You know that feeling you get when you're still on a high following a vacation? Well, that would be me right now, even though it's been almost two weeks since I've been back home. After visiting Greece last year and falling in love with Europe all over again (the last time I had been was a decade before when I visited family in Poland and had a school trip to Spain that same year), heading back was most definitely on my radar, although I didn't quite expect to be in the Mediterranean again exactly a year later! When my sister and I were brainstorming our next travel destination, Italy came up and we both sort of looked at each other and just nodded in agreement. We decided to put a twist on this trip and try backpacking for the first time. Since we would be moving around quite a bit and visiting multiple cities we figured it would makes things a lot easier, and we surely do not regret our decision! I also challenged myself to vlog our adventure - I absolutely love watching travel vlogs so I figured why not give it a try? I really hope you enjoy watching my video (this was my first time vlogging so it is quite different from my usual YouTube content, but was still super fun to film and put together nonetheless!)
We opted to start up north and make our way down south, beginning our journey in Venice followed by Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, Naples and Pompeii for a grand total of six cities in just under 14 days. Trains are one of the best ways transit systems in Italy, so we opted to used the Trenitalia FreciaRossa high speed line to get around (tickets are quite cheap and at a speed going up to 300 km/h you save on travel time, too)! For sightseeing, we used the Hop On Hop Off bus tours in each major city we visited that offered it. We included a few day trips as well, and rented our apartments through Airbnb everywhere expect for Venice as we were able to find the best deals this way (you can get a C$40 Airbnb rental credit via this link)! After trying the service out last year in Greece, we really enjoyed that we got to live like the locals and to really immerse ourselves in the culture and environment.
Venice is said to be unlike any other place on earth, and I'd have to agree. Only accessible by boat or by foot, it's basically like going back in time to the pre-automobile era, meaning there are also no street lights or stop signs, which I found so refreshing.
Over 400 bridges link the 100+ islands that make up the city, and as you can imagine that means you can look forward to a lot of walking and getting lost in the narrow cobblestone streets. While being by the water can be a bit noisy from the passing boats, the inner streets are unusually quiet, especially away from the touristic hot spots.
Attractions include the city's biggest bridges built over the Canal Grande (Ponte di Rialto, Ponte dell'Academia, Ponte degli Scalzi), the Basilica and Piazza San Marco as well as the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), which today houses a museum and old prison, as well as the famous Bridge of Sighs.
As you can imagine, we indulged in lots of delicious Italian food, and the pizzas we had there didn't even compare to the ones back home.
We booked a Venice Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing boat tour and island hopped to Lido to squeeze in a bit of beach time which you can see in my vlog, and then headed to Murano, famous for glass making.
After spending a few days in northeastern Italy, we packed our bags and took a train to our next destination, Florence. We had booked an apartment across the bridge from the city center, as we had read everything would be in close proximity.
When in Florence, you cannot miss the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge that spans the Arno River.
There are many little shops spanning the length of the bridge, and the merchants mostly sell jewelry. This bridge really is unlike any other one I've ever seen!
Florence was booming with tourists despite us being there in the beginning of the off season. Many shops line the streets, and there were quite a few musicians busking and playing classical music which added to the atmosphere of the old yet well-preserved city. We even spotted a carrousel in one of the main squares!
We quickly realized just how walkable this city is, which we were really happy about as we didn't have to spend too much money on taxis and such.
The magnificent Duomo, Florence's cathedral, stood out from the rest when we got to see this panoramic view of the city from the Piazzetta Michelangelo.
When we first saw the Duomo, our jaw dropped - not only is the structure tall, but it also stretches for what seems to be an entire street block!
Cinque Terre is a short drive away from Florence, and after seeing the most breathtaking pictures on Instagram and Pinterest, we knew we couldn't pass it up. We hopped on a bus and spent the day there on a guided tour. If you've never heard of Cinque Terre, it basically consists of five seaside villages (Monteresso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) that are on the coast of the Italian Riviera and are famous for their pastel-coloured buildings and elevated land propitious for agriculture.
You can get from one village to the next by train or even by boat, however one of the main things you can do is hike from village to village, which we got to do between Corniglia and Manarola. The hike is definitely challenging and you will definitely get a sweat on. We also warmed up by climbing 400 stairs in Corniglia beforehand, so altogether we got a good two hour workout in!
The contrast between the surrounding grape fields and the houses was such a treat to see with our own eyes and not through a screen for once!
Typical of Italy, you can see clothing lines on the front of people's houses, and lots of shops and restaurants along the sloped streets.
As you can see, I was a very happy traveller! There's just something about crisp blue water and a lovely coastal breeze - it's like medicine for the soul.
We were able to hike at our own pace, meaning we got to stop for some lovely photographs and even got a taste of fresh squeezed Italian lemonade at a café we came across on the trail.
We were greeted by a stunning beach once we made it to Monterosso Al Mare. There is a beautiful private beach there, but unfortunately we didn't have enough time to access it.
Seeing the cliffs from sea level made us realize just how grandiose the region is, and how much we'd actually hiked!
