Travel

Italian Adventure

Does anyone remember me?! The girl that started a random blog website about her life’s tales a few months ago..

Okay, okay. After a slight reprieve, I’m back! I’m recharged…and I’m not as uh, busy. My goal was to keep consistency with my postings throughout the summer but as many of you can understand, those 3 months are so sweet but so very short, too. From work to family and friends to bachelorette parties and weddings and VACATIONS, it simply felt like there was no time to sit down with my laptop and document everything going on when I was constantly on the move. I did make to sure to keep a mental tally of every ‘blog moment’ but I wanted to fully enjoy every experience in real time.

But as the temperatures get cooler and I enter hibernation mode, I’m able to reflect back on my summer and am so ready to share it with you all!

Let’s start with the biggest highlight I have to speak on …my two-week trip to Italy, the place of my heritage, my first time in Europe ever….and boy, was it amazing and something I’ll never forget. My best friend and I spent the first two weeks of August exploring the cities of Rome, Florence, Pisa and Calabria…all while eating lots of bread, pasta and Antipasto assortments, drinking enough Vino and Aperol Spritzers (if you don’t know what that is, Google it!) to last us a life time and brushing up on our many years of learned Italian. (I may have said graziè to the gas station attendant once I got back to the U.S.)

It truly didn’t hit me that I was going to Italy until I was, well, on Italian soil.

As a first-time Euro traveler, my senses were heightened as soon as the plane landed. I was tired, yet so awake. So alert and baffled. Grateful. In awe. I paid closer attention to the small things like the scent of the air and the music playing on the radio. I thought back to the origins of my family and couldn’t believe I was in the place where it all started. It was surreal.

The difference in Italian/European mentality and culture became apparent right off the bat, as there was no rush to be anywhere in any hurry and life seemed to slow down A LOT.  There was more emphasis on food and hospitality. Conversations were more deliberate and meaningful.  (even with strangers) And work schedules? Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that…

Sometimes Genna and I would stop and stare at one another as we took in our surroundings..”wait, we’re really just hanging out in Italy right now!?”

1. Rome

Rome was the first stop on our two-week journey and what a magical city it truly was. I’ve never seen a place so lively yet intimate all at once. I think what struck me most about this place was the fact that I could be walking down a side street after dinner and suddenly be met by the monstrous pillars of the Pantheon or the illumination of the Colosseum. Or look over my shoulder to see ancient ruins and monuments that were handcrafted centuries before our time but stood as if they were brand new. It’s a crazy feeling knowing you’re in one of Italy’s bustling modern-day cities, yet so much history took place beneath your feet…long before the Gelato shops and street vendors came along. Old World meets New World. No matter how hot or tired we got, the sites in this beautiful city were like a jolt of caffeine that kept us going.

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Our hotel in Rome! Yes, when we got there, the service was a little bit slow and it was different than what we were used to back home, but we LOVED it.
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I know what you’re thinking…how ornate?!? And….what’s with that cheesy Valentine’s Day red?!?! But this REALLY was the full European experience and the look of the room really tied our Roman adventure together!
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The Spanish Steps…
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The Steps offered an excellent view of the city and surrounding monuments..not to mention a great place to hangout!
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The Vatican Museums-Filled with ancient statues and works of art..I mean come on, look at this painted ceiling!!! If you’re going to tour while at The Vatican, make sure to include this in your ticket!
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Don’t forget to cover your knees when entering St. Peter’s Basilica! (or buy a scarf from the vendor like I, and many other women had to) 😛 The tour guides will remind you..otherwise you are critiqued upon entrance.
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The inside of the Basilica is simply breathtaking.
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St. Peter’s Square is a MUST-SEE when in Rome. Granted, Europe was under a massive heatwave this particular two weeks…(pushing 100 degrees in the major cities), we mustered through and it was well-worth it.
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The Colosseum at night gave off major Lizzie McGuire Movie vibes! Also not pictured here but the cover photo of my post, the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi was probably my favorite attraction in Rome mainly because I spent hours wishing I could swim in it due to the heat. More than that, its beauty and detail is unparalleled no matter if it’s viewed during the day or at night.

2. Florence

The second stop on our Italian escapade was the beautiful city of Firenze. From the exquisite shopping and leather district, to the beautiful waterfront views of the Arno River, the feel of this city differed from that of Rome. What made Florence stand out to me rather quickly in comparison to Rome was how much more Americanized it felt. The city is home to many private institutions of higher education, making it a breeding ground for students from the states and beyond. There were even bars, pubs and restaurants geared towards Americans..one specifically pops into my head called ‘The Lion’s Fountain’ which I swear could have been a local spot here in New York. From the chalk on the walls, to the names carved in wood, it was very easy to forget that you were in fact in Italy…until you saw these sites below.

