It is time to bite the bullet and write my first post. Within the last couple of years i have been lucky enough to visit a number of countries, the majority of which have been in Europe, but some further afield. But for me one country always stands out from the crowd. It would be easy to put this down to my love of archaeology, in particular the Roman period, but when you visit Italy it is clear that it has more to offer than fantastically preserved archaeological sites. For one the food is always top class (although probably not so great for those with a gluten intolerance), the sun always seems to be shining and the public transport is easy to use. So far i have visited three cities in Italy, all amazing in their own right, although maybe not to everyone’s taste.
Let’s start with the big one, the capital of Italy, Roma. Its an apt place to start as its the first holiday me and my now husband went on back in April 2011. As a self confessed thorough planner of holidays this one was sprung on me with only three days notice as it was a surprise, a great one at that! We went for seven days, which gave us plenty of time to relax but you could easily see Rome in four to five days. Unfortunately i can’t remember the hotel we stayed at but do remember the bath had a built in Jacuzzi setting and the buffet breakfast was to die for! The lack of planning meant that we hadn’t though to look up any Italian phrases so our first outing was somewhat interesting as we smiled and pointed in a stereotypically British way. Needless to say we didn’t use public transport.
The must sees
- Colosseum – take a tour, this way you can beat the queues, we were under 25 when we visited so also got the added bonus of reduced entry. This also gave us entry to the
- Roman Forum – see where the Temple of Caesar once stood, people still leave flowers at this spot
- Trevi Fountain – this can get busy, so getting the perfect photo can be difficult
- Pantheon – make sure when you go inside that you look up at the beautiful architecture on the ceiling
- Castel Sant’Angelo – The mausoleum of Hadrian, this is on the west side of the river, a much quieter and quaint part of the city, which is the best place to eat!
- Altare della Patria – This large white building is difficult to miss and makes some great photos
- Circus Maximus – There is not really anything to see here but it is the former sight of the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium (for any history geeks among you)
- Mausoleum of Augustus – This was in ruin when we visited, but i had learnt about it at University and was determined to see it – Apparently there are now plans to restore the Mausoleum by 2019
- The Vatican – I have to admit we didn’t go inside, the queue was incredibly long, but it still looks good from the outside
With the lack of planning for this trip there is a lot i did not get to see, which i think is the perfect excuse to return one day! The archaeology is just breathtaking. The best food can be found on the western side of the river. We walked here every night as we were told the restaurants in the centre of the city were over priced. The places we ate were incredibly cheap and a number of places offered set menus which included a starter, a pasta course and a meat course, sometimes followed by a dessert! Of course i have to mention the wine at this point, buying house wine in Rome by the litre is the only way to do it in my opinion.
In October 2014 whilst my other half was away with work i decided to book a long weekend to Naples with one of my best friends, a fellow archaeologist. You have probably heard terrible reviews about Naples and i have to admit it is small and not aimed at tourists. However if you want to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum then Naples is the best place to stay due to the direct train from Naples to both these locations. We stayed at Hotel ideal, just outside of the station, an area which as being rejuvenated whilst we were there but does not give off a tourist vibe with many of the locals busily trying to commute to work. But the hotel was cheap, our flights and three nights at the hotel cost roughly £150 through Expedia who i find always do the best deals when it comes to booking flights and hotel together. The bus (costing 3 or 4 euros) which runs from the airport into Naples stopped right outside the hotel.
Our first evening we ventured out to explore, we managed to use the Metro which at the time was being renovated, the only trouble being the machines would not let you change the language to english. We managed to get tickets that worked so we must have done something right. We decided to walk down to the coastline, where the views of Vesuvius were stunning, we walked all the way along the Via Nazario Sauro to the Castel dell’Ovo where we found a restaurant and had the special of seafood pasta (with some wine of course). There is nothing better than eating fresh seafood surrounded by water with the sun shining.
