It has been a year nearly since I did my amazing and exhausting big 10 week holiday with Matt to Europe. We started out in London before going to Copenhagen, Paris and Barcelona.
Of course, half way through blogging about our adventures, I got busy with life and stopped posting. But I was determined to come back to finish my record of our travels, finishing up in Italy and Greece.
I want to share the wonderful things that we found in the Italian sunshine through September 2018 so that maybe it can help you with your future travels. With a history thousands of years old, I’m sure that being delayed by one year won’t offend Italy too much.
It was a pleasure to visit Italy because I studied it for 3 years at University. This means I can speak passable Italian while travelling and made our experience much more intimate and enjoyable, even getting us invited to a couple of parties. Che bello!
However, remember that Italy, while amazing, has certain challenges. Book your tickets in advance at all times. Don’t be afraid to take a night off of eating rich food to eat healthy, fiber-full food at home (you can get sick of cured meats). Bring good walking shoes.
One piece of advice I’d give is don’t go and plan quite as many stops as we had. Four cities in two weeks (plus Naples for a night). We were exhausted by the end, changing city every one to three days. We had a much more satisfying time in Paris and Copenhagen where we enjoyed five days in each city. Then again, if you wan to do a whirlwind tour of Italy and need to know the best bits to focus on, read on!
Milan is a city I’d love to return to and explore more. Alas, with only one day, our time was short. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and walked around non-stop. Milan felt regal, leafy, elegant and ethereal. Yes, everyone was presented impeccably.
We started out in Milan, once again staying at an Air BnB. It was fashion week, and although this blogger was unlikely to be swanning into the Prada preview show, it was fun to see a girl in head to toe Moschino being photographed in the grand gallery, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Although only in the city for a day, Matt and I really made the most of it, dressing up and heading out early. We had great instructions for what to do for the day from our friend Jonothan who had been to Milan many, many times before.
We started the day by wandering to the Duomo in the main square. The square was already packed, even though the day was just starting. We decided to continue to walk down the streets to the Prada Foundation, about an hours walk from our accommodation.
The Prada Foundation is an incredible contemporary art campus which is set on a section slightly out of the main city. Yes, it is owned by THAT Prada family. Accompanied by a cafe ‘Luce’ which was designed by film director Wes Anderson, it is absolutely a must-do if you visit Milan. We had a great time and I very much enjoyed snapped in the pink 1950’s themed cafe, complete with pin-ball machines with pictures of Steve Zissou. The exhibitions themselves housed in the Prada Foundation are all post modern contemporary art and many have an interactive aspect to them, such as a mushroom filled walk-through we explored. Exhibitions change often, so you’ll always be surprised. This is absolutely worth checking out, whether you like contemporary art or not, simply for the incredible scale of the gallery and breathtaking architecture.
Next we visited The Villa Necchi Campiglio. You may recognise it from the movie ‘I am Love’ starring Tilda Swinton from 2009. This is a wonderfully accomplished and luxurious example of Italian architecture of the inter-war period; it is stark, imposing and surrounded by a breathtaking garden, complete with swimming pool and tennis court. Once home to the prestigious Necchi Campiglio family – renowned members of the Lombard industrial bourgeoisie – it was built by Milanese architect Piero Portaluppi between 1932 and 1935, with later renovations by Tommaso Buzzi, and signifies the introduction of Rationalism into modern architecture.
Matt and I were lucky to get a tour of Villa Necchi Campiglio by a lovely gently spoken Italian man, who kindly spoke English although he was scheduled to run the tour in Italian (there was only one other member of the tour - a student who spoke English too and, as it turned out, had lived for a year in New Zealand and was obsessed with Rugby - the world is so small). Every room in the house was incredible, and it felt like the family still lived there, although much of the house had been restored after falling into disrepair. Once again, Milan surprised us with a beautiful and unexpected glimpse into art and architecture.
Finally, we popped inside the Duomo. By now, the crowds had thinned out and there was a lovely golden light on the piazza. We finished the day by buying Gelato on the way home - I had blood orange sorbet - and strolling through the park, having walked almost 27,000 steps. Our feet were so sore, and we were so tired after having gone through an ordeal to get to Milan the day before (our flight from Barcelona was cancelled meaning that we had to re-route via Paris, and Matt sadly missed seeing Inter Milan play at the Sancero Stadium - never fly Vueling) we decided to buy food from the grocer and stay in that night. The next day, we were off to Florence.
There was so much more we could have done in Milan, and don’t even get started on Lake Como - however, I am so glad we got to see what we did. One of my favourite places that we visited!
If Milan was somewhere I could imagine myself living, then Florence was a kind of fairytale brought to life. On our first night for dinner we celebrated 4 years together with some incredible Florentine specialties at Osteria Vecchio Cancello. I had delicious Pappa Al Pomodoro - a traditional Tuscan dish. Our waiter that night was incredible and enjoyed chatting to us all night long, before forcing Matt to drink Grappa because ‘That’s what men drink’ when I suggested a shot of Lemoncello. He suggested we stay away from the main drag in Florence, which even in September was extremely crowded, and instead go to Piazza Di Michael Angelo to watch the sunset one night, and the small hillside town of Fiesole (a half an hour bus ride out of Florence). We did both of these and enjoyed the quiet pace of Fiesole compared to the chaos of Florence. The ruins were amazing. It’s worth the bus ride.
