The “Goes to Italy Once” Series Part I: How We Did Literally Everything

roman holiday

Today I write Italy travel tips, tomorrow I run for Italian presidency. 

Girl Stop Apologizing, but I would like to start out this post by apologizing for blogging about Italy if you follow my personal accounts on social media. Lane and I went this year for the first time and I Instagrammed the entire trip, THEN did a mass photo dump on Facebook–Canon, Kodak, Iphone, and all. Hello, I remember my first time in Italy.

But if my vacation spam wasn’t annoying enough, I would now like to push it further by actually telling you how to travel. And pack. And dress yourself. After I went once. Yes, just once. Is now a good time to mention my last name? Casually drop the “yes, my husband is Italian, okay, well half Italian,” bomb?

welcome to the goes to italy once series!!!!!

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This first post is really everything you need to know. It’s what we did and how we did it. LIKE PIN THIS. SEND TO A FRIEND. CUT OUT AND TAPE TO UR VISION BOARD.

Part II will be the daily play-by-play of funny and tragic things that I probably shouldn’t post on the internet, then Part III will be a round up of Italy street style because this is Vogue dot com now.

If you have more questions, leave a comment!

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HOW WE BOOKED

Scott’s Cheap Flights. It’s a free email service that sends you amazing deals on both domestic and international flights. We were able to get two round-trip tickets for under 1K, which is so cheap it should be illegal.

WHERE WE WENT

Day 1: Rome
Day 2: Rome
Day 3: Rome –> Venice
Day 4: Venice –> Cinque Terre
Day 5: Cinque Terre –> Lucca –> Florence
Day 6: Florence
Day 7: Florence
Day 8: Florence –> Rome
Day 9: Rome
Day 10: Rome –> USA

If I could choose, I would like to fly into one side of Italy and out of another (like into Venice, out of Rome), but since our flights were so cheap, we were stuck with going in and out of Rome. The smart thing to do would have been to stay in and around Rome for our entire stay. Instead, we were pretty adamant about making the classic tourist mistake of Doing Too Many Cities In Too Little Days.

BUT NO RAGRETS! This type of fast-pace traveling is not for everyone. But if you’re up for the demanding schedule and lack of sleep, it’s totally worth it. It was fun and we got to see A TON OF THINGS in just 10 days.

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pic by me and my canon camera should i be a photographer

HOW WE PLANNED

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We had MONTHS to plan but didn’t get serious about it until about 2ish months ahead lol oopsie daisy!

Specifically we planned with:

  • Rick Steves 2017 Italy book: I LOVE RS. The main reason I loved this book is that it’s truly all the things you could ever need to know all in one place. It made planning so much less overwhelming than just relying on “the internet” to plan. Instead, I read through this book, then Googled specifics. Also, the book is created to be ripped apart which is fun if that kind of thing doesn’t give you anxiety. TLDR: don’t go to Europe without a RS book.
  • Yelp: I booked dinner reservations for almost every single night of the trip based on Yelp reviews. Restaurants are so small, they often book up weeks in advance. This is one of my best tips — we were able to eat at popular spots and even the oldest restaurant in Venice!!!
  • YouTube: I loved looking up YouTube videos about culture — eating out, clothes, safety, tourist traps, do’s and don’t’s, useful phrases, how to make a good impression, common tourist mistakes, packing tips etc. There’s American travel experts that will help, but I found this Italian YouTuber to be particularly helpful! Love hearing from a local, I’m a local now too.
  • Blogs: Looking at various travel blogger itineraries helped me kind of figure out how to do what, in what order. Figuring out what cities you’re going to, for how long, in what order, is half the battle.
  • Pinterest: Use Pinterest to pin articles you want to reference and obviously to look up and save beautiful places you want to go to. Pinterest helped me decide to stay at Vernazza of all the Cinque Terre towns because of how freaking gorgeous it is. Here’s my Italy Pinterest board if ur interested.
  • Asking people: So annoying, but people who have been to Italy love nothing more than talking about Italy. Can’t stand them. Hate them.

I would also recommend divvying up planning by cities with your travel buddy if you trust them. Lane planned Florence (where we stayed the longest) and I planned everywhere else.

We used both daily and hourly itinerary versions, which included all flight, lodging, activity info, confirmation codes, and what I was going to wear each day. This was saved on Google Drive, which is key, because you never have the printed copy when you need it.

Here’s my 10-day Italy Itinerary around Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Lucca, and Florence!

