Italy: ‘Dolce Far Niente’ 

July 2022 — 

Where to begin.… from the nearly 2000 year old Colosseum to the mystique of the Vatican to almost every street corner there is something historical about Italy. It is like taking a journey back through the centuries only modernity has been built up around the origins of human society. Due to Covid-19, this trip has been one of those ‘pending items’ on my list of destinations but alas no more. Could it really be that I was finally able to do the trip of my dreams?! In some ways, the entire 10 days that I was there felt so surreal, but in other ways it was the most self-love I had given myself in some time. I was truly able to connect with my inner Julia Roberts in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ where she finds the pure enjoyment life has to offer inside and out in Rome, Italy. As the title says, ‘Dolce far niente’ which literally means ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’ in Italian, is the epitome of my time exploring the Apennine Peninsula. 

For this 10 day and 9 night journey, some serious planning was needed, especially considering that I had aimed to visit five different cities during my time there. In addition, the itinerary was planned in conjunction with the legendary Emily, as part of her summertime vacation in Madrid. As a result, we could formulate a blueprint that coincided with both of our needs, hers to relax and mine to take in as many sights as humanly possible in the time we had. The trajectory was as follows, 4 nights in Rome then head North to Florence for 3 nights, then head South to Naples for 3 nights, and on the last day catch a train back to Rome for the flight back to Madrid. Our tickets with Iberia Airlines were quite reasonable at 135 euros per person roundtrip. To move in between places in Italy we used the swell train network of TrenItalia and purchased tickets in advance through Omio.com and Railninja.com, a new one for me but Emily had success getting cheap tickets. As usual, I used Booking.com for all three of our accommodations and was able to secure central fair priced rooms in all the cities where we went.  

Packing smart was critical since we were moving to many destinations, and as such I chose to bring my REI Outfitters 46L Osprey Kyte backpacking backpack and my good ole’ fanny-pack to harbor all of my valuables. I really packed in the most minimalist manner possible by bringing only two pairs of shoes, my Teva Original Sandals and my sneakers. We also planned on hand washing certain items a couple times to make our bags even lighter. Other essentials included my Westhikers inflatable sleeping mattress pad, two instant dry microfiber towels, three dresses, three skirts, a pair of shorts, about 5 assorted tank-tops, one long sleeves, a swimsuit, pajamas, a button up shirt, half a dozen socks plus underwear, and the needed toiletries. Moreover, I brought sunglasses, a sunhat, my camera n’ charger cables, a refillable 14 oz. Nalgene water bottle, my phone of course, a small foldable canvas bag, and just in case, I threw in a combination lock because you never know. As it turned out we had to wash all our clothes two or three times because of the mid-90s temperatures and the sheer factor that almost as fast as we could down a large ice-cold bottle of water, we would just sweat it right back out again. Even at the end of my journey with the souvenirs and gifts that I had gotten there was still just the right amount of free space for a few items of snacks. All in all, I can say that I brought exactly the right combination of items! 

We took off from the Madrid Barajas Airport late afternoon with a direct Iberia Airlines flight and arrived at the Rome Fiumicino Airport approximately two and a half hours later. We no sooner stepped off the plane to grab taxi when we were informed that there was a two day taxi strike going on and none were available, how ironic that was haha. We then decided to take the 45 minute Leonardo Express TrenItalia ride into the city center where we were staying for 14 euros per person. That certainly wasn’t a bargain but given that we had no other transportation options it was the best that we had. 

 

Rome

We pulled into the Rome Termini train station at about 9 p.m. and from there it was only about a 10 minute walk to get to Des Artistes Budget Hotel where we would be staying. Upon checking in we realized that we were starving and as such we headed to a grocery store nearby to grab some essentials for the next few days and dinner. I really loved this place because it was a hotel at a hostel price at 30 euros per night, plus we each had our own bed with a sink in the room, plus it had a refreshing rooftop terrace with tables and umbrellas to dissociate some of the sweltering Italian sun rays! There is a very pleasant check-in desk, a common room that’s not the best, and there are 5 or 6 full sized bathrooms on each floor. We were on the fifth floor which I didn’t mind because there was an elevator when we got tired. 

The next two days were jam packed with sights to see because I made sure to do quite a bit of research ahead of time as to what the cheapest way to see all the crucial sights is. The best result I found was to buy a ‘Roma Pass’ through Tiqets.com, which includes: skip the line access to the Colosseum complex; the surrounding Palatine Hill and Roman Forum with audio guides; an audio guide to the Pantheon; access to the Vatican museums; and a guided tour of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Although it may seem pricy at 91 euros per person, trust me when I say that price is a steal considering just a ticket for the Colosseum costs about 25 euros with an audio guide. Really it was super convenient because we had everything on our phones through the app and there was no hassle to print tickets or wait in any lines. Overall, it made these sights really pleasant and enjoyable to see! 