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Piazza Santa Maria Novella..one of the most beautiful squares in Florence. It looks like a postcard!
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The Ponte Vecchio..a gorgeous waterfront shopping area right along the Arno River.
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Picturesque shot of the window fronts of the local jewelers along the Arno.
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It’s breathtaking..especially once the sun starts to set!
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The Love Locks on the Ponte Vecchio…rumor has it that if you and your significant other secure a padlock here and toss the key in the river, you are bounded by an everlasting love! The padlock to tourist ratio seems a little off in this photo…not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
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Florence’s signature attraction, The Duomo or Florence Cathedral. A picture doesn’t do justice when it comes to its grandeur and architecture. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be walking through the square as the church bells toll and totally want to cry…
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Or eat your feelings with a midday specialty Gelato cone.
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Our hotel room in Florence was amazing. (please hold while I remember the name)..
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Sistine Chapel or hotel room?! Perfectly depicts Florence’s class and beauty.

3. Pisa

Okay guys, so as it turns out… Pisa was not originally on our itinerary of stops during our first week in Italy. We were scheduled to leave Pisa Airport en route to Calabria on a night flight, so we had the pleasure of spending an entire day here! A nearby hotel was nice enough to hold our luggage so that we didn’t have to trek across the cobblestones in the blistering sun with backpacks and bags. I remember walking the city that day and Genna kept asking me what my favorite place was so far on our trip.”Pisa, I completely fell in love with Pisa.” Yes, it’s a tiny city but it is filled with so much authenticity. I felt like I was experiencing real, small-town Italy on a different scale. From the restaurants to the horse and carriages, I could not stop smiling.  What you’ll also notice when traveling from city to city in Italy is that the food changes a bit, almost like the dialects of the language. Every area puts their own unique spin on traditional dishes..and most cities are known for a specific dish!

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Of course…the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Up close, it’s truly unreal. It was even more surreal because I wasn’t expecting to see it on my trip! As I was staring at it, I couldn’t help but compare it to a cake topper. Its architecture is so detailed and smooth. It looks fake..actually, the whole time I was here I kept thinking I was really at Universal Studios! I facetimed my mom to show her out of pure excitement.
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Obligatory tower pic…I don’t know what’s better. The lady hiking over the metal fence behind me or the fact that dozens of people were positioned at all different distances with their hands up, aiming for the perfect pic. Some standing on pillars, some on the ground! This was the best I could get…
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Strolling down the streets of Pisa, you’ll find numerous restaurants with outdoor seating..it’s gorgeous.
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Horse and Carriage rides, anyone?
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This was one of the most memorable restaurants. We wanted to escape the afternoon heat so we grabbed a shady table outside. (most Italian dining takes place outdoors.) I couldn’t help but snap a photo of the wooden spoons hanging on the umbrella.. super cute and super Italian mom vibes.
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DELICIOUS refreshing salad on a hot day in Pisa. Mushrooms, shredded carrots, tomatoes, artichokes and mozzarella! Add some crushed pepper and VOILA! Also note that wonderful orange colored can in front of my dish..I LIVED, (I mean, lived) on this iced tea for two weeks in Italy. I am a fan of all things peach and all things tea…so EstaTHE Pesca was my dream. So much so, that I even dropped an order of it on Amazon once I got home!
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Campo Dei Miracoli, Pisa
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This was a wonderful discovery on a 90+ degree day in Pisa. The grand lawn encompassing the leaning tower and Duomo was the best place to catch shade and relax in the afternoon. Tons of people were laying down and enjoying picnics on the grass. It also made for a great photo op, sweat and all!

 

4. Amantea, Calabria 

Phew! Are you tired yet? Well we’re about to unwind. My final 8 days in Italy were spent roasting under the Mediterranean sun, going to the beach, eating lots of seafood and visiting one of my old coworkers and friends that lives in the small, southern coastal town of Amantea. Situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Amantea is split into two sections; ‘old Amantea’ (located in the mountains) and ‘new Amantea’ developed along the coastline. When Azzurra extended me the invitation to visit her in Italy a year back, I couldn’t actually imagine the day it would happen. Let alone to visit Calabria, a piece of my personal history. You see, my father’s grandparents on his mother’s side were from a small town about 30 minutes from Azzurra called Catanzaro. Although I didn’t get the chance to visit that town, being in Calabria was everything I needed to feel super connected to my roots. I could see my own resemblance to strangers walking down the streets and had many ‘ah ha!’ moments while eating some of the traditional dishes out at the restaurants…I’ve eaten the same dishes at home! You could see that a lot of the customs, foods and even decorations had made their way back home to the United States.. I found it incredibly funny and interesting.