There’s also extra info like train abbreviations, and more reference links for planning.

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HOW WE PACKED

Yes, thank you for asking, I am ready to discuss The Art Of Packing. I spent significant amounts of time on strategic outfit planning so I could mix and match and create like a thousand outfits with just a camisole and neck scarf.

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More so than what I was wearing, I heavily stressed about what I would use to pack what I was wearing. Handbag planning. I implemented the Russian Doll Method for my handbag strategy. See below.

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Average sized suitcase > medium-sized cross body hand bag > fanny pack > card case wallet.

Each container must be able to fit into a parent container!! The strategy is for the suitcase to be able to hold everything so that you can hold as few things as possible while walking around airports and cities. Lane and I walked literally all over Venice IN THE RAIN while holding luggage, one hand pulling a suitcase, one hand with an umbrella. And one hand in my pocket and another one lighting a cigarette.

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If you really want to pretend you’re a Type A Bich, then invest in packing cubes. These are my favorite. You want the kind that zips to open, and then zips again to be compact.

Specifically, I packed:

  • Tops: 1 cashmere sweater (calm down, it was from an estate sale, u got this), 1 black and white stripe tee, 1 black long sleeved leotard, 1 white button-up eyelet blouse, 1 sleeveless : shirt to sleep in but can double as a normal day top
  • Bottoms: 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of cropped wide leg black pants, 1 pair leggings, 1 pair athliesure shorts to sleep in but can be worn during the day
  • Dresses/one pieces: 2 dresses (one sassy, one conservative for church dress codes!), 1 jumper
  • Outerwear: 1 black long sleeved cardigan, 1 rain jacket
  • Shoes: white mules, tennis shoes, adidas
  • Accessories: headband, statement earrings, silk scarff, white baseball cap, and MY NEW FAVE TINY CAT EYES!!
  • Bags: Medium-sized suitcase, medium-sized crossbody bag (my Rebecca!!!) a belt bag (aka fanny pack), and card case wallet.
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a kodak shot of our Lucca hostel, where our bags stayed for the day while we sight-saw (sight-seed???)

WHERE WE STAYED

I recommend doing a mix of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs to get a ~feel~ for it all. If you do AirBnb, only book with a Super Host. I recommend everywhere we stayed.

ROME: More on this in Part II, but we stayed at Hotel Navona (right by the Pantheon) for the first part of the trip, then an AirBnb in Vatican City for the second part. We capped the trip in Rome if you missed that.

VENICE: AirBnb by Rialto Bridge

VERNAZZA: AirBnb

LUCCA: This AirBnb held our luggage for the day before I discovered there are services for that lol!

FLORENCE: This mother-daughter owned Bed and Breakfast was HUGE and by far our favorite, for both quality and service!!! Definitely recommend Casa Pucci.

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I loved the Art inside the Duomo — AKA THE MOST HATED ART IN ITALY LOL HELP ME

WHAT WE DID AND WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT

ROME

  • Colosseum – I mean, duh. I recommend paying for a guided tour here. It’s very affordable and so worth it!
  • Pantheon – We didn’t have time to go in the Pantheon dome, which I know is a crime. But we drank wine in front of it on our first and last night in Italy, which was special and basically the same thing!
  • Trevi fountain – THE TREVI FOUNTAIN BECAME ONE OF MY FAVORITE PLACES because it would constantly catch you off guard and give you the best feeling. You’re literally just perusing crowded alleyways, walking the streets with fellow locals, THEN BAM, out of nowhere is this insanely massive open area with an overwhelming fountain. It’s the coolest!!!!!!
  • Spanish steps – The flowers were not in bloom for us, but this was a perfect after-dinner stroll! Everything is walking distance so it’s super easy to eat dinner, grab gelato, then walk the steps! I’m sorry I keep using exclamation points, just very excited thinking about Italy!
  • Altar of the Fatherland – More on this story in part II, but this was actually one of the first Roman landmarks we saw, and by that I mean we actually didn’t spend any time here or stop to appreciate it enough. Stay tuned, fam.
  • Castle of San Angelo – This was an unplanned, last minute activity — and was so freaking cool!! It’s a first century castle right by the Vatican with gorgeous views of Rome from the top. There’s also a restaurant inside. We didn’t do a tour here, just read all the signs, and it was just as enjoyable. Not too crowded.
  • Vatican City – We capped our trip with an AirBnb just outside Vatican city so we could easily walk and spend all day there. By the end of the trip, I thought I had seen it all. I sweetly thought seeing the Vatican would be just as beautiful as everything else. So sweet. I was so taken aback at the museums, sistine chapel, and finally St. Peter’s, like truly so floored, everything took my breath away. It was surreal. We did a guided tour for the museums — do not book the museums without a guided tour! It was as packed as sardines throughout the whole tour, and it would have been really miserable if I hadn’t been fed information at every stop. The Vatican was our favorite part of the whole trip. We also saw the Pope. We are also catholic now. I would recommend booking the underground tour months in advance – I missed that opportunity. We didn’t have time to do the dome climb at the vatican, next time tho. ONE LAST THING, SAINT PETER IS BURIED THERE. JUST LET THAT SINK IN.