Other highlights of Florence included visiting one of the smaller local markets, going to the Uffizi Gallery and seeing Botticelli’s work and generally enjoying a drink and a snack in the beautiful piazza’s outside. Unfortunately, Florence is very overcrowded by tourists and our Air BnB put us in the heart of it. If I were to return, I’d book accommodation a bit out of the city.
Rome is the eternal city and after our teeny tiny accommodation in Florence, we were eternally grateful to have the most incredible Air BnB in Rome in a great, vibrant area called Trastevere. On our first night, we ended up partying on the roof top with a group of Romans and an ex-American Pilot who was called Robert and had decided at 60 to make Rome his home. It was a lovely evening, full of food and LOTS of booze. This was a particularly happy memory. Matt also worked out that the international language to get accepted at a party is to buy lots of alcohol for people and share it around liberally.
Like most couples on their first visit to Rome together, we had to tick the check-boxes. Rome had plenty to offer, but we only had time in our two days to fit everything in - so a trip to the Colosseum and the Vatican were our priorities. I’d been to Rome when I was 8 but I couldn’t remember much. My highlight this time around of the Vatican was seeing the Stanze Della Signatura in the Vatican which I’d studied in Art History. We’d learnt our lesson from Paris this time around and bought timed tickets for both off the website, which meant we were able to walk straight in. Never buy your ticket from the street hawkers who accost you - use the official website!
Unfortunately, you couldn’t buy tickets for St Peter’s Basillica, so we had to queue for an hour and a half. This made me want to abort and I got very grumpy. Matt persisted. I was rewarded with a far away glimpse of Michael Angelo’s Pieta, which I’d again studied in Art History, at the end.
As such, revisiting these marvels of the world was extremely gratifying (I especially loved seeing the cats which were nestled in the Colosseum and marveled at how they’d made it their home).
We also paid a visit to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and Pantheon. Besides that, we simply loved Rome and how history surrounded us everywhere. We really wished that we’d had more time there and pledged to each other to return. Make sure you have good shoes because you’ll walk all day long!
We were so sad to leave Rome, but we had a train to catch to our next destination - the Amalfi Coast.
Amalfi and Atrani
Our first destination was Sorrento. We took the high speed train from Rome to Naples and then changed to the Circcumvento suburban train which took us our to this seaside town. From there, you can catch a ferry to Amafi. Sorrento was largely forgettable. We had one nice-ish swim in the sea, but everything was a bit meh. This was just supposed to be a brief stop-over but next time I’d leave it out altogether and head straight for Amalfi the next day.
Amalfi was beautiful and bubbly, with stunning views. I was lucky enough to get great tips from Londoner/Kiwi Annmaree from Donuts and Detours blog on what to do here, so Matt and I took her word for it.
Annmaree suggested hiring a small private boat for around 4 hours from the boat hire guys in Atrani, who operate from under the big portico which sits below the road, carved into the cliff. They’re cheaper than the boat hire in Amalfi. While you were offered to have a skipper, trust me, you can do it yourself. All up, this cost around one hundred Euros for our time on the sea and was well worth it. We motored down to Positano, anchored and I swam. I also got drunk on Limoncello. Our boat ran out of petrol around the time we were about to go back so were in the harbour at Amalfi, just one cove over from Atrani. However, we were very lucky that we hadn’t gone and gotten ourselves out further because I had to wave down a boaty. The Atrani guys drove our their boat to put more petrol in our tank. We were so grateful we bought them loads of beer (even though technically it was their fault) and as a result ended up getting invited to their end of season barbecue the next night. We accepted, and just over 24 hours later found ourselves singing songs with Italian boaties in the middle of a lightening storm, eating smoked provolone. Jamie Oliver himself couldn’t have set it up better. It was like something from a story-book.
Another fantastic thing we did was to go out for dinner for my 29th birthday to the restaurant Torre Saracena which was literally on a cliff overlooking the ocean in an old castle. Matt took me here on Annmaree’s advice and we had some incredible views of the darkness setting over Amalfi. At the end of our meal, the restaurant sang me Happy Birthday which was so beautiful it brought a tear to my eye. Needless to say, the food was incredible. Sadly I had one of my worst ever hangovers the next day from the Chardonnay and Prossecco.
Another highlight of Amalfi was doing the Limoncello Tour. You meet in the Piazza and get a little rickety car up the road. There, the family take you around the farm and tell you about how they grow lemons, the history of the Amalfi lemon and show you how to make Limoncello. It was fascinating to learn about how the terraces have been dug out of the hills and why they need to keep using more labour and time intensive practices to maintain the health of the plant. These days, growing lemons isn’t enough so the family have had to innovate to keep their farm alive. Starting the tours and cooking classes was one way to bring more stability to the uncertain future of the Amalfi Lemon.
We visited Atrani much more than we expected in our 3 days in Amalfi. The streets were far less crowded and the food better priced. Speaking of food, their were certainly some culinary highlights in Atrani: Ristorante Le Palme had amazing Gorgonzola gnocchi which was very rich but incredible was one. Next time, I would book accommodation here. I would also take more time so that I could visit nearby Positano, Ravello and Fuore.
There is so ,much to do in Italy - and never enough time. I honestly loved our trip away and I can’t wait to return. If you’ve gotten this far, I hope that you enjoyed this recap and will hang around for the final part of the story - our adventures in Greece.