Our entrance into the Colosseum was quite early at 9 a.m., and we decided to walk there which took about 40 minutes. Along the way we stopped to grab a bite to eat at a cafe, Panificio Biscotteria Roscioni, and we snapped some cool street pictures. One of the first things you will notice is that you can’t wait to cross, you just have to take your life in your hands and cross in mid traffic and hope that they will stop or swerve around you. We only saw a handful of crosswalks or cross lights, so you really need to have your guard up when wandering the streets. There is also a tram system that runs through the city, with large busses and scooters going every which-way so the streets are super chaotic. Upon arrival, I was psyched by the grand spectre of the premises, and the entrance was very fast and smooth. The Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill all in one place which is a bonus in terms of accessibility. These sights are easily wheelchair accessible too, which is something that you don’t always find when visiting older historical buildings. We picked up our audio guides and then let the time travel begin!! 

Envisioning the fights and spaces below me where all the peoples and animals were held before they jumped up through the trap doors of the arena was all too real while I wandered about the corridors. They inaugurated the Colosseum in the year 80 A.D. From gladiators to Roman circus shows just a few steps into this magnificent building makes you wonder just how a day at the games would have been and how truly roaring and immense the crowd was. In the audio guide it states that the capacity of the seating and standing space was slightly over 50,000 people, can you imagine?! I really loved the elliptical amphitheater design and I could visualize the splendor it must have given in its day. After a couple hours we headed to the entrance of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which are like the extensions of the Colosseum, that together formed the heart of ancient Rome. 

It is only a couple hundred feet to access the gate and with a quick scan we were through without a problem. This whole complex is so vast that they suggest spending several hours to truly see everything. The issue for us was that it was legitimately stifling outside at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so we took a minute to take a pit stop and pick out the best sights. After choosing a few we chose to do a loop through to see the best parts of the premises. One section of the gardens in particular, offers a great panoramic view of the entire Roman Forum. From there we decided to exit on the Colonna Traiana side and found a restaurant near there called Caffè Roma Antica Enoteca. I had a lovely salad filled with fresh olives and authentic Italian olive oil. After that we decided to try out those electric foot scooters that are all the rage to get back to the hotel for a couple hours before going out to dinner. 

For the scooter rentals we decided to give the Super Pedestrian brand a whirl. It is supposed to charge you a base fee of $5 as a deposit to hold while you are using the scooter that is to be returned after and then .22 cents per minute to ride and only when you are moving does it count your minutes. You can take a picture at the end when you have arrived to your destination and viola you get your deposit back. Upon a bit of rest, we chose a nearby restaurant, called Ristorante Julie’s. I tried a really delicious peppery pasta dish called Mezzemaniche cacio e pepe, and we shared a bottle of white wine that had the most adorable little shrimp on the label. We had to prepare for the next day’s sights upon returning to the hotel and as such we promptly went to sleep. 

The Vatican

On the second day in Rome we had reserved entrances starting at 9 a.m. for the Vatican Museums. With the ticket that I bought we had to collect the printed versions prior to entering from the office, that is across the street from the main entrance to the Vatican. Moreover, the pleasant scooter experience from the previous day had left us in good spirits to use them again to reach the other side of the city, a nearly 50 minute ride. Since we arrived a bit early we naturally had to eat something before entering, and conveniently right next to both the entrance and the Tiqets office there is a cafe, called Caffè Vaticano, where we proceeded to order. I ordered two nicely made blueberry muffins and a cappuccino. Something that I must add, even if it is a slightly Medieval policy, is that women must have their shoulders and knees covered to enter the Vatican. In theory, men also need that but when you read up on it they are only really concerned about women. It is definitely a thing, and they will ask you to be covered to enter the campus. 

The entire Vatican country is elevated by a sort of fortress like wall which makes it slightly intimidating haha. My first thought was about the Illuminati coming out, but really in hindsight I think it was standard for super important religious sights back in the day. The line to get in was almost non-existent since we had purchased the ‘skip-the-line’ tickets. The first thing you see is a massive spiral ramp to reach the top of the building that is at ground level inside. At the top, there is a ton of windows for light and you can look out onto the grounds of which I am certain the Pope roams when the building is closed to visitors. Also, as a side note, apparently you can only see the Pope from his special balcony on Wednesdays, and as it happened we went on a Thursday lol. Nevertheless, this is a visit well worth the commute across the city of Rome! 

