One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Italy (Page 1 of 4)

Italy Wrap Up- Things I Wish I Knew

First of all, thanks to everyone who reads my blog posts and follows along with our travels for giving me a platform to spew a little nerdy history and share our experiences as we get started travelling around the world. (I have big plans! Haha)

I love doing the blog for a lot of reasons; it’s great for close family to get updates while we are gone, it keeps me from answering the question “So what all did you do??” a thousand times when we get back, I hope that other people get an in-depth look at a part of the world they’ve never seen because travel abroad isn’t an option for everyone and we are just really lucky to have the opportunity, time and resources to plan a few trips here and there. But mostly, I started the blog in the hopes of capturing the details of our trips for the future and because writing these posts makes me learn more about where I’m going and what I’m seeing, knowing that I have to explain it to 40+ people tonight makes me actually learn a little more about the details of things. πŸ™‚

I thought a good post to end each trip might be any good info you may need should you plan your own trip to wherever it is we just travelled. I tried to take a few notes along the way to remember all the annoying or quirky (or great) things we discovered. Your experiences may be different for anyone that’s travelled to Italy, so feel free to leave them in the comments!

Flights: They will feed and drink you to death on Delta! Lol In a 9 hour flight we had 3 full drink services, 3 water services and a coffee/tea/water service. A full hot meal, a snack sandwich, a snack box and pretzels and peanuts. So basically don’t feel like you’ll have to buy a bunch of food at the airport to keep from starving on your flight. 

Also of interest, the flight there was 9 hours, but 11 and a half coming home because of going against the jet stream. 

Also, international flights usually allow you a free checked bag unlike domestic flights.

Rental Car: When you rent a car in Italy, you are required to pick up the Collision Damage Waiver insurance. This can increase your quoted rental car price by like $15 a day. If you have a credit card with some travel perks, you may check and see if they provide rental car coverage in Italy. I had to get a letter stating that I specifically had CDW coverage in Italy from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

I would also rent the smallest car you can get away with. Parking is so hard.

Lastly, by default every rental car with be a manual. If you want an automatic you will have to pay for it and specifically search and ensure you select an automatic in your reservation.

The Rental car company we used has an “unlimited” wifi device that they are pushing. There’s no such thing in Italy. They allow 1GB of data a day on all the major carriers.

Speaking the Language: If you stay in Rome, you’ll have no problem with people speaking English. Florence was good, too- but outside of those areas, it was definitely hit or miss.

If you’ve never used Duolingo, it’s like a free version of Rosetta Stone you can get on your tablet or phone. I loved it and learned a lot of basic Italian that way.

At a minimum, learn 6 Italian words and be comfortable saying them.

Hello -Ciao! (Chow)

Thank you -Grazie! (Grot-zee)

Please -Per favore (per fa-vor-ay)

You’re welcome -Prego (and they will say Prego before you say Grazie…haha totally a cultural thing)

Excuse Me -Scusi (skoozee)

Good morning – Buongiorno (Bon jorno)

Good evening -Buona Sera (bwayna Sarah) said when you greet someone after sunset

Good night -Buona Notte (bwayna note-tay) – said as a way of politely ending your evening, like leaving to turn in for the night

Plus #s 1 through 5 will be useful

Uno, Due, Tre, Quattro, Cinque

Speed limits: All of their highways are speed controlled with radar cameras in little boxes. But no one follows the speed limit- at all- so I may or may not get speeding tickets in the mail. Lol

ZTLsZona a Traffico Limitato

Every major city and city center has a ZTL which basically means no unauthorized cars allowed. When you cross the ZTL lines, a camera records it and automatically issues a ticket if an update doesn’t hit their database from some parking lot, etc inside the ZTL that authorized you to be there. Google Maps does not respect the ZTLs and it will guide you straight through the Center of pedestrian streets and thousand year old bridges. Not that I’d know by experience… πŸ™‚

Milk– Italians don’t drink milk, so unless you get some steamed milk for coffee, it will be hard to find. We had to go to the grocery store and buy a box of shelf-stable milk a couple times because no place sells it along the highway, at a restaurant, etc.

Protein/Breakfast – Italian breakfast is basically some juice and a small pastry or croissant with a shot of espresso. But not like a flaky French croissant, like a doughy version coated in a sugary sweet glaze. 

