My buddy Sarah, just got back from her vacation in Italy. She had loads to tell.. Luckily I managed to get this post out of her.. Here are her Top Ten Things to do in Italy!
We’ve all seen those pictures of gorgeous vineyards and impossibly beautiful churches, we’ve all heard how delicious the food/coffee/gelato is in the country that houses the Pope, and perhaps many of us have wondered if a country can really live up to all the hype. Take it from a fresh returnee: Italy is all you want and more, and there is so much to do and see (and eat) that one trip will not be enough.
That said, if you have only got one trip, here are ten things worth ticking off to get the full-bodied Italian experience of your dreams.
1. Food Shopping in Old Bologna
Just off the Piazza Maggiore in wonderfully medieval Bologna are a collection of market streets that will send any foodie wild with longing: shops, delis, and stores abound, all crammed floor to ceiling with edibles (and drinks) that look too good to eat.
The shops themselves are old and classic, while shopkeepers are encouraging and patient with your mumbling attempts at Italian as you admire the fresh antipasti, homemade pastas, breads, croissants, and wealth of hams and cheese ready to be sliced.
Stalls sell fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables, while souvenirs can be purchased in the shops selling biscuits, chocolates, sweets, and bottles of vino and limoncello. The bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil in many varieties will make great additions to your kitchen back home!
2. Walk the Cobbles of a Hillside Town
As with any country, Italy is not just about the cities and the tourists sites: the real Italian experience awaits in any provincial village or town where real people go about their lives in impossibly lovely locations.
Make a point of escaping the cities and key tourist spots to breathe in a little local life and believe me, you will be charmed by what you find. Fiesole is one such beauty spot, and being just a 20 minute bus ride from Florence ensures it is an easy oasis to reach, while Bergamo (50km from Milan) is a super place to walk on cobbles in a village that has stood still since the medieval times.
3. See Florence from the Sky
Jaws will drop at the sight of the Duomo in Florence’s main square, a cathedral that was completed by 1418 bar the magnificent dome, the latter so ambitious in design that nobody knew how to build it (it was to the largest dome ever constructed).
The best way to admire the dome (finally completed in 1436) and the attached cathedral is from the sky, so climb to the top of the Campanile – the bell tower that stands alongside it – and marvel at how such a beast was built without the use of scaffolding.
Any leg complaints (there are 444 steps) will be wiped from your mind when you get to the top and enjoy a view of the city spreading far beneath you, giving way to the rolling green hills of Tuscany beyond.
4. Climb to the Roof of the Milan Duomo
Quasimodo impressions will be cast quickly from your mind as your pant to the top of the staircase and emerge onto the roof of one of the most spectacular duomos (cathedrals) in Italy.
Walk between the spires that reach into the sky and admire the classy streets of Milan that spread beneath you, where well-dressed Italians and roly-poly tourists look mere ants from the heights of your gothic hideaway.
5. Walk in the Footsteps of Gladiators
For those with even a passing interest in history, there is nothing so stirring as a walk through Ancient Rome, where the ghosts of emperors and gladiators seem to stand amid the marble columns that have somehow lasted the thousands of years since the Roman Empire enjoyed its moment of glory.
The Colosseum in Rome is a site that should not be missed, and though it will certainly be swarming with chattering students and shuffling tour groups, nothing will prevent you marvelling as the scale of this ancient amphitheatre, or shivering with discomfort as you remember how many people (and animals) fought and died inside the impressive stonework.
6. Marvel at Pizza by the Slice
There is no better country in the world than Italy to eat pizza, and while round, thin, and crisp creations the size of hubcaps make filling dinners, quick lunches can take the form of a single slice of your favourite. Delis and cafes in all parts of the country boast counters full of freshly-made pizzas, perfect for a make-shift picnic. Slices are cut off to your request and priced by weight, and then usually chopped up and presented to you on a plastic plate with a fork stuck jauntily in the top to allow for ease of eating.
One of my favourite pizza joints for a lunchtime fix was the popular Il Fourniao, tucked down a side street in Bergamo Alta. Queues form all day at this busy cafe, and the wedges of fluffy, thick-crusted pizza topped in a rainbow assortment of vegetables, hams, and cheeses were as delicious as they looked!
7. Watch the moon rise behind St Peter’s Basilica
Whether you are religious or not, the Vatican is a must-visit; nothing can compare to this masterpiece of architecture that stands testament to the intoxicating power of the Catholic church.
The museums house work by some of the greatest artists ever to have lived, while the interiors of St Peter’s Basilica cannot fail to leave you over-awed.
This independent municipal see thousands of tourists and worshippers every single day (none more so than Wednesdays, when the Pope makes an appearance), but if you return as the sun sets (with gelato in hand) you can enjoy the square in the dusk quiet, sharing the flagstones with none but the pigeons as you marvel at the sheer size and beauty of this papal seat.
8. Eat Out, Italian Style
You are bound to love everything you swallow in Italy, where delicious slices of pizzas and sticky cakes and pastries await on every corner. For the authentic dining experience, work up a serious appetite and go for it multi-course.
Italians will traditionally work through quite a feast, from an antipasti with a basket of bread to a primi (usually pasta), which is followed by a secondi (meat or fish dish) with a salad or side of vegetables. The meal is rounded with a dolci (dessert) and a coffee. Oh and don’t forget wine – vino de cassa (house wine) usually only costs 4 euros for a half litre, so drink up!
9. Push over the Leaning Tower of Pisa
You simply won’t be able to resist the urge to join the hundreds of people holding their arms out at funny angles while relatives try to snap their picture pushing down the leaning tower.
Not only is it an amusing shot to share on facebook, it will be a jolly reminder of the spectacular Campo dei Miracoli – justly named Field of Miracles – which boasts a collection of glowing white buildings (including the leaning tower) that are sheer architectural splendours, each whispering of a time when Pisa was a major port and nautical power.
10. Make Coffee and Gelato Daily Habits
There is a reason Starbucks can’t establish a single outlet in Italy: the local Italians simply don’t need that overpriced stuff when their local coffee is so darn good! Every little corner shop will have a counter serving coffee, and the menu will run from espresso to cappucchino, all of which will taste better than you have ever encountered. Drink them at the bar like the locals, or pay a little more to enjoy it at a table.
Another activity that is so enjoyable it will become a daily event is the partaking of gelato. During the summer months, afternoons scream out for a scoop (or two) or creamy, cold ice cream.
Make a beeline for an artisano gelateria where flavours will run from sorbets (raspberry was my favourite) and rich dessert-style creations (tiramisu and chocolate brownie) to intriguing combinations (pumpkin and cinnamon?). You can’t go wrong really – have a scoop a day and try them all!
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