Travel to Italy

For these next few installments, I am thinking of presenting trip notes for different places Chas and I have loved. These are notes compiled over the course of 8 years, about traveling to Italy. If you have thoughts to add or amend, please comment! This is obviously extremely incomplete and just my opinion. But Italy is my favorite. Hands down. In case you can’t tell from this, you should go there (even if you’ve already been, go back).

Shout out to my Rome roommates: Deb, Chelsea, and Lauren, who remain my friends to this day.


Chas and Kev in Siracusa after a boat trip with a guide named Cico (chee-cho). 


    1. Basic Italian Terms for Right off the Plane
      1. Italians just appreciate that you’re TRYING to use Italian. Always greet in Italian and then you can ask, “Parla Inglese?” (Do you speak English?)
      2. Buongiorno – Good day/morning
      3. Buenasera – Good evening
      4. Arrivederci – Goodbye
      5. Ciao – informal hi/bye
      6. Prego – You’re welcome/ Can I help you?/Go ahead
      7. Grazie – Thank you
      8. Grazie Mille – Thank you very much
      9. Vorrei – May I have/I would like
      10. “Ci” = ch sound
      11. “Zz” = ts sound
      12. “Ch” = k sound
      13. “Ll” is NOT y like in Spanish
    2. Food
      1. My first advice is to eat everything. The food their is SO fantastic and of such great quality, even the shadiest looking place, you can’t go wrong.
      2. If somewhere feels touristy, IT IS. Run. As in any place, try to eat off the beaten path. You’ll pay less and get better quality. You CAN find this in Trastevere, just walk away from the major attractions.
      3. Get gelato EVERYDAY. It’s SO much better than it is here. Also, the seafood is incredible. Eat things you can’t pronounce. Try squid ink risotto (it’s black!).
      4. Know that water and bread will be offered for a price. Tip should be 1.50-2 euro. In Italy “euros” is NOT a word. It’s just euro like “three deer,” “three euro.”
      5. Try the tiramisu – I couldn’t believe their tiramisu.
      6. Go into a small vegetable and fruit stand and get blood oranges. Their produce is SO good and they have some cool stuff we don’t so take advantage. Definitely go for the blood oranges.
      7. Meals to Italians last like 3 hours. Don’t expect your waiter to be fast. They think you want to enjoy your food and when you’re in Italy…you do. Just be relaxed about it. You’ll enjoy the meals more if you’re low stress and you take it slow.
    3. Transit in Rome (and much of Italy)
      1. I used public transit all the time. You can use cabs but they will know you’re tourists and they will take advantage. Years ago, 75 minutes on any transit was 1 or 2 euro. You buy the tickets in Tabbachi shops which are everywhere and marked with black signs with “T” on them. You stamp the ticket when you get on and it’s good for 75 minutes on any type of transit: bus, tram, metro.
      2. The metros are GHETTO but the bus and tram are great. The tram basically cuts Trastevere in half and you’ll spend a lot of time in that neighborhood for sure. Use this website: before you go somewhere in Roma. You can map out a route and you can do it in English.
  • Rome IMG_2790

    Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

      1. You will probably want to stay in Trastevere. We used Air BnB when we went back most recently and it was super cool. Loved it. Place was fine. Street was magical. Very classic. Trastevere is the best mix of amazing attractions and in some parts, actual Roman experiences.
      2. My favorite attraction is the Trevi Fountain for sure.
      3. I would suggest though going into ANY church. They’re all old and they’re all beautiful.
      4. The Spanish Steps, I think, are best right around sunset, so magical.
      5. Behind the Spanish Steps there is a giant gorgeous park–see below re: Villa Borghese.
      6. The Keats and Shelley Museum as on the right at the bottom. I don’t know how much you like classic British Literature but I loved that museum.
      7. There’s also a great Spanish Steps Pub Crawl but I think I am remembering it as “great” in a rosy retrospection kind of way. Let’s just say, I did it more than once and one of those times, I may or may not have pulled my pants down and peed on the street.
      8. Definitely cross the bridges. They ALL have stories and so much history. One is called the Ponte Sisto (ponte means bridge) and it was built on the taxes citizens paid on prostitutes in like the 1600s.
      9. Over one bridge you’ll find the Castel di San Angelo. I don’t know if it’s necessary to go inside–I never did–but it’s a gorgeous building from the outside.
      10. When you go to the Vatican if your trip doesn’t include the Catacombs – GO! I don’t know what it is I’m not that religious but when I saw the grave of JP II I immediately started crying. It was very touching and there are a million dead popes there. Inside St. Peters, make sure you look to the right immediately when you walk in to see the Pieta. It’s like the most famous statue in the world. It’s okay I guess :). BOOK YOUR TICKETS ahead of time BUT do NOT use the touts outside of the Vatican. They’re full of shit. You’ll wait and that’s okay. The Cistene Chapel and everything leading up to it are worth it. Don’t talk yourself out because of a line.
      11. This is the kind of thing that’s off the beaten but very worth doing: Near my old apartment there is a walk that allows you to see the entire city. It’s a fantastic vantage point. It’s just outside of Trastevere (the neighborhood where most of the touristy stuff is). It’s probably technically in Monteverde (my neighborhood). It’s called the Gianicolo (Janiculum in English). There are like 7 major hills in Rome and that’s maybe one of them. Along this walk, you’ll see a lot of statues of heads (really, really old) haha but it really is SO cool and the view is AWESOME. It’s the kind of view of a city you’d see on 60 Minutes or something.
      12. There’s a really amazing art museum called the Borghese. It’s in the center of a park called the Villa Borghese. This was an old family that owned everything. There are a LOT of cool public parks in Rome. I heard it was because wives weren’t allowed to walk the streets so husbands (with money) had to buy huge plots of land so that their wives could walk on the family’s property instead of in the street. Of all of these types of parks that I saw, my favorite was the Villa Borghese. It’s HUGE and gorgeous. This will definitely be reachable by public transit. My second favorite was right down the street from my apartment called Pamphili. I used to run there a lot and it’s a great place to see real Roman life. Near the Borghese is the Museum of Modern Art which I had to go to for a class. It was pretty amazing but my suggestion is to choose ONE museum in Rome to see and appreciate. This way, you’re doing as the Romans do and you’re not spending all of your time in museums. Just pick allegiance to one.
      13. When you go to the Colosseum, get your tickets at the Roman Forum and do that first. The line at the Col is long but the ticket from the Forum is not and the ticket is good for both.
      14. There are two airports in Rome.
        1. Fiumacino/Leonardo daVinci is the larger one with international flights and actual runways.
        2. Ciampino is the smaller one. This is where Ryan Air flies out. It’s “fine” but literally nothing extra. I don’t love it but it’s a necessary evil for some flights out of Rome to smaller cities. You’ll live.
  • Sicily
      1. Sicily is incredible, gorgeous, delicious, and probably should not exist.
      2. Eat many servings of gelato in brioche buns. We called them ice cream sandwiches. I never saw them anywhere else.
      3. We flew RyanAir from Rome to Palermo. Chas rented a car. It is NOT easy driving. People are very aggressive and roads can be very tiny. Nevertheless, I do not know how we would have gotten around so easily without it. So I guess I’d recommend renting if you go there. Most of the driving is pretty desolate, and mountainous or rural.
      4. We drove right into Palermo. It’s kind of a grungy city but I lived in Rome for 4 months so I loved it. IMG_2818
        1. We went to the Cappucini Catacombs–MUST DO. It’s like 3 euro and there are over 8000 skeletons on display. Amazing.
        2. The markets in Palermo are incredible too.
        3. It’s a great city to just walk ALL over and soak in. So much to see. So busy. Look for mafia signs–it still has a presence there. We stayed one night in Palermo–that was probably enough as long as you spend a good full day or two in your walking shoes.   
      5. We drove to Cefalu (above). I insisted because my great grandfather was born there. Baltimore’s Little Italy used to be called Little Cefalu. It’s a gorgeous drive (they all are) and maybe an hour from Palermo. Cefalu’s streets are TINY. It’s such a cute town. We might be on the other side of the tipping point as it’s gotten kind of touristy.
        1. Climb La Roca. You can’t miss it. Fairly easy hike. Incredible views.
        2. Walk out to the end of the pier. WOW.
        3. Go in the main cathedral.
        4. Walk the entire town–easy.
        5. Look for the Baltimore sign in the main square.
        6. Park near the train station–FREE–but you will need to walk to where you are staying.
        7. Plan to spend a beach day.
        8. From Cefalu we took some day trips which were awesome.
          1. Segesta–Greek ruins.
          2. Erice–Arab ruins. You can a funicular or cable car to get to it.
        9. From Cefalu we drove through the mountains (holy shit kind of beauty) to Siracusa, specifically Ortigia. It’s one of the most ancient places in the world. Ortigia is where you want to stay. It’s the scenic part of town and is located on an island. You won’t know you’re on an “island” but don’t try to stay in main Siracusa–not charming.
          1. Go to the ruins which are outside of Ortigia. We walked there easily from Ortigia.
          2. Go to the church in the largest piazza. It has Turkish columns in it that you won’t believe.
          3. Take a boat ride! We got to see the island from the water, swim in the sea, and see some very cool grottos, and rock structures. I can’t remember our company but we LOVED our guy. His name was Cico (chee-cho). It was pretty cheap too. Maybe $40 for the three of us (we were with a friend) and we were the only ones on the boat.
          4. We stayed in a guest house here which was awesome and large. It was $60 per night which I am sharing because I think you can stay pretty affordably here. Cefalu too–we did Air BnB there and it was cheap. 
          5.  Then we drove to Mt. Etna. Expect the drive to take a while because you will want to stop along the way as you watch the landscape change. Among the most amazing things I have ever seen. We did a guest house there too. Sweet sassy molassy, I wish I could remember the restaurant where we ate. It was in the town and soooooooooo good. It must be in the guidebook. We did NOT do a tour in Etna. There is NO NEED! We hiked it. They tried to talk us into special boots, a special coat, and the bus ride. I wore sneakers, yoga pants, a scarf, and a jacket and I was FINE. The walk was unbelievable. Loved it. It was like we were on the moon, seriously.
          6. Wished we could have….gone to Taormina, Agrigento, and more of the middle. Nevertheless, it was an incredible trip. I recommend Sicily to everyone.
IMG_3126 2