Water pressure– it is now my deduction that water pressure in all of Europe is terrible. Expect at maximum the feel of a garden hose held over your head…and more than likely, a watering can for plants. We did stay one place in the middle of nowhere on a well that must have had a pump because that was the best shower so had in years. Haha 

Heat/AC- there is no such thing as central air in Europe either, it appears. There are radiators for heat and fans, window or wall units for AC. All in all, it’s not bad because most places are small enough but it’s a definite change compared to our “set the thermostat and forget it” normal.

Washer/dryer– again, pretty sure a good washer and dryer doesn’t exist in Europe. Most places will have a washing machine but they line dry. Or the worst- a combo washing machine/dryer all in one machine that does neither one well. Two vacations in a row I’ve had to leave with soaking wet clothes because the dryer doesn’t actually dry like it should. 

Driving is free for all– basically everywhere but the worst around Naples. Angry and aggressive drivers everywhere… Like I said in the blog- Naples didn’t even bother turning on their stop lights…so that should give you some insight. That being said, I didn’t see a single wreck the entire trip so I will say that obviously they are less distracted and less terrible drivers than we are in the US. 

Skip the line tickets– don’t listen to me if you are travelling in Summer, because my only experience is off-season…but I did not need advance tickets to anything our entire trip. In fact, I caused myself more grief trying to pick up advance tickets that I paid a lot more for than if we would have just walked in. Especially in the Vatican. But also around Rome and Florence. So, take it for what it’s worth. I was scared that we would waste precious vacation hours waiting in line to get in to museums but there wasn’t a line for anything. 

So all in all we had a fantastic trip… It was amazing to see the history and the museums and the ruins, experience a new culture and eat some great Italian food….but I think we were both ready to return to the US for a lot of our conveniences here. So, basically- if you have the opportunity- GO! But if you don’t…don’t feel like you’re missing a life changing experience. πŸ™‚

Travel, to me is like tattoos to most people…once they get one, they need to keep getting more. So I’ve already purchased tickets for September for what may be our next adventure: Sweden!

I have a friend, Marie, from high school that was an exchange student in Indiana that lives outside of Stockholm and I am way overdue for going to visit her and her lovely family and see their beautiful country house πŸ™‚ so we are going to remedy that!

(Hey, Norwegian Air had round trip tickets for $400 a person on Cyber Monday-I couldn’t pass it up. Don’t judge me.)

We may still find the time off to do an early summer trip, but as of now my May and June is up in the air…

Thanks for following along with our gypsy caravan. I wish I could make a career out of travelling and blogging- wouldn’t that be way to earn a living! I’ll update soon when there’s another trip on the horizon.


Day 15- The Appian Way

“All roads lead to Rome”. In ancient times, they did. The very first and longest road built by the Romans was in 300BC, called the Appian Way. Much like our modern interstate system was built to quickly mobilize troops and military vehicles, this was the basis for the Appian Way. The Roman troops fighting the Samnites in the south around 300BC needed supplies and Rome needed a quick way to deploy troops should new uprisings in the south occur again. Between Rome and the south lied the Pontine Marshes which were wet and infested with malaria. No one liked crossing the marshes and it was a hinderance to troop and supply movement.

It is also said according to the bible this is the road St. Peter was travelling to escape the persecution of Emporer Nero when he saw a vision of Jesus. He asked,”Where are you going?”. “To be crucified anew” which convinced St Peter to return to Rome to face his own martyrdom.  

Today the oldest sections of the road have large stones laid together that would had a smooth like cement over them which has now eroded away. Writings say that the surface was so smooth you couldn’t see the joints at all. They raised the center of the road for runoff and had drainage ditches running along both sides. 

The Appian Way didn’t even become a preserved park until 1988. Although, various people and groups have worked to protect and conserve it for hundreds of years. Pope Puis VI ordered the conservation of the road in the 1500s

The road is dotted with monuments and mausoleums that have been reconstructed as best a possible from ruins found along the road.  

To think that we were walking the same stretch of road travelled by the Roman armies for almost a thousand years, the same road 6000 slaves were crucified on as a warning to all of the other slaves of Rome during the Dlave Uprising of 73BC led by Spartacus. The same road as St. Peter, thr same road antiquities from Egypt would have been transported on after the defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, the same road as allied and German troops in Word War II as they fought in the area for 4 months…. It gives you chills and really does make you realize how small and insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. 