The various museums inside are intricately laid out and the architecture, paintings, and wealth is just insane! Wandering the halls, you can spy anything from hand painted wardrobes to marble Roman warrior sculptures to Egyptian mummies to 1500s maritime wall art. The array is vast and I suppose that it speaks to the various conquests that have been done over time in the name of Christendom. The Sistine Chapel was kind of a letdown unfortunately because there are traffic control guards telling you to be quiet and under absolutely no circumstances can you take photos. Plus, they limit your time inside and as a result I was only inside for about 5 minutes. But I will say that it is without a doubt magical, and even if you are not a religious sort of person you can feel a sense of spirituality while gazing at the starry ceiling frescoes.  If you enter the courtyard outside and then take the staircase underground there is a decent sized walkthrough exhibit of the past ‘Pope mobiles,’ including carriages, uniforms, and cars. Lastly once you have re-entered the main building, you will encounter a historical section on Native peoples across the world, ranging from North American to Brazil to Africa to Polynesia. To leave is but another elusive spiral staircase but this time with shrinking steps that threw me off at first haha. I was walking and then it hit me that the next step was a heck of a lot closer than the previous. 

To get to the St. Peters Basilica entrance you must walk along the outside wall to the opposite side of the fortress. This is by the way, the largest cathedral in the world and it is mind bogglingly large upon entering! There is a zigzagging line to pass through the security checkpoint but it didn’t take more than about 15 minutes of waiting to scan my bag and enter in the building. If you have bought your ticket ahead of time, as I did, then you can enter directly to the front desk where they assign the tour guides and audio guides. I chose to wait for the tour guide but you can just ask for an audio guide and pass through on your own pace. As a bonus if you are interested, there is a part of the cathedral with a history of all the Popes that came before the current one. Since I had eaten a small snack midday, we did not stop to eat lunch, but rather headed back to hangout for a bit in the hotel before grabbing some dinner from the nearby grocery store to eat in the room.  

On the last day, I set out on my own to really get a taste of Rome through my own eyes. It was a dream day that started with a breakfast near the hotel with Emily at the Rossi Tiziano an American Breakfast place. I ate a fruit waffle with a cappuccino. Shortly after I was out and about with my camera in hand, making detours at places such as the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri church, Villa Carlo Alberto al Quirinale park, and a mini church called Basilica Sant’Andrea al Quirinale. Truly the most amazing part of all is that there are things to see around every single street corner. From there my main goals were to see Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the bridges that cross the Tíber river, and in general, the historic center. Just a short jump, hop, and skip away you will find Trevi Fountain, perhaps the most famous fountain in Italy. Let me tell you that this is one of those ‘epicenters of pick-pocketing’ and you best mind your P’s and Q’s if you know what I mean. Aside from that there are so many people that it was not an easy task to take a good picture, especially being alone. 

I chose to do a bit a window shopping as well since there are an unreal number of shoe stores and handmade leather products for sale in Rome. I came upon one specific store, Cartoleria Pantheon dal 1910, where I could really sense that everything is handmade and the business is family owned. I decided that this would be the perfect place to buy some gifts, and after pondering I was able to decide on what to get. Just across the street there is the cutest little place to eat lunch, Ristorante Pizzeria Pummarola & Drink, I ordered homemade cheese raviolis with Parmesan on top and I could not have been happier afterward! Next I was off the see the Pantheon, which I had an audio guide from my Tiqets.com multi purchase. It is always free to access but there’s often a short line, as it is crowd controlled inside. I can honestly say that the inside of this building is one of the most alluring that I have ever seen in my life! The ceiling is covered in layered gold mosaics and in the center, there is a small hole which forms a beam of chronological light which moves around the marble floor. After the Pantheon, I grabbed some real McCoy Italian gelato from, Gelateria Della Palma, where they legit have over 150 flavors to choose from. I seriously had a hard time deciding! 

Once I gobbled down my delightful gelato, I walked it off by crossing the Tíber river and then sitting for a bit in Parco della Mole Adriana park which is only a stone’s throw from the Vatican. I was able to take in the smooth olive branches swaying above and do a bit of people watching. Needless to say, I covered quite a bit of territory over the course of the day, and as such I decided to locate another one of those foot scooters to head back to the hotel. As I denoted above, the traffic in Rome is not for the fainthearted. I had a small headache navigating my way back to the hotel amidst double decker tour busses, mopeds, and cars. That night for dinner we went to a Dominican food restaurant that is not listed on Maps, but is in this location. A bit odd for being in Italy, but the food was really flavourful!  It was an easy go to get everything back and situated in my backpack to go to Florence the next day. 