Next stop, Italy's most popular destination, beautiful Rome. We spent the most days in this city as there is so much to do and so much to see. Once again, our apartment was on the other side of the river in Trastevere and we maintained our fitness by using our own two feet as transportation on most days!
After seeing the Athenian ruins last year, we were really excited to see their Roman counterparts, but what we did not expect was to see so many of them, and scattered a bit everywhere across the city. The Largo di Torre Argentina pictured above even houses a cat sanctuary, which was so neat to see!
We got a taste of the Roman Forum when walking around on our first day there, and knew we had to spare some time later on to fully explore.
The Vittorio Emanuele II monument, dedicated to the first king of Italy and made of white marble, is probably my favourite attraction in the city. It is huge and the detailing on the statues and walls is beyond impressive!
There is beauty everywhere you turn in Rome, from statues, to ruins, to fountains to umbrella pine trees that add a pop of green here and there.
We dedicated a good half a day to visiting The Vatican, also known as the world's smallest country! Funny enough, there isn't actually a border to cross and it is easily accessible from Rome.
We went on a guided tour of the Vatican museum and gardens, and got to see the inside of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.
We then made our way to Piazza Navona, characterized by intricate fountains and as with anywhere in Rome, crowds of people admiring the architecture.
We walked to the Pantheon, an ancient temple from c. 100 AD which today house a church and got to hear an opera singer perform in the square right by it (catch him at the end of the video)! The Trevi Fountain was on our list of things to see, so we made our way there the following day with Rome's Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing Bus.
Being vegan, I basically ate pizza, pasta and bruschetta day in and day out, and I surely didn't complain!
After spending some time on Palatine Hill, we made our way to the Colosseum, but not before stopping for some delicious sorbet.
We didn't have enough time to visit inside, so we went back the following day to really take it all in. It was so interesting learning more about the Colosseum and the gladiator fights that took place there centuries ago.
The last major leg of our trip was heading south to Naples, also known as the birthplace of pizza. We had read that the south of Italy was much different from the north, and we quickly noticed this change in scenery.
Quite a few buildings lack upkeep or are even abandoned, and you can often see piles of garbage lining the streets as there is an ongoing waste management issue that has plagued the urban region for years. On the other hand, we were captivated by the many structures that are still in great condition and add to the beauty and uniqueness of the city.
No surprise, the best pizzas were to be found here. We visited two of the world's oldest and voted best pizzerias, Pizzeria Di Matteo (where Bill Clinton was spotted in the late 90's) and L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele (where Julia Robert famously ate a slice of margherita pizza in a scene of the movie Eat Pray Love).
Lucky for us, our apartment was very close to both pizzerias, so we got to decide which of the two was actually best in our opinion. Let's just say L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele was a huge hit, as we ate there three nights in a row! Pictured is actually a funghi pizza from a different pizzeria in Naples since my pictures of the yummiest pizza ever came out blurry (damn you crappy night light)!
We got to see the Castel Nuovo up close, a stunning medieval castle, during our Hop On Hop Off tour and were treated to some pretty picturesque views of the city and Mount Vesuvius in the distance, one of the world's most dangerous active volcanoes today (more on this menace below).
Naples used to be one of Europe's most prominent ports back in the day, and it is still one of the most important seaports in the Mediterranean sea.
On our last full day in Italy, we booked a guided tour to Pompeii to visit the ruins. It was very interesting to hear how the site was accidentally discovered in the 1700s and how excavations continue until this day.
Since this town was covered for nearly two thousand years before being dug out, the building and wall art are in spectacularly pristine condition. It was so interesting to learn how back then, Pompeians went to publics spas daily to prevent illnesses, ate at restaurants and shopped at stores and boutiques as we do in the 21st century.
We even got to visit what we were told was a prominent family's home, with most of the wall art and engravings still intact.
Most of the artifacts are in the Naples National Archeological Museum which we sadly didn't have enough time to visit, but we still got to see hundreds of objects such as vases and urns on site, as well as a couple of plastered bodies of victims of the tragic eruption that killed thousands in 76 AD.
We got a last taste of Italian pasta before departing for our hike to Mount Vesuvius. Call us crazy but we really wanted to get up close and see what an active volcano actually looks like!
We drove on the steep meandering road and stopped a kilometer away from the crater, and hiked the steep trail to the top. The last eruption was in 1944, so we got to see some of the Earth's newest soil, an intriguing light red shade. I even brought a piece of crystallized volcanic rock back home with me which I purchased from vendors at the top!
As you can see, the slope is very steep and many people relied on walking sticks to keep their balance, but we wanted to be full on daredevils and decided to make use of our own sheer bodily strength.
I was expecting to see a pot of boiling lava like you would on the Discovery Channel, but we were instead greeted by a seemingly calm depression. We weren't fooled however, as we did notice some steam coming out from sections of the crust and were very much aware of the activity occuring a mere eight kilometers beneath the surface.
Whew! That concludes my trip to beautiful Italy. This was a long one but I had so much fun putting the video and post together so that I could share my adventure with you! I hope you enjoyed!
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