Pompeii is amazing, fascinating, incredibly well preserved and definitely a highlight of our entire trip thus far. As usual, we listened to Rick Steve’s audio tour to explore the sights and learn about the history and uses of different places. The Pompeiians were an advanced people with fast food restaurants, special sidewalks so pedestrians didn’t have to get their feet wet from water run-off, food markets, brick ovens, bath houses, and pedestrian only streets. Obviously the brothel is a favorite spot amongst tourists and Adam and I got our share of laughs seeing the concrete beds and the pornographic frescos on the wall. We also enjoyed visiting the amphitheater. The best part- the amphitheater was designed in such a way that a person standing on the center point of the stage can be heard even at the top of the stands without having to shout. I sang a (not so) lovely rendition of the US national anthem to test it out.
Once we had exhausted ourselves walking up and down the city of Pompeii in the hot sun, we decided to take the train to a coastal town called Sorrento to have a late lunch. I didn’t know much about the town; I only had seen photos of it from a travel blog so we just walked around, got lunch at a small restaurant down one of the city’s small streets and enjoyed the gorgeous ocean views. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and got some true Napoli pizza for dinner (the best pizza I have ever had!) from a tiny pizza restaurant a few minutes walk from the Naples train station.
Vatican City is famous for the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pope. On our day in the Vatican, we only managed to see one of those- the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately for us, there was a massive children’s sports festival going on while we were there, closing the Basilica and making it impossible to explore the city.
Regardless, our time in the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel was great. The museum is filled with interesting art and sculptures and we took advantage of our time in the museum by listening to another Rick Steve’s audio tour. After quite a long walk through the museum, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel and its famous roof depicting creation (of course, we took a banned photograph- we just can’t help it! But be warned, there are guards all around watching for rule breakers and making those caught delete their photos). After the museum, we made our way to the main square, took a picture with the Basilica and left.
Some tips for Vatican City: Buy tickets for the museum ahead of time. Just like most of Italy, Vatican City is heavily populated by tourists, which means that tourist attractions have incredibly long (hours long!) lines that can be easily bypassed by pre-purchasing tickets. Check to see if any festivals are going on that could hinder your experience of the area and if possible, go on a different day.
We started our first day in Rome eating sandwiches on the Spanish Steps. It was early afternoon and the steps were absolutely packed with people eating, talking and enjoying the hot Italian sun. Next we walked around the city, stopping at places like the famous St. Andrew Church, Piazza Colonna (and its giant column depicting Rome defeating the Germanic tribe that has been there since the year 193), the Temple of Hadrian, Sacra Largo di Torre Argetina (where Julius Caesar was killed), and the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuela (a massive war monument- you can go to the roof for free and see views of the city!).
One of the highlights of our walk was visiting the Church of St. Ignatius. The ceiling of this church is painted using an illusionistic technique, and it is extremely well done! It is impossible to decipher between actual architecture and artistic deception. The church actually has a flat ceiling, but you would never know, even after squinting or staring at it… and the dome near the front of the church is actually painted on, but from the back of the church, that’s something you would never know either!
After our necks started hurting from looking up for so long and our eyes strained from trying to solve the optical illusions, we headed over to the Pantheon. This building, much like a lot of ancient buildings in Rome, just kind of popped out of nowhere in between apartment buildings and street traffic. I couldn’t get over how big the structure is and how large and wide its iconic columns are. The inside of the Pantheon is amazing with its numerous arches, gorgeous dome (and large hole in the center for light), and well-preserved marble floor that the emperors of Ancient Rome even walked on.
Of course, we ended our walk around Rome with a trip to the Trevi Fountain and a coin into the water to ensure that we would return to Rome one day. A tip to anyone going to Rome: The proper technique for this tradition is to stand with your back facing the fountain and throw the coin over your left shoulder with your right hand. It is a bit harder than it sounds!
We finished our day with some delicious gelato (biscotti, stracciatella and pistachio-the biscotti was my favorite!) from a place called Gelateria a la Romana… and when I say delicious, I mean delicious! Upon walking back to our hotel, we noticed that there was an incredibly long line of locals waiting to get into the store, and we figured that if locals were crowding there, then it had to be good. The line seemed to never end, and every time people would leave with their gelato, more locals would line up! I would 100% recommend finding this place if you are ever in Rome!
Cinque Terre. Oh Cinque Terre…Just thinking about this hike, the views and our day makes me feel giddy. Cinque Terre, or “Five Towns”, is a series of small towns perched on top of a mountain range in the Italian Riviera. It is a very popular spot for tourists and absolutely breathtaking.
We started our morning in Cinque Terre at the Monterresso train station where we bought our hiking passes (note: don’t attempt to hike without the passes, there are checkpoints!). The views just from the train station were amazing — bright blue skies, crisp turquoise waves and colorful umbrellas all along the beach.
We walked towards the start of the path and fairly quickly the hike turned into a steep stair climb. Periodically, Adam and I would stop on the side of the stairs to catch our breath and enjoy (and photograph) the gorgeous ocean views. I had read somewhere that the hike from Monteresso to Vernazza (the next town over) is over 700 steps, and boy do I believe it!
About 1.5 hours later, we made it to Vernazza and were greeted by a bustling street full of venders selling foccaccia, fresh fish and traditional Italian dishes. Adam spotted something that looked like a cave relatively close to the path exit, so naturally we went into it and ended up on a beautiful beach that was pretty much free of people. We found a big rock to rest on and enjoyed the fresh ocean breeze and beautiful surroundings. When we got hungry, we went to a nearby foccaccia bakery (a specialty of this region- don’t leave without trying it!). I got a foccaccia with black olives and Adam got a caprese sandwich on foccaccia bread. We ate on the beach before training to the rest of the towns where we explored the curving streets full of colorful houses and buildings.
We ate our last dinner on the Italian Riviera in Levanto (a nearby city) at a restaurant called Oue Lune where we shared an amazing dish of oil-poached fish, potatoes, tomatoes and olives. The fish was prepared and served table side and was so incredibly fresh. I would absolutely recommend eating fish along the Italian coast.
After seeing The David today, I understand why it is such a world-renowned masterpiece. Michaelangeo’s ability to carve veins on David’s hands and curls in his hair is unbelievable and the sheer size of the statue is, well, ridiculous. Adam and I bought tickets to the museum before we left for Europe and (once again) we were glad that we did, as the line to get in without a pre-paid ticket was almost 3 hours long! Book ahead, go right in, enjoy the David for as long as you like (the rest of the museum is a bit of a letdown), and leave happy knowing that you didn’t waste your whole day standing outside the museum! Oh, and like many museums, pictures of The David are not allowed… I just couldn’t help myself! (See below)
Next up on our list of Italian tourist spots was Pisa, and boy is Pisa a tourist spot! Adam and I both were a bit disappointed with the whole Pisa experience (Adam equated it to stopping on the side of a highway to see the world’s biggest ball of yarn), but regardless, we had to see it and now we never have to go back.
We ended our day on the Italian Riviera in a town called Levanto where we enjoyed a delicious dinner of pesto pasta in a small restaurant full of locals. The Italian Riviera is the birthplace of pesto, and boy can you tell! The pesto was so flavorful and delicious and not like anything that we buy at the supermarkets back home. We finished our night with a walk along the beach during sunset.