 

Florence

Early the next morning we made our way to the train station to catch our 2 hour train ride to the Florence train station, Stazione Ferroviaria Firenze Santa Maria Novella. It is fair to say that Florence is the very heart of Tuscany, and an absolutely must see when scoping out this region! We arrived late morning and grabbed a couple coffees at a small cafe adjunct to the train station, called Bar Tonarelli Srl before the brief walk over the our hostel. Our check-in where we were staying at the PLUS Florence, was not until 2 p.m., so we had a bit of down time. However, to our surprise we could use the facilities which included a cute little swimming pool area with sun bathing chairs and a fountain. This hostel is on my list of top 5 favorite hostels ever for this reason and because of all the other wonderful perks that came with the stay! To add to the pool, which I may add is not normal for a hostel, they have an on-site restaurant, bar, breakfast buffet, game area, common room, and each and every hostel room comes with its own bathroom as well as spacious lockers. Also, some rooms even have balcony access all for the low price of 35 euros per night. 

We spent the next couple hours sunbathing, munching on snacks, and splashing around in the fountain. I will add that they have an odd rule for using the pool though, that is that only people with swimming caps can enter the pool no matter the circumstances. Once we were able to get into our room, we were very excited because they gave us a balcony room and we had the whole 6-bed room to ourselves. After a quick change of clothes we headed out on the town to see the most famous piece of architecture that the city has to offer, Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (aka the SMC for short) which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built starting the year 1300 A.D.. The Piazza del Duomo square around the church is also quite a sight to see between the Baptistery and the views of the cupola dome. There are many street artists gathered outside of the cathedral as well! If you have never seen the cathedral prior whether that be in photos or in person, then it might come as a surprise that legit the entire building is made of solely 3 colors — green, red, and white. It is unique in deed and the significance is very striking when you stand in front of it. Of course, the tallest tower in the city is that of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Dome which is the centerpiece of the cathedral and city.

Fun Fact: The SMC stayed for more than 30 years without a cupola dome because they didn’t have an architect to close it up.

We chose to visit the inside of the cathedral immediately because although admission is always free, it is closed to the public on Sundays, and the next day was Sunday. The inside of the cathedral is gorgeous and quite expansive, though not as large as St. Peter’s in Rome. Once you make your way to the central part, you will be delighted by the 3D nature of the dome frescoes. I would guess that the circumference of the dome is nearly 100 feet. After that we decided to do a bit of wine tasting at this cute little bar, Flli Zanobini, near the Piazza del Duomo. I chose a white called La Pettegola – Vermentino Tscana Banfi, and it was quite like a Spanish Albariño. Next we walked around for a bit until we happened on a restaurant not too far away called Ristorante Pizzeria Ginori. Here I had the most delicious and filling bowl of legitimate Fettuccine Alfredo. And like I always do I loaded it up with extra Parmesan, so it was extra yummy! Shortly after we made our way back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep. 

For breakfast the next morning I got ready early and selected some items from the buffet menu below which is very reasonably priced. I had decided prior to arrival that I really wanted to climb the inside of Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Brunelleschi Dome. According to the various pass options on the SMC website, the Brunelleschi Pass is the best and cheapest option to see everything at 30 euros per person. The other sights are open to visitors everyday which made it convenient to visit them the next day at noon. I also knew that I really wanted to visit the Uffizi Gallery which is world renowned for its spectacular art pieces, like that of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi. Since I had pre-purchased a ticket through the gallery’s website for 8 a.m., it was quick and easy to swing by the ticket office to collect my ticket to begin my artistic illustration. Getting inside is a bit of a task because there are two security checkpoints, but after those you are free to take as much time as you wish admiring some of the Renaissance’s most famous pieces. For me, the works of Botticelli are the primary reason that I wanted to go, to witness firsthand La Primavera and The Birth of Venus. To say that this exhibition is stunning would not truly capture the visual bliss that one experiences while walking around. Let me tell you, the ticket was well worth the 25 euros that I paid to get in, and I was there for about two and a half hours. Before heading our I stopped to have a snack at the rooftop cafe that is affiliated with the gallery. The elevated close up views of the surrounding buildings cannot be beat! 

From there I had a bit of time until my tour of the bell tower and dome, so I decided to walk along the river and soak in the historic waterways from which the Medici Family came to rise. There is a super famous bridge there as well, Ponte Vecchio, that connects the two sides of Florence. Today, it is often called the ‘Golden Bridge’ because it is the zone where gold jewellers and Rolex sell their trademark pieces. When I say gold, I mean real 24K jewelry that costs more than a pretty penny. Towards the opposite side, I came across one small store selling silver jewelry which I thought might be the spot for me to find a pair of reasonably priced Camille earrings which are world famously from Florence. They are made with a certain sea shell, and the Camille face is then carved out of them to give the final product a pinkish background. I discovered that they also have green and blue shell designs. The lady at the Boutique COI – Ponte Vecchio store was beyond nice and did speak English which was a lifesaver when trying to choose an earring size and style haha. I finally decided upon a pair of sterling silver Camille earrings for the fair price of 60 euros, which was a bargain rest assured! 