A dog keeping watch from his 15ft high patio over the road.    

A guy at Capo di Bovi, excavated baths and villa along the road, gave Norah a pomegranate out of one of the trees.     

We stopped and got lunch from Cafe Appia Antica which was the first thing we found in our way towards Rome along the road.  

Norah ate her pomegranate.    

Artsy upside down trees by Norah.

Cat. By Norah.    
    The Circus of Maxentius. A compound of Ancient Rome. There were chariot races through this field at one point in time.
Sketch of what it looked like back at its height. 

 The Church of San Sebastino supposedly marks the spot where St Peter had his vision and the catacombs there supposedly are very big, but they are closed for the month.    
So many beautiful views and awesome history. We walked until I couldn’t walk any more.   I wanted to walk more… But my feet were screaming at me after about 7 miles over these big rocks in ballet flats πŸ™‚ (in my defense, I planned on renting bicycles and just cycling 10 miles or so of the road but the closest bike rental station was at the Cafe which was less than a mile from where we ended and turned around.)

We got back to the apartment and decided to try to order pizza since the host had left a brochure for us and we needed to pack everything for our flight tomorro.

I managed to struggle through a pizza delivery in mostly Italian and our pizza showed up right on time.  

We packed our suitcases, cleaned out bags, booked our taxi for the morning and drank that 14 year old bottle of Montepulciano. Truth be told- it was good but I would take a 3 year old bottle of Fratelli Parrata from Paso Robles any day of the week πŸ™‚

I’ll do one more post tomorrow as a trip wrap up. Thanks for reading about our trip!

Day 14-The Vatican City

For our last two days in Rome, I wanted to go to the Vatican and just walk along the ancient Roman road called Appia Antica. We didn’t get a car, instead just taxi’d from the airport so we also needed a taxi to the Vatican this morning. Our apartment is gated, so we walked out to the road to wait for him. I called a taxi company and got a taxi in Italian! Basically. They knew as much English as I know Italian- but we got it done πŸ™‚  

When we arrived in St Peter’s Square we had 15 minutes before our “skip the line” tickets to the Vatican museums so we grabbed coffee and food at the first place we saw.

Norah got milk which she immediately downed. It’s so hard to get milk in italy… I never would have guessed.  Are postcards still a thing? If so, I’m sorry I didn’t send any out.

Security check just to get into the museum. There’s no skipping this line. (You’re welcome, Rob May… I waited in the line for you so you could experience it haha)  

A view of St. Peter’s Basilica  

In the Cortile Della Pigna, or “Courtyard of the Pinecone”

There are a pair of lion statues with Egyptian hieroglyphics on the bases that date to 360BC! They were rediscovered in the 1400s and they used to be displayed in front of the Pantheon.   

This 13 foot tall Pinecone was discovered from the Baths of Agrippa and dates to 1BC. 

Pomodoro’s Sfera con Sfera in the Vatican. We photographed the same sculpture in Dublin at Trinity College.   

The largest bust I saw in all of Rome (and there are a few) of Caesar Augustus.

The Gallery of Busts.

I love the “leaves” that have been strategically placed to make the statues more appropriate over the years.  

A very serious Tiberius. Called by Pliny the Elder “the gloomiest of men”. 

Of all the busts I’ve seen, I’ve never seen one without eyes. It was a little creepy.  

The coat of arms of Pius XI. Each pope has a particular coat of arms. In ancient times, if you were elected pope you could make up a coat of arms if you didn’t already have one.  All of the Medici popes over the years used the 5 or 6 balls with the lion theme.   

Ancient Roman Dog sculptures. Supposedly there are a few old 200AD or so copies of a Hellenistic bronze original. Amazing detail.

The Hall of Muses

A bronze sculpture of Hercules
A sarcophagus for Constantine the Great’s daughter. He was the first Roman Emporer to claim conversion to Christianity. He built a new giant emporer’s estate and changed the name of Byzantium to Constantinople after himself and was made a saint by the Orthodox Church after his death for his early Christianhood.  There was a matching sarcophagus across the room for his mother.

