After having visited 14 (soon to be 15) cities/areas in beautiful Italy, I am now boldly declaring myself to be qualified to make recommendations for and opinions about traveling within the country. Today’s post will serve as a fast train to four popular Italian travel destinations; so, book your tickets, write down the confirmation code as you will NOT receive a confirmation email regarding your ticket nor will you be able to access your confirmation code after the initial time of purchase, and make sure you sit in your ASSIGNED seat that is stated on the confirmation email you will NOT be receiving—the ride is going to be fast but not troppo veloce (too fast).
The floating city proved to be as tranquil as its nickname implies. With not a single car in the city that is made up of 118 small islands, Venice lacks the traffic-y soundtrack that characterizes many global tourist destination cities. Unless you’re an art buff, I would say that one day in Venice is plenty to taste delicious regional dishes like squid ink pasta, to insist that your gondolier tour you around canals for entire 40 minutes for which you paid instead of trying to dock the gondola after only 25, and to pick up some beautiful blown-glass jewelry or home goods as a reminder of your day in northeastern Italy.
All roads lead here and all tourists apparently follow said roads. I visited this famed home of the Coliseum, Roman forum and Vatican city a couple of weeks ago and was initially very overwhelmed by its size and the number of people. After living in Florence, where each major landmark falls within about a mile radius (no, I haven’t converted to the metric system yet), Rome’s sprawling maps of key sites were a bit daunting. The bustling area of Piazza Cavour would be a great place to stay for anyone interested in being just a few steps from both ancient ruins and Roman nightlife. Our small group of weekend travelers chose a hotel near Vatican City so we could escape the hubbub that normally surrounds us as neighbors of the Duomo in Florence. Hotel Cicerone was a hike from many of the Ancient Roman spectacles but offered a much-needed, 4-star weekend getaway for the cost of 50 euro per person, when split between the four of us.
This destination is actually five towns in one and is home to the most delicious wine I have sampled during my travels. I traveled to this coastal portion of the Italian Riviera with a tour organized through Bus2Alps. Students, this tour company removes most hassles associated with weekend travel by organizing transportation and partnering with businesses at your destination to offer discounts on food, drinks and activities—all while offering you the freedom to make it your trip. Families/non-students, trains to Cinque Terre leave from most major cities and the five towns are easy to travel between by catching local trains or hiking cliff-side trails. Once there, be sure to sample the local wine that is made from grapes grown near enough to the sea to take on just a lick of saltiness. It’s like salty/sweet trail mix in wine form. After hiking between and around the five seaside towns of the Cinque Terre region, indulge your inner beach bum at the fifth town, Monterosso al Mare.
Many companies offer budget-friendly day trips from Florence to this smaller Tuscan hill town. Home of the Palio horse race, Siena offers culture, cuisine, and a cityscape similar to that of Florence, but on a smaller scale. The main square, Piazza del Campo, is filled with gelato-eating tourists relaxing on the ramped, cobblestone city center and snapping photos of landmarks like the Mangia Town and Santa Maria Church. The Siena Cathedral is decorated with a mass of spectacular frescos and sculptures; every detail of the primarily Gothic structure leaves visitors with the reminder that we are all but a tiny part of something much bigger.
I could spend my remaining four days in Italy and still only manage to recount half of the brilliant details of my travels in the country that I have always held so near to my 50% Italian heart. Hopefully this antipasto (sampling) of Italian cities was enough to paint a fairly accurate picture of the varied and abundant cultural, artistic and scenic offerings stuffed inside this mountainous boot.