My brain can’t even wrap itself around the magnitude of the Vatican, honestly.

VENICE

  • Rialto Bridge – Try to get an AirBnb near the bridge, it’s where all the fun is!
  • St Mark’s Basilica & Museums – Saint Mark is buried here, please respeck.
  • Doge Palace – Dead serious right now. Do not miss Doge Palace. My regret is not getting a guided tour. We walked around kind of aimlessly and were just constantly taken aback by gilded gold glory. This was my favorite thing in Venice!!
  • Teatro La Fenice – Gorgeous, old theatre filled with all my favorite colors. I so badly wanted to see an opera or musical performance here but there was nothing going on the night we stayed in Venice.
  • Poste Vecie – Oldest restaurant in Venice! “Dal 1500”. That cray.

5

CINQUE TERRE – VERNAZZA

We were in Vernazza for my birthday! The plan was to do a sunset boat tour of all 5 Cinque towns, but it was too rainy. Since we spent half the day traveling from Venice, we didn’t have time to do a hike of all 5 times, which is like the main attraction of Cinque Terre. SO INSTEAD we walked all over Vernazza, had cocktails, napped, ate dinner, and napped. By far the easiest, most restful day of the trip.  Much needed after falling asleep at dinner in Venice but more on that later!!!!!!

Locals told us that “it wasn’t the season” for Cinque, so if this is your main destination, then definitely don’t go until late April or after.

LUCCA

Lucca is perfectly between Vernazza and Florence and is a beautiful, tiny Tuscan town!!!! Lane’s dad’s side of the family actually comes from Lucca/North Italy, and we made the mistake of not asking everyone we met if they knew his ancestors.

The “thing to do” in Lucca is bike the walls, which we did and was fun. What no one tells you about is the hidden shopping in Lucca. It’s not like a “shopping destination” like other big cities, but it’s perfect antique-ing. There was a huge, spread out thrift market, and I’m so mad at myself for not buying more things. There’s also little tented markets throughout the city — Lane bought a leather belt that was fitted for him right on the spot. Which was chic.

You can click on these photos to view them bigger, AKA get a good look at my cat eyes.

 

 