Next I had to go back to the Piazza del Duomo for the Brunelleschi Pass tour start time at 12 noon. Firstly, I began with the Baptistery building that is directly in front of the Cathedral. I learned from my tour information that it is almost 1000 years old and that the main entrance doors of solid bronze represent carvings of the Last Judgement of the disciples. The inside was rather elaborately done up, however since they were doing some renovations it was hard to get a full sense of the building. Soon after, I returned to the SMC cupola dome entrance. I had to wait for a bit but after about 15 minutes, I could enter and begin the ascent! The height of the dome is almost 400 feet, which means there are approximately 463 steps to reach the top! The total time needed to climb, take in the views, and descend is about ninety minutes, so be sure to account for that if you plan to visit. When I finally reached the top of the dome, it was utterly rad and the views were out of this world! I loved the 360 degree views and the breeze provided a nice reprieve to the toasty streets below. 

Partway down, inside the main balcony of the dome I took a minute to admire just how large and real-life the frescoes are. There are some morbid scenes of devils eating humans but the quality of work is excellent haha. Following my decent, the exit lead me right over to the entrance for Giotto’s Bell Tower, which has 414 steps, making it just a wee bit shorter than the cupola dome. I got right in without a line and started the next climb. There are three floors that open so that you can stop to rest before climbing the rest. This was a good place to take different angled photos because at each floor the views were quite different. Finally, one you reach the tippy top there is a metal mesh that encircles the lookout so that one can be sure not to fall. Of course, the views are not as stunning at the dome, as they are second best in the city but delightful nonetheless! 

Next I met up with Emily to grab some gelato prior to going into the Leonardo Da Vinci Interactive Museum. We stopped into this cute little vegan gelato place called Gelateria Edoardo il gelato biologico. I got dark chocolate as usual and her, a Chiante wine flavor. Just a short walk away we arrived at the museum, which is filled with replicas of most of Da Vinci’s inventions that you can mess around with and try out. I should say some of his creations are otherworldly, and it’s beyond intriguing to think he made them in the 1400s! Next, we headed back to the hostel for a but to change before dinner. She had made a reservation at the most adorable Tuscan restaurant right near the cathedral called Trattoria Zà Zà. When you think of a ‘spicy meatzball,’ this place is it! On this night, I decided to try something different and I ordered a creamy walnut sauced pasta with wine per usual. For me this was the most unusual combination for a pasta dish, but it was smashingly rich, and I almost had a hard time finishing it. Returning to the hostel I had some packing to do because the next day was very detailed with our leaving for Naples and my day trip in the morning to Pisa. 

Day trip to Pisa

On the last morning of being in Florence I took an early morning train to Pisa and upon arrival I had just two and a half hours to get to the tower, do my thing, and return to the train station. Utterly crazy I know, but what other type of plan would I come up with?! I left running from the hostel, after leaving my backpacking backpack all ready to go with Emily, to catch a 7:30 a.m. train from the Florence station to Pisa Centrale. Tis about an hour-long train ride with idealistic Tuscan countryside views all along the way. When I arrived I had about a 25 minute walk to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and along the way I stopped at a cafe, Bar El Salvador Pisa, for a cappuccino and some crescents. They were very fair priced and I no sooner chowed them down and the illustrious tower was in from of my eyes! 

Taking a leap of faith I studied a woman who was notably alone so see about offering her a tradeoff of I taking pictures of her and likewise her of me. I was very skeptical and hesitant because I really did not want my iPhone stolen, which may I remind you that Pisa is one of top robbery zones in Italy. After a few minutes, I approached her and in some words, we understood each other enough for her to take some classic pictures of me touching the tower and then I did the same for her. Upon surviving this photoshoot, I had to make my way to the tower entrance so that I could enter according to the 9:30 a.m. ticket that I had. I had pre-bought my ticket to see the tower, the baptistery, and the Pisa Cathedral via the website for the premises for about 20 euros with a youth discount. So, something that I did not realize and found out upon trying to enter, is that you must check your bags, even micro purses before climbing the tower. They only allow cameras and phones while climbing the tower. I am not sure why, but it was a bit of a pain because I had to scurry over to the cloakroom to stash my bag in a locker and then run back over to the entrance so as not to miss my ticket time. The cloakroom is free, but still it was a bit bothersome not knowing ahead of time. 