Even the floors have amazing mosaics.  

The Hall of Maps. Would have been amazing if it wasn’t a sardine can full of people. The room is full of nothing but huge maps of Italy and its areas painted on the walls in the 1500s.   

There are so many amazing paintings and ceilings and frescos in the 53 galleries or “salas” that lead to the Sistine Chapel- I’m not sure why it’s the only “can’t miss” item… We walked through ceilings painted by so many great artists, including Raphael.
   Next we entered the contemporary art museum. I wasn’t that interested in this area…because apparently sometime in the last 70 years we decided Norah’s drawings are high art. 


But that led us into the Sistine Chapel. While I will under no circumstances downplay the amount of artwork, skill, etc  needed to do this… This was one of those things that was a little disappointing in person. I’m not sure what i expected, but I’m not sure how this became the end all/be all of the Renaissance . I wasn’t deeply affected by the paintings or feel like I was in a sacred place. They were definitely vivid and there were tons of different scenes from the bible… And I’m glad we had the chance to see it…but truth be told it was hot and there were security guards every 6 inches and just too many people, that if someone hadn’t told me I was supposed to think this was amazing, I probably would have liked other paintings and ceilings more.  Oh and Photos were not allowed so I had to sneak one πŸ™‚
   Now this did catch my eye. On a side wall as you exit the chapel. There is a plaster wall that has silk drapery painted on it so perfectly that you would swear it’s real until you get just the right angle.    

Me being the weirdo I am… I was more impressed by the amazing cabinetry that held the exhibit items than I was about the items  thenselves. This amazing woodwork and adornment is matched on probably 30 cabinets all along the walls of the hallways. With over half of them closed and locked. That’s just rude.   
  I love this globe. The photo is of North America. It consists of: Cuba, Hispania, and Floridia. And look how stumpy Florida is. Ha  the entrance to the Vatican Museums
Vatican City Walls    After exiting the Vatican Museums we headed towards St Peter’s Square to go to the basilica.

   Except…do you see all those people behind Kegan? They were also waiting for the basilica.

And it continued on around the other side of the square. (sorry, Rob May, I won’t even wait in that line)    So, no basilica. Oh well, there’s Google Images and Wikipedia πŸ™‚

Norah loved the big Christmas tree in the middle of the square that they were putting up    We headed away from St Peter’s to Castel St.Angelo. Originally this round structure was built by the Emporer Hadrian to be his mausoleum and his ashes were held here for around 300 years, a hundred years in when they built the city walls they turned the round memorial into a castle but when the Visigoths sacked Rome in the 400s they destroyed all the ashes and remains inside. Legend has it that the angel Michael appeared over the castle in 590 during a plague. Thus, giving it its current name.

The bridge was built originally to lead to the mausoleum and the original mausoleum was made of the same stone (all of those sculptures were added in the 1700s.)

There is a secret passageway from the Castle to The Vatican and it has been used by Popes in the past to escape to safety during unrest.

After that, we caught a cab back to the apartment, took a quick nap with Norah and then woke up when it was late enough to go eat dinner. Italian restaurants don’t even open for business until 8pm…it’s so weird. We walked in right at 8 through a quiet road on a side street to a restaurant called Ristorante di Andrea in IV Miglio. It was a cute little place.  

We ended up having the absolute best meal of our lives. 

Pate and crackers  

Homemade noodles with a egg, cheese, Panchetta carbonara sauce
 Gnocchi with clams  

Steak filet with fresh winter black truffles shaved all over it.

A tiramisu cream cup topped with cocoa powder was the best consistency dessert I’ve ever had.  

A wine soaked poached pear with cinnamon and red wine sweet glaze and custard. It was out of this world.

Turns out Andrea is the chef behind this amazingness and he has a 3 year old as well. He showed Norah pictures of his daughter Angelica and just sat and talked with her for a little bit. Kegan has quite the man-crush on Andrea. Haha we tried to invite him home with us, even tried to let them live for free πŸ™‚  he wasn’t buying it haha. 
Kegan said this meal was almost enough to go back to Rome for. Haha

We walked home and passed out with bellies full of amazing food πŸ™‚

Day 13-Taormina and CataniaΒ 

Today was the day of grumpy cat. Prepare for a lot of this throughout the blog: 

 Nothing was extremely terrible. We just managed to meet every single self-centered jerk on the planet in one day along with travel issues. But we had some fun, too!