FLORENCE

  • Piazza Santo Spirito: Listing this first for a reason — go here on a Friday or Saturday night if you can squeeze it! It’s the hip, cool, young hang out scene. It’s the Deep Ellum of Florence. Lane and I stumbled upon it and it was awesome people watching and we felt very ~LoCaL~ TLDR: MUST go here on a weekend night for people watching and feeling like a hip local!
  • Fiorentina Futbol game: This was the one thing Lane really wanted to do in Italy. It got rained out and Italy lost. But cross that off ur bucket list, Lane!! TLDRworth it if you love ur sports!
  • AirBnb “Experience”: I was skeptical about this, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the whole trip. If you didn’t know, AirBnb allows you to book “experiences” (in addition to places to stay) so you can get to know locals or other travelers while doing something really cool. We booked a Sunset Pizza tour (rain canceled our sunset tho) and we ate the best Pizza we’ve ever had, and met couples from England, Scotland, andcoloradolol. TLDR: Look into AirBnb experiences if you want to meet Europeans!
  • Climbed the Duomo: A funny story: Lane and I were so moved by the mural at the top of this dome. Like, truly one of those annoying stories about how art moves you when you see it, hits you right in the soul. We died. Then we Googled about it, and discovered it’s like the most hated art in Europe. like lollololol wut. There have been petitions by locals over the years to get it re-painted. loloololol oh. It’s frowned upon for being poorly imagined and executed. Art!!!!!!!!!!!!! But it’s a must-do in Florence, plus the view on top of the dome makes the claustrophobic climb worth it!! TLDR: You MUST climb the Duomo and see inside the church. MUST.
  • Mercato Centrale: This is like “Eataly” except actual Italy stuff in actual Italy. TLDR: Definitely recommend a couple hours and a meal here if you have the time.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo: Another fake Mikey statue. Great view of the city. Live music. Food. TLDR: Great piazza to walk around between meals, great city view, but like also skippable honestly. Had more fun at Mercato Centrale.
  • Hello Wonderful boutique: Welcome to Italy, the store owner, who is also the designer and seamstress, is also the sales associate checking you out. Super cute and dare I say sustainable clothes!!! Shop here if you can! TLDR: A chic Italian boutique to buy your wife a nice shirt.
  • Ponte Vecchio: Everyone has time to walk across this bridge. A fun story: the weekend we got back to the states, I went to an estate sale in Highland Park Village and bought vintage hand-drawn art of this bridge! I literally recognized it, then looked on the back of the frame and saw “With Love, From Florence 1987” on the back. DIEEEEED! TLDR: You have time to walk across this bridge and you must.
  • Galileo Museum: Lane wanted to do this. It was interesting. Not a must-see,  ! TLDR: Go if you’re a super science enthusiast. Also skippable!!! 
  • Bargello National Museum: This was really cool. Lot’s of statues. Go if you can, a lot of people claim this as a must-see, but if you have to sacrifice stuff, cut this one. TLDR: This is a pretty quick museum to walk through, and a lot of people call it a must-see, but I would say it’s skippable.
  • All’antico Vinaio – This is a sandwich cafe that Lane and I did not get to go to because the lines were always SO RIDICULOUS LONG. Multiple friends recommended this to me. Pls let me know how it is. TLDR: Get in line for this sandwich stop immediately after eating breakfast.
  • Galleria dell’Accademia – This is where Michaelangelo lives. BUT ALSO where like a million busts live. I die for busts. I also lost it for all the gorgeous biblical art in here. Michaelangelo takes up all the thunder, but there is so much more!!!!!! TLDR: When in Florence, must see Michael. I mean, duh.
  • Uffizi – I saved this for last because it’s INCREDIBLE. This is the most well known museum in Florence (if not all of Italy???), where The Birth of Venus and Medusa live, among other famous works. There’s so much to see. Overwhelming. So much insane, beautiful art. I bought a “guide to Uffizi” book as we walked out because I felt like I didn’t have time to read enough about paintings while inside, and honestly I want more Uffizi books. TLDR: Dedicate one whole day to Uffizi (OR MORE, HONESTLY) And while we enjoyed without a tour guide, an expert always enhances experiences!!!!!
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so italian

EATING IN ITALY

Brain dump: don’t slice your pizza, don’t share your pizza at the table, eat pizza with a knife and fork, eat all the street sandwiches, a latte is just a cup of milk, drip coffee doesn’t exist, just order a cappuccino, you don’t have to tip, water doesn’t exist, the only beer they have is Peroni, order cacio e pepe, avoid restaurants with english menus, and EAT AS MUCH GELATO AS YOU CAN.

Breakfast “colazione” is served 7a – 11a and typically something sweet like croissant. The routine is to order an espresso and drink it standing at the little bar there, then you leave. There like, aren’t tables at cafes. And you  have to pay to sit at the table. It weirdly felt natural and made sense while there, but typing it out, I realize how insane that sounds.

Lunch “pranzo” is served 12:30 – 14:00, and I would recommend grabbing a street sandwich for something easy, affordable, and DELICIOUS. Save the primi, secondi, contorni courses for dinner.

Snack “merenda” is around 16:00, really any time before dinner, also known as the perfect time to order an Apperol Spritz and caprese!!!

Dinner “cena” is 20:00 – 22:00 is like a grand, royal affair with 89 courses, all of them heavy.  This is a useful guide for eating in Italy.

HOW WE USED THE ITALIAN TRAINS

From Lane: Get the app for whatever station you’re using (we used Frecciarossa). It works exactly like the L train in Chicago. If you do a train pass, MAKE SURE you’re filling it out correctly before using pen, because filling it out wrong can get you into trouble.

From Me: I have no idea how to use trains, or any form of public transportation in general, I’m from New Mexico!!!! I’ll take a Pinot Grigio!!!!!!

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the jacket i bought and the man who sold it to me!