Once you are on sight looking at the tower you can really see that it truly is a leaner! The Leaning Tower of Pisa did not disappoint once I was at the top! The way up was about 5 minutes and the first thing I noticed was that the center of the steps is worn out, like hollowed from all the years it has been climbed. Plus, as you are going up you can feel the tilt of the building, and it makes you a bit tipsy feeling. The view above are really pleased and show the array of colorful farmland patches in the distance. I sat down on the far side which was shaded and about ten minutes later the watch lady told me that is was time to go down. I guess since it is quite small they are super regulatory with the number of people in the tower at a given time. When I got to the bottom I only had about 30 minutes till I needed to head back to the train station, so I ran over to restrooms where they proceeded to charge me 1 euro just to use the loo. This is very common in Italy, and I think it’s just another money grab for the government but alas that is the only option for restrooms. I also swing by the cloakroom to get my bag, and then I jumped in front of a large tour group to speed track my Pisa Cathedral entrance. The inside is very spiritually calming, and they did ask me to cover my shoulders before entering again, so it was a good thing I had a long sleeve in my bag. 

After I had explored all the parts and displays of the cathedral, I wanted to look in the gift store for one of those souvenir coin machines, since they are my favorite keepsake. I no sooner entered the building when I spied just that, on there was a giant ‘Out of Order’ sig on the front. What a drag?! Anyways I still held hope to find on in Naples. Since my time had dwindled down right up to ten minutes prior to my train leaving I had no choice but to hightail it back to the station for my 11 a.m. train. I made it with about five minutes to spare and easily found a perfect window seat. The train no sooner stopped and I was speed walking back to the hostel to change my clothes, grab my bag, and head back to the train station to catch our next train to Naples in Southern Italy. We snagged a few things to at from a convenience store along the way and off we were to Naples. 

 

Naples

The ride to the ‘City of Sun,’ took about two and half hours from Florence, with one stop along the way in Rome. It was about 4 p.m. when we exited the Napoli Centrale station to check-in at our hostel, B&B La Perla Napoli. I did not realize that it was on the 7th floor of a building and that the sign to find the entrance was quite possibly the smallest in the world, but after a couple back n’ forths we made it inside and the man came down to assist us with using the elevator. Another thing that I had never considered in my life, is that one would have to pay for the elevator each time. As it turns out, in a lot of Italian apartment buildings you have to pay for elevator use every time. This one was 10 cents per use, but the man running the hostel was kind enough to use his bracelet to bring us up. He also gave me a few dimes, as he realized that was not something we had prepared for. Our room was very nice, with breakfast items included, a mini refrigerator, a private bathroom, and a television all for just 28 euros per person/night. Also, we had a view of the Mediterranean Sea from the bathroom window and the use of a coffee machine in the hallway. 

After unpacking, I decided to do a bit of walking around, and on my way back I would stop into a grocery store for dinner and supplies for the stay. Something that I noticed immediately is that Naples is no the cleanest city. What I mean is that there is quite a bit of litter blowing around on the sidewalks and street sides, plus every night there is an actual mini mountain of garbage every so many blocks. The I say mini mountain I am not lying, the one visible from our hostel window was like 15 feet tall by 30 feet around. Not exactly the best organization in terms of public works, but I otherwise I would say that the city is very charismatically Italian. For example, just walking around I saw classic Italian hand language used in conversation, older men sitting and playing games outside of bars, and little kids peering at me from balconies above. I noticed right off the bat that the phrase “Ciao Regazzi,” is used to say, ‘Goodbye everyone or see you all later.’ 

The next morning after eating a bit of breakfast in the room and trying out the coffee machine in the hallway, we decided to hit up the free botanical gardens, Real Orto Botanico. It was about a twenty minute walk from the hostel and along the way we passed through a typical morning street market. The gardens are fairly large and there are plant information stakes at every new plant species you see, however they are in Italian, so you’ll need to have a basic understanding of the Romance languages to interpret them. We no sooner started down a path when a bunch of sprinkles went off and in an effort to run I didn’t realize that I stepped right in a giant mud hole… You can guess the result, yup my entire right leg was brown with mud and my not so white sneaker was quite moist haha. On the positive side of things, it was warm outside so I dried quickly but I had to use one of the sprinklers to clean my leg, sock, and shoe. After an hour or so we were a bit hungry so we stopped in a cute little cafe right across the street from the gardens exit called Tamu Cafè

Then we split off and I headed straight to the beach! It is about a 45 minute walk from the gardens, but I preferred the exercise and sightseeing instead of trying to navigate the bus network in Italian. The walk along the port-side was my favorite part of the city, as it is very characteristic of the Mediterranean way of life. Once I got to the other side of the cruise ship docking, I came across a small harbor area with yachts and sailboats. The side of the harbor is accompanied by a nice little park and then from there you have to climb a small hill before finally being parallel with the seashore. I had to stop to take in the salty air and the little row boats of kids jumping into the ocean. One of the things that I really wanted to see was Castel dell’Ovo castle, that originates back to before the Medieval times. The entrance is free but you need to reserve a place through their website because they are still limiting the capacity due to Covid-19. Luckily, I was able to secure a spot and enter in the moment at 2 p.m. However, since I still had a half hour before the time I decided to get a little something to eat at a restaurant just around the point from the castle called Caffe Megaride. I’ll admit that their menu was primarily cocktails, but they did have a few sandwiches and so I selected a grilled cheese with a bag of chips and an iced tea, which was a total of 10 euros. 