First trip of the morning was to Alcantera Gorge. The views out to the place were great.   

When we arrived, a lot of the site was closed due to the flash flooding from the heavy rains but we were still able to walk around the top portion trails. They started up out with a 3D video  about the volcano and rock formations that I thought was going to be terrible but it turned out pretty good and it was Norah’s first 3D movie. She was tripping. She was determined to catch the butterflies fluttering at her.  

Norah met some friends along the way.   
 It started raining so Norah and I shared our “umbrella”. Ha 

 After leaving, we headed back towards the city of Catania
We spotted this city wayyyy up on top of the hill. So we went!




  The city of Taormina was beautiful. Just when I had given up hope of loving anything in Sicily we found this gem. This truly was a fantastic place that I couldn’t recommend enough. The street are almost medieval, its main square and church at from the Norman invasion period of the 1200s but there have been people here since before the Greeks around 750BC.  It was clean, there were restaurants and bars…they even have a skylift that runs down from the city to the beaches in the summer. No stairs. Yay! This city was built with me in mind! Haha



 You can tell it has a history of being an artist muse town with tons of shops and vendors.



  The views from the city are outstanding. The water is perfect. 







  We walked through town and ended up at a restaurant that had the best gnocchi either of us had ever had in our lives.  This was the kind of food we had expected all vacation but to this point had actually been pretty disappointed..



  To keep quiet, I gave Norah my phone. She entertained herself with the McDonalds menu of all things. Weirdo. 

The best part of the vacation had to be tempered with the worst part of the vacation though…and here’s where our day kinda just took a nose dive. Lol

We headed towards the airport because we were hopping a flight from Catania in Sicily back to Rome since we had a direct flight to Atlanta from Rome, we structured the trip so that we started and ended here. 

First, we couldn’t find where our rental car was to be returned because the signs were absolutely terrible. Plus there was no sign for the company we rented from  

 Then, we had rented a wifi device in Rome that was supposed to give us unlimited wifi  and we could connect up to 10 devices. I was skeptical but the signs all said it, my contract even says it. It worked fantastic for  the first two days. I even made a note to make sure to recommend doing this to anyone travelling in Italy. Then it just stopped. We even took it to a TiM store (their Verizon wireless) and the guy basically told me that there was no such thing in Italy as unlimited data and the SIM card in the device was so old he couldn’t even add data to it for me, so it was basically a paperweight. So I had to get a new SIM card for my phone to have data-another $65- because the one I bought online before our trip-so I didn’t waste time once we landed finding cell service-was never activated by Telestial wireless.

 So I asked the company for a refund for the price of the wifi device. After 30 minutes of a bunch of Sicilians gathered around the device and trying all of the things I already tried and telling them I already took it to a store, they said the best they could do was a $50 refund. (It cost $150) but that was all I was getting so I agreed reluctantly. Better than nothing. So he printed the refund agreement. It said $40. He magically didn’t speak English anymore. Then I got my receipt in my email- he refunded $28.  

 So we gather our things and proceed to the airport and go to the line to check in and get our tickets. The guys stand there talking for 5 minutes blatantly ignoring us before just walking away to talk further away where we wouldn’t bother them. Ha
So I went to the ticket purchase booth and asked where we are supposed to be because I think I must be in the wrong spot. He tells me that I was in the right place, it’s just that they aren’t checking people in for ten more minutes. (How hard would that have been to say???)

So we wait in line 15-20 minutes or so and get to the lady and she can’t find our tickets. She looks for 5-10, makes a call or two then sends us back to the ticket booth across the way. 

We get over there and they basically tell us we don’t have tickets for the flight-even though I’m standing with confirmation # and flight info in hand. She wouldn’t put us in seats- so we had to buy 3 seats at 4 times the price to get on the plane. We originally paid $137 for all our tickets- we had to paid $400 again.

We get on the plane (after being crammed like sardines on a bus that takes us out to the plane) and the flight is only 1/3 full.