HOW TO BUY A LEATHER JACKET IN ITALY

The tips:

  • Plan to invest at LEAST 250 euros. Don’t buy a cheap jacket.
  • An indoor boutique store will likely be a better buying experience (AKA LESS PRESSURE) than an outdoor market. Don’t buy from anyone pressuring you!!!
  • The fit is supposed to be tight. Like literally a long-sleeved leather top. But should be able to fit one long sleeve shirt underneath.
  • There are so many styles, it can be overwhelming. If you love something and it fits, just buy it, or you’ll be paralyzed in decision making from all the options.
  • There are so many colors, but just buy black.
  • You are absolutely allowed to negotiate a price, even in a “nicer” indoor leather store. They’re more than willing.

The story: 

When we arrived in Florence, we were greeted by troves and TROVES of leather jackets. They were everywhere in tented outdoor markets and indoor stores. Like, Florence is the shopping destination (in addition to Milan I assume!!).

My issue: I had already bought a leather jacket in Venice:):)oopsie daisy:):) I was like dang it, I bought too soon.

BUT!

By the time our time in Florence ended, I was so, so glad I bought a leather jacket in Venice and here’s why: 

One, I didn’t have to deal with an aggressive, slimy salesman. You have to be so brave to shop in some of those Florence markets. Let me tell you, I am not the personality type meant to deal with aggressive Italian salesmen. I cannot. A twenty-minute stroll is not for the weak. I NEVER could have possibly bought a leather jacket under the pressures of a Florence market man.

TwoI did not see a single leather jacket in Florence or anywhere else like mine from Venice. I prefer a simple jacket–no unnecessary decorative zippers, grommets, or metals. Mine has a subtle peplum silhouette and some extra stitching. It feels unique. I didn’t see another leather jacket like it anywhere in Italy. So that must mean it doesn’t exist, because I know everything about Italy now.

The place where we bought my leather jacket in Venice was a very tiny indoor leather jacket store near the Rialto Bridge. An old man wearing a suit was managing the store. There were maybe hundreds of jackets in the store but he was able to pick one that fit perfectly on his second try. It was very lifetime movie scene-y.

I said, “This feels very tight,” but he insisted it fit perfect. I’m telling you if I gain ten pounds it won’t fit, IT’S FINE, BUT I’M NEVER ALLOWED TO GAIN 10 POUNDS KIDDING.

After buying, I noticed what he meant: every single woman wearing a leather jacket in Italy wears it like a fitted, long-sleeve shirt. It’s a much tighter fit than us American gals. Like I can fit one thin-fabric long-sleeve shirt under my jacket if I must, and that’s it.

Being Italian is not for the weak, and weak I am not.

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Lucca thrift market – MUST DO.

SOME FINAL TIPS

  • Go mid-late April. We went early April and met lots of rain in the first half of the trip, but the second half was perfect!
  • Book a driver to pick you up when you land. THIS IS MY MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE. This saved us so much time and headache, and I will never stop recommending this. Plus it’s so fun seeing your name on one of the signs drivers hold!!! If you fly into Rome, I recommend our driver was Sergio from this transfer company!!!
  • Book all museum and tour tickets online in advance. We did this and almost never waited in a line.
  • Book every type of lodging. AirBnbs gave me the most peace of mind by far, because there is so much communication with the host, and booking anything else in Italy truly just felt so foreign and like, communicating with the abyss. No confirmation codes or anything official, it’s weird. WITH THAT SAID, I recommend doing a mix of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and AirBnbs, just to get a feel for it all!! Culture!!!!
  • Book dinners in advance. You do not want to be caught dead eating dinner at 7:00p in Italy, and a lot of places book well in advance. Everything is so small.
  • Learn basic Italian phrases and use them. I half attempted to do this, but with I had really dedicated myself. It would have made interactions so much better.
  • There are services to hold you luggage for day trips. OR you can book a “hostel” AirBnb for $17 for 1 day like we did lol.
  • Museums are closed on Mondays. We made the mistake of planning to be in Florence on a Monday, which meant we had to cram all its museums in on Tuesday. Obviously, not ideal. In hindsight, it ended up being nice because we had a pretty relaxing day for a 5-city/10-day trip. And by relaxing, I mean we almost killed ourselves climbing the duomo, but like other than that, very chill, lol.

Thank you for reading!

Look out for Part II in the series: A daily play by play of funny and tragic things that probably don’t belong on the internet. 

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“Goes to Italy Once”

 

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