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Every morning before heading down to the beach, we stopped for our usual breakfast of a Nutella-filled Cornetto and cappuccino. For both Genna and I, it would cost a total of $4. How’s that for small-town charm? That backdrop isn’t so bad either!
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You’ll find these little prayer parks all over Amantea. We noticed that everyone in town would make the sign of the cross whenever they walked or drove past a church or one of these (it took me a while to comprehend what Azzurra was doing each time we drove through town). Another thing we noticed…they LOVE Padrè Pio!
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Views of Old Amantea up in the mountains.
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Views looking down on New Amantea (from Old Amantea). Fun fact- this photo was taken at around 3AM from a crowded restaurant. Yes, people were still up eating pastries! My eyes were closing…
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Lungomare Amantea-picture Ocean City, MD but Italian style. Restaurants and numerous public and private beaches run down a solitary strip through town. The views are beautiful no matter where you choose to go!
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Views from Il Gabbiano restaurant-one of my favorite restaurants in Amantea. The owner catches all of the seafood fresh and prepares it for dinner at night! (there is no dinner menu, you get whatever they catch) During the day, it’s the best place to pop into for a greek salad or panini when you want a break from the sun! Look at this view from our table..
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Il Sombrero beach and restaurant-we were locals here and enjoyed the BEST linguine and clams for lunch nearly every day. We paid a nominal fee for a beach chair/umbrella rental and got to enjoy the private beach and music from morning to late afternoon. Fun fact– at around 12:30PM each day, the beach would clear out as everyone went home for lunch. We even had the pleasure of enjoying a typical Italian ‘pranzo’ one Friday afternoon at Azzurra’s house. There were around 3 courses of different types of seafood dishes, fruit and dessert….
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La Pecora Nera private beach in Amantea. We spent every single afternoon here and left after sunset. This place will forever have a special spot in my heart. It’s where we swam, relaxed, danced and enjoyed Aperitivo (basically Italian Happy Hour with snacks) nearly every evening. This was my favorite beach in Amantea hands down.
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Typical sunset at Pecora Nera. Beautiful.

I feel blessed that I got to experience two different facets of Italy, both the bustling cities and the calm coastal town. It becomes even more authentic when you get the opportunity to visit someone from the area and live their daily life. If you haven’t traveled abroad before, DO IT.  Please, please do it. To experience culture and life outside of the norm and what you’re used to is beneficial to your growth as a human. This trip made me realize how vast the world is and how much beauty there is to see. I’m already thinking of where to go next.

My takeaways & tips:

  • If you’re traveling to Europe in the summer, prepare for HEAT. I’m talking you walk outside and start sweating type of heat. Italians are not big on air conditioning, either…
  • Comfortable shoes for walking in the cities-I had a pair of sandals break on me!
  • USE the language if you can! I took 5 years of Italian in school and promised myself I’d speak to the best of my ability, as embarrassing as it may be. It turns out, we relied on this in Amantea and I wound up getting better with each passing day. Once people started to respond back to me without hesitation, it meant they could understand me…I felt like a million bucks!
  • Know your hotels and their proximity to local attractions, also understand that sometimes the more boutique-y hotels don’t look like the ones here. We decided early on that we wanted the full Italian experience, so we didn’t want to stay at the generic chain hotels.
  • Try the food. Have the gelato. Don’t count calories. AT ALL. Once you leave, you’ll regret every dish you didn’t taste!
  • Try and pack a separate camera instead of relying on your iPhone, this way you’re not tempted to peruse social media and constantly upload/post. I made it a point to stay off my phone (as much as I could) while touring the cities. BE PRESENT.

That’s my recap on an absolute amazing trip, I hope you enjoyed..

As always, thank you for reading and please share with me your experiences abroad/tips/tricks, too! Hit that subscribe button because there’s plenty more coming your way!

With love,

Amanda

 

2 thoughts on “Italian Adventure”

  1. Your painted a picture for me. So glad I took the time to read thru your adventure. Loved it. Thanks for sharing.

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