 To top it off it was a terrible flight! Haha Kegan and I were both nauseous from the flying and Norah’s mouth didn’t close from take off to landing. We were definitely over Sicily/Italy by the end of the flight. Haha

Luckily, we got a cab with no issues who drove 150km/HR 😳 on the highway to Rome. 

We decided to stay outside of the city center and not rent a car for the last couple days and just enjoy a little typical residential Roman life. We are in a top floor apartment in a residential building. (Stairs. My new best friend.) Very cute but built for an elf. Seriously, you can only stand up straight in the center of the room! haha

    The ceiling is only about 5 foot at the toilet so Kegan is having fun. Lol
  On the other hand, Norah loves it because she can even see onto the kitchen counters. She keeps calling it her “baby kitchen”. πŸ™‚ The wifi works intermittently and the heat works somewhat- so for Europe, we’re doing pretty good! πŸ™‚ Here’s hoping tomorrow redeems this evening a bit  


Day 12-The Baroque South and Syracuse

We started our morning off with breakfast that was included with our room- which in he way of Italian breakfasts, wasn’t too terrible. Blood orange juice, toast a couple pieces of salami and cheese and a piece of cake.    
We had a four hour drive across the southern coast of Sicily to reach the cities of the East coast and I’d like to blame the lack of pictures on the fact that Norah and Kegan were sleeping the whole time because I told him I was going to call him out on the blog-but the fact is, there just wasn’t much to see or photograph other than the rolling hills of vines and mountains and the occasional small town along the way. 

    We did spot a McDonalds and against Kegan’s advice I went through the drive through to get a Happy Meal for Norah.
The hamburger was way better here than in the US. It’s probably actually real meat over here because the burger was like 100 calories more than back home.

 I will say that American gas stations need to up their coffee game though compared to Italian gas stations. There is no coffee machine station with paper cups. There is a counter and ceramic cups and an awesome espresso machine with a barista. This is something I wouldn’t mind bringing back to the US with us. At this point it’s close to one of the only things! πŸ™‚


  They call this area The Baroque South because a huge earthquake levels the entire area in 1693. Therefore, all of the buildings being rebuilt reflected the style of the time.  
Right outside of Syracuse, a pack of dogs decided our car looked fun to chase. Haha

We stopped outside the city and got gas station sandwiches. Lol


 We arrived at the Greek archiologic center 30 minutes before they closed so we basically had to speed walk through the park. I took Norah’s picture in the tree tunnel , then she wanted to take our picture.  

 Not bad…  

    Thee famous Ear of Dionysius. Dionysius was he king of Syracuse (not the goddess of wine which happens to be my favorite Dionysius). This cave it named such because they say he used to place his enemy prisoners inside this cave because of the acoustics- you can hear even a whisper from inside loud and clear. Ancient spy tactics. 
This area is called the Latomes. It’s a giant quarry where all of the  stone for the Greek amphitheater and the ancient city was mined by prisoners.   
And more hills. Lol

An Ancient Greek theater from the 500’s BC. Plays. Theater, poetry- all overlooking an ocean view. It was a very peaceful place…

  With amazing views  
 Norah was most excited about drinking out of the public water fountain.   

 The peace of the Greek theater explains why when the Romans conquered 600 years later, they had to build a Roman amphitheater just a few steps away. The setup on the side of the mountain would never allow for flooding the floor for naval battles and there was no underground channels under the floor that they would raise the gladiators. What I get out of this is that the Romans weren’t so into poetry. Lol


Lots of strange plants and trees in this area. 


As we left Syracuse you could begin to see Mt. Etna on the horizon. 

 We arrived at our apartment for the evening. Around 6pm- Norah was excited because there was cable. She watched an Italian cartoon she has loved called Masha e Oso (Masha and the Bear).




It was a fine example of the kind of decor one can make out of IKEA products. haha  it was a comfy bed for the first time since we got here! I didn’t want to leave!

Our host Federico recommended the town of Brucoli for Pizza so we headed into town.

The town sits right on the ocean… Like the sidewalk ends in water right here. Norah wanted to see the dolphins (??…no idea)

 She brought us fresh buffalo mozzarella and smoked as well (this area is famous for it).   Norah got “chips”. So it was a good day.
  And they had a chalkboard for kids so she was very excited about this place.  
We went back and did a load of Laundry and slept like babies πŸ™‚

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