome. How the hell did they build these things back then??

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When we were done looking inside this magnificent piece of art/building/gigantic landmark we found ourselves at a table directly in front of it. It was so surreal sitting there in that piazza drinking a negroni with my best friend and all we really cared about in that moment was the company and the beautiful sights surrounding us.

On our last night in Rome we decided to peel ourselves off our bed at about 8pm. We were so tired from all the walking and exploring it really took some convincing but I am so thankful we did it. We caught the underground to the station by the Colosseum and started our stroll from there. The ruins were buzzing with people. Not in an overcrowded way but you could feel there were others around you soaking in the dreamy lit up buildings and quietness after the daily rush of guided tours.

The ruins at night are a completely different experience. The way the lights shine on them show a kind of mystery you don’t see in the day time. It was also so peaceful walking hand in hand with Mike. It was super romantic and we really just enjoyed exploring these buildings and some good conversation.

 

A quick detour/day trip from Rome: Naples

How to get there:We caught a quick train it was about 8 Euros return.

What not to do (kinda): Don’t get off at the first station. We did that and ended up in some real dodgy parts of Naples. We got so lost and our GPS almost stopped working. It was a nightmare. We did however find a local restaurant and had our first ‘Naples style’ Pizza and it was to die for. Chewy in a good way, cheesy and a tomato sauce that made my taste buds scream.I don’t remember what it was called all I know is that they didn’t speak a word of english, next door they were selling real fur coats for 30 Euros a pop and were the only tourist for about 5km in sight.

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Best Pizza I have ever consumed! (..and there have been many)

What to do: We purchased a return ticket from the central station to Montesanto station. When we got off here it was way more touristy and there were plenty of shops and markets.

  • We bought some really nice cheese and also tasted cheese that almost made my tongue fall off.
  • We went to the torture museum
  • We had some deep fried pizza
  • Had salt thrown at us to banish a witches spirit who was apparently following us
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Ice-Cream I had which I’m pretty sure was just pure ‘chilled’ Nutella

The main reason we came to Naples was to try a truly authentic pizza and even though we did not plan to land up in a very uncomfortable, dodgy area we ended up having the best experience. Sometimes the universe guides or pushes you in the right direction.

 

Florence ( 3 nights)

 

I wasn’t as excited to visit Florence as I was when visiting Rome or Venice because I find there is not as much hype about it. Turns out Florence now owns the key to my heart!

It definitely had the best vibe. The people were welcoming, the food was delicious, it had not only the best tasting wine but the cheapest wine and the sights were so eye pleasingly pretty.

Where we stayed: Hotel Paris  (It was as central as you could get and super close to the main train station)

Best way to get around: Just walk and get lost. You can find so many little gems along the way.

Bucketlist goals complete:

  • I tried and tested not one but TWO gorgonzola truffle ghnocci dishes 
  • Visited the central market and bought cheese, truffles, wine and pasta (That I shoved in my bag and brought back to SA)
  • Visited the Ponte Vecchio bridge
  • Visited my Grandmothers bucket list travel spot: Sienna

Best Pizza: Gusta Pizza (Via Maggio, 46, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy)

We knew about Gusta Pizza from travel vlogs but didn’t exactly plan to go there. Then when we got lost one day and I was very hangry, we stumbled upon it on the street corner. There was a massive line outside with American tourists talking about how they couldn’t wait to try the place out.

We had the Naple’s style pizza with some beer to go with. It was super cozy inside and you could smell the pizza’s being baked in the wood fired oven placed next to the seated area.

 

Best Pasta: Can’t choose between the gorgonzola and truffle Gnocchi from Tratoria Za Za (Piazza del Mercato Centrale) or the baked version at Osterio Santo Spirito (Piazza Santo Spirito) They both made me feel some type of way. The best meals I ate this whole trip for sure. Look at the pictures and maybe you can decide.

Best Experience: Beside’s from the insane indoor food market where you can buy really good wine, cheap truffles and cheese it was just walking around the cute little streets and finding new places to have a drink or eat some food. You think that you’ve seen it all and then you turn the corner and there’s a new vibey little piazza!

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Venice (4 nights)

Venice dissapointed me a little bit. It was very dreamy and cute but it was so packed with tourists it made it unbearable. There were also too many souvenir shops and not enough local stores which is actually an issue there after we chatted with a store owner. It was beautiful though and getting lost along the colorful houses on the water was something you can’t experience anywhere else.

Bucketlist goals acheived:

  • Visit the palace at St Marco square
  • Eat gelato on the stairs of the river watching boats go by
  • Buy a Venetian mask

Where we stayed: Hotel Lux (It was very central but the breakfast was average and we had to carry our heavy bags up 4 flights of stairs!)

Best way to get around: There are water taxi’s but when we were there they had a strike so we just walked every where which I think is best as you get to explore a whole lot more!

Best Pizza: Rossopomodoro (Calle Larga S. Marco, 404, 30124) We tried the deep-fried pizza here and it was insanely good. Think crispy savoury doughnut oozing with mozzarella and sauce – YUM.

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Best Pasta: Del Moro’s Pasta Bar (Calle De La Casseleria, 532430122) This pasta was so good and we randomly found it tucked away in a narrow street corner. The pasta is freshly made in front of you as you wait and it is very cheap for what you get. It comes as a take away and you can enjoy it sitting by a fountain in the piazza or on a bench by the water! Best served with warm wine in the colder months.

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Best experience: On our second last night we went to some random bar where the Negroni’s were only 5 Euro’s and they were playing 90’s/early 2000s music. It was great. We sat there for hours and eventually got up to take an evening stroll. We got lost found gelato, the most amazing tiramisu and finished off with warm wine,eating pasta from Del Moro’s at 12pm on the steps of the canal.

 

I highly recommend Italy to anyone who appreciates a good pasta, a strong tiramisu and long walks among beautiful surroundings to nowhere. I am definitely going back as many times as I can in the next 50 odd years. This place has a special place in my heart and always will.

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