Now lets face it, we went to Naples to see Pompeii and Herculaneum, being archaeologists we had to spend a day at each, which i recommend as the way to do it, don’t try to squeeze both sites into the same day. There is far too much to see and even when you take your time the chances are you have missed something. You can catch the train to Sorrento from downstairs in the main station building (costs approx 4 euros) which stops at both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Entry into pompeii only costs 13 euros (or if you are under 25 like we were, 6 euros 50), which is incredibly reasonable. Everyone will have heard of pompeii as an amazingly preserved city (due to the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD), the highlights for me being the preserved roads, the casts of the people who died during the volcanic eruption and the preserved painted wall plaster (i am usually ecstatic to find even one piece of this in the UK). The only down side to pompeii is the fact it only has one cafe on the entire site, so try and plan your route so you can stop here more than once on a hot day. When you come out of pompeii there are some souvenir stores and a Limoncello shop, which we happily went and had some tasters of before buying some conveniently sized bottles to put in our hand luggage.
The next day we got on the same train, this time to Herculaneum (Ercolano), we got here ridiculously early and decided to catch a coach up to Vesuvius, there are people waiting to grab your attention as you come out the station, so you can not miss it. At first glance the price might seem very steep (20 euros each) but it is the only way to really get to the top of the mountain. We were given an hour and a half once we arrived to climb to the summit and take all our photos. You can buy souvenirs (and wine) at the top. The climb is steep but not very long so is fairly easy if you are healthy (I have asthma and still made it). We then caught our coach back to the station, grabbed some lunch, then headed to the site of Herculaneum which is clearly sign posted from the station. Ridiculously we visited on a day where they opened up the site to everyone for FREE. Although smaller than Pompeii i would say the preservation here is far better with a number of wooden doorways still remaining in tact.
- Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum
- Walk to the summit of Mt Vesuvius
- Eat pizza
I should probably entitle this Milan and Monza as the main reason we visited was due to buying tickets for the full weekend at Monza to watch the Formula 1 in September 2015.
Public transport in Milan was easy to use, with a coach running from the airport to Milan train station (roughly 5 euros) which takes an hour. We then caught the metro and walked to our Hotel, Hotel Palazzo delle Stelline which was right next to Santa Maria delle Grazie which is home to Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. We arrived on the wednesday so had two days to explore Milan. Heres a list of the places we visited:
- Sforzesco Castle – You can’t miss it, you can walk around the grounds for free. A number of museums can be found here, including an Archaeology museum which of course we went into
- Duomo – The gothic cathedral looks stunning from the outside, we didn’t go in, they have a strict policy on having your knees covered which i did not, much to my partners delight.
- Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – this a glass roofed 19th century arcade which houses some designer brand shops such as Gucci. We had lunch at one of the restaurants here, its pretty but very expensive.
- Civic Archaeological Museum – A Greek and Roman museum inside Medieval walls, whats not to love!
The best place to eat in my opinion is at one of the many restaurants along Via Dante which is easy to find as its the main road from Duomo to Sforzesco. We ate here every night, with a choice of sitting inside or as we always do on holiday, sitting outside.
So i NEED to mention Monza, we caught the train from Milan station to Monza station, this was cheap but you must remember to validate your tickets. We had ours checked one day where we hadn’t but luckily we got away with it. There was then a shuttle bus running from the station to the track (costing about 3 euros). The atmosphere at Monza is unbelievable, the home of the Ferrari, the place is littered with Ferrari flags and caps. We only bought general admission tickets (£90 each) but on practice day this gave us free entry to any of the grandstands, we walked around the entire track trying to pick our favourite viewing spot ready for qualifying and then Race day. We decided on the pit entry, opposite the main grandstand. We arrived at about 7am on race day but were lucky enough to get the seat we wanted. Take your own food and drink, we took wine and made sandwiches as the stalls around the track can be pricey. It might also be worth taking some tissues for when you need to visit the toilet as the portaloos aren’t cleaned throughout the day.
Next on my Italy adventure
It has been nearly two years now since visiting Italy and i am starting to miss it. Between the archaeology, the pasta and pizza and of course