Twas finally time to enter the castle and as I was waiting for them to check my ticket I noticed how lovely the little bay area is right next door. The views around there are what you might see in a movie scene while driving around the Amalfi Coast. Technically Naples is kind of the beginning of this coastal region, and once you climb to the top of the castle and look out into the blue green in the distance you truly recognize it. Now I will say that overall the castle is kind of abandoned and decrepit inside since the local government hasn’t maintained its use for public events, but the location is prime with a crystal-clear image of Mt. Vesuvius in the distance inland. Plus, there are cannons and a weathered iron chicken statue, so what more could you want? The nice thing is that there are bathrooms available and I stayed for around an hour soaking in the sun rays. A little further down the coast, perhaps 15 – 20 minutes walking, you will finally find several small beaches which are open to the public. The sand there is quite dark, almost black in a lot of places. I finally settled on Mappatella Beach to take off my shoes and do some sunbathing. Perhaps the best part yet, is that when I left I crossed the street to get a cold drink from a little beach stand, you’ll never guess what I found!! A souvenir coin machine!!!! At last I could get my 1.05 euros souvenir. The design that I chose was of Mt. Vesuvius, an excellent choice is you ask me. 

For dinner, I decided to stop into, Regina Margherita Napoli, which was suggested to me by a friend as an excellent choice to eat my dream large pizza in Naples. The menu is very fair priced with most pizzas around 9 – 15 euros. My selection was made very carefully, and in the end I decided to elaborate a bit by choosing the Lemon pizza! That was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten in my life!! What really captured the moment, was looking out onto the sunny Mediterranean Sea in the company of ocean waves in the background while sipping a coco cola. One of my finest moments I must say! After taking an extra half hour to digest all the dough that I had just consumed, I began my way back towards the hostel, a nearly 60 minute walk. I decided there could be no guilt in eating a whole pizza when I would probably walk most of it off just getting back to my hostel, so why not?? Once I got back to our room, I almost instantly went to bed, for the next day I had a day trip to visit the unique archaeological sight of Pompeii. 

Pompeii Day Trip

I woke up right on time, ate some breakfast, and was off to the Naples train station to grab my commuter train to Pompeii, Finding the platform for this train was a bit tricky and I dare say that I boarded with only one minute to spare. But fear not all was good! Also, they still had mask policies while using public transportation in Italy, so I had to wear one. Now if you are not familiar with why Pompeii is soo famous, the reason is that the volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 A.D. and in its path was the city of Pompeii. Thus, all the peoples and structures were buried in massive amounts of volcanic ash and debris. As a result, when archeologists discovered this, they were able to uncover the most intact remains of any of the ancient Roman settlements. This was a city of about 20,000 people, and some of their bodies were preserved amongst the ash as well, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. I had done plenty of homework on when and how to get to Pompeii and naturally I purchased my ticket many weeks in advance through the website Headout, since they offered a Skip the line ticket near where my mode of transportation would leave me for the price of 21 euros. Not bad if you ask me, since it included access to all the sights at any time. But if you are going to go to a place this large where most reviews say you minimally need 4 hours to see everything, it needs to worth your while. 

Moreover, I planned to arrive about 9 a.m. right when it opens to maximize my time. After I exited the train station I grabbed a bus that takes you directly to the entrance Porta Marina Superiore entrance. I waited in line for a bit, they checked my reservation and printed a small paper ticket to use for security purposes, and just like that I was in. Right from the start there is a striking bronze statue of a funky man gazing down at you with the volcano in the background. They have a large billboard map that you can take a picture of to get you around the complex of nearly 163 acres in total. The first part that I went to was an almost perfectly intact amphitheater, following that a grassy pillared courtyard, and tens and tens of staggered stone houses. The streets are made of small smoothed over boulders, but it amazed me that they had even carved out gutters and drains from said boulders. My favorite parts were the perfectly intact floor mosaics and wall paintings. How astounding that they could still be as they were nearly 2,000 years ago?! There are also remains of fountains, gladiator training facilities, and a central plaza with bronze centaur stature. 

After scoping out every nook n’ cranny that I could, I realized it was lunch time and I grabbed a mozzarella sandwich from the cafe in the central plaza. I had just about an hour until I needed to make my way back to the exit to catch my bus back to the train station. With that in mind I took a stroll around the last section that I had not explored and that was it. In total I took about 5 hours to explore the city, and then my train was to depart about 2:15 p.m. My return to Naples was quite relaxing and I sat on the side facing the ocean where I could see all the little beachside houses and mini ports along the coast. I got back to the Naples station about quarter to 4 p.m., and from there I felt like returning to the hostel to rest for a bit before going out to dinner with Emily. We had made a reservation at a nice rooftop restaurant nearby the hostel called Vesuvio Roof Bar & Restaurant by “UNA cucina,” and the environment was quite tranquil. I ordered classic spaghetti with tomato sauce to end my last night in Italy. It could not have been better and we did cheers before finishing the bottle of wine we ordered. The sunset from up high was superbly orange and bright. Watching the colors spread out amongst the sea was lovely. Then we returned to the hostel to organize ourselves for our late morning departure. 

Once we checked out at 11 a.m., we walked along the Piazza de Garibaldi, and went to a sweets shop, Cuori di Sfogliatella, where I could try the last thing I had not tried of authentic Italian food, a cannoli. I ordered my cannoli and fell in love with the first bite! This shop is famous in the Guinness World Book of Records and I understand why haha. The train ride was about an hour and half to get back to Rome and it gave me ample time to reflect upon all I had been able to see and do while in Italy. Pulling into the Rome Termini train station about 2 p.m. we had about two hours to kill before needing to get to the airport. Therefore, we found a place near the station to order our last lunch in Italy. It was called Ristorante Pizzeria “Mino 1960,” and I ordered a giant salad with french fries. Next, we were off to the station to catch the 4 p.m. Leonardo Express back to the Rome Fiumicino Airport. The ride took an hour and then we were in line for our 8 p.m. flight back to Madrid. Finally, we arrived about 10:30 p.m., and then I hooked the metro back to my apartment for a solid night’s sleep! 

 

Suggestions for the best Italian voyage possible  : )

So, the number one thing to be sure of when and if you go to Italy, is to watch out for pickpockets!!! I managed to travel to a lot of places in Italy and safely return without having such an incursion, but while I think it had to with luck, it is also very connected to being Smart, Vigilant & Observant at all times!! Below are some other tips I would give: 

  • Pack as little as possible! We could hand wash our clothes and it was delightful to not be swamped with heavy baggage. See my post Minimize: Pack Lighter & Smarter for more details.

  • HYDRATION is key!! The hot and sweltering temperatures were almost too much at times, but because I drank around 2 gallons of fluids each day I made it through without a problem. 

  • Overall the streets are very dirty and at times it was as if there was no importance for public works, especially in Naples. It was somewhat so in Rome and Florence was the most clean. So what was the downside of my visit? The lack of cleanliness on the streets, and at times you would be walking and it would just smell of sewage, something that deftly dampened my visit at times. Actually, you might be wondering why I did not choose to visit Venice as well, that is primarily because a friend of mine told me that the sewage smell is just ungodly in the summertime there with the canal waters heating up, and that I would be better off skipping a visit there in the summer. 

  • Duolingo Italian actually paid off!  ‘Prego’ doesn’t just mean ‘your welcome,’ it means many things like ‘okay,’ ‘sure thing,’ ….. etc.. Well I am not sure that arriving with solely English or Spanish would be better or worse, I can say that it was helpful to have studied some basic Italian prior to arriving. And I think that my strong familiarity with Spanish was quite useful in understanding some of the words for reading or listening to announcements or signs. 

  • All the cities where we stayed had a ‘City VAT tax or bed tax,’ which had to be paid in cash upon arrival. This is something that was mildly annoying as I think that the accommodation should have just charged us more to cover the cost, but it is something to consider in terms of bringing cash. I think on average it was something like 3 to 5 euros per person per night. 

So, what was my final cost breakdown? In the end, it was about 900 euros for everything — including hostels, flights, trains, scooters, food, souvenirs, entrances etc. That is not bad in my opinion, and when you divide it out between 10 days it comes to about 90 euros a day. So, it is 100% possible to visit Italy on a budget!!

My Final Thoughts:

One of the last places we passed through, I saw a sign that said Eataly,’ as it was advertising a gourmet restaurant. I don’t think that anything could better define the best part of Italy, which is clearly the food and wine! And that’s the motto I am sticking to for my time navigating ‘the boot!’ 

Although I think that Emily and I both got what we wanted out of our time in Italy, it was nice to finally travel with my bestie whom encouraged me to liberate myself through travel writing, even though we are not entirely sure when the next possible adventure will happen. As we are both changing for the best, and so are our mentalities, life courses, and goals. Thus, it is with regret that I say it may be quite some time till The_Traveling_Guapa and Emily strike out on another quest. If you are considering a trip to Italy, whether it be alone, with friends, or with family, I say do it up! There is no time like the present and I promise it will be well worth your while!! ¡Prego Italia, hasta pronto! 

Don’t forget to check out my other blog stories!

Rome 

The Vatican

Florence

Pisa

Naples

Pompeii

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