Mt. Etna, which is the closest I will ever get to walking on the moon.

  • Cinque Terre
      1. Cinque Terre (Sara can probably guess) means 5 towns. You can take an easy and cheap train from Rome. You stay in one of the towns.
      2. It takes 4-5 hours to hike between all of them. And, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Lemons like you wouldn’t believe.
  • The South: Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi Coast
      1. I did not go to Naples, heard it’s a dump. I stayed in Sorrento and went to Pompeii for the day (all you need), Capri, Anacapri, and road along the Amalfi Coast. I also spent a day in Positano.
      2. Pompeii is absolutely incredible. Worth it. Look for the “signs” pointing to the brothel (penises!)
      3. Capri and so chic: beaches, shopping, limoncello’s home. In Anacapri you can a chair lift the to top–holy shit. Yes, an actual CHAIR. Just one. So cool.
      4. Sorrento was cute–not as special as these other places.
      5. Positano is gorgeous. Black rock beach. Lovely!
    1. Florence (Firenze)
      1. I really liked Florence. It’s small, walkable, and approachable.
      2. Amazing architecture–orange/pink and green.
      3. A shopping city for sure. Go here for leather goods.
      4. It’s west of Rome, easy and gorgeous train ride. This train is a good way to see the middle of the country which has gorgeous landscape.
  • Assisi
    1. A day trip, not far from Florence I think.
    2. You can SEE St. Catherine’s “preserved” body.
    3. Mainly, I’d go if you want to see the beauty of the rolling hills of Tuscany.
  1. AUBREY went to Lake Como and to Venice. I have not been to either but would LOVE to have gone. Ask Aubs to put in her two eurocents (sneaky little coins that no one actually wants).

7 thoughts on “Travel to Italy

  1. I hate to be that person who talks about that time I studied abroad…BUT, I am currently crying at my desk. I can’t tell if it is because I am sad and missing Roma or if it is because I just relived the Spanish Steps Pub Crawl in my head and am crying because I am laughing so hard. Fruit stands and gelato should be an every day activity! I think everyone should have to take at least one Ryan Air flight in their life. As a wise friend once told me, water costs more than wine, so skip the water and go straight to the wine with dinner!


  2. Thank you, I want to go to Sicily, too, and see the birthplace of my grandfather! Plus Rome to see the Pope, the religious sites, churches and all the artwork. When I read The Conclave, it really made me want to tour the Vatican. You certainly make it seem so easy! Great travel guide! I look forward to the next installments!


  3. Loved this – pithy and informative. Thinking of writing a travel book? I’d buy it! If you didn’t bring back any recipes I’m a bit upset. LOL, D


  4. So fun! Makes me want to go back and see more. I saw a show on PBS I think that talked about the Cappucin monks and the source of the name for Cappuccini. Brown on the bottom and white on top – like the monks!!


  5. Nice work Amanda!

    I will be passing this on to all my friends who love to travel. Very impressive info.

    Miss you talented girl!! 🙂

    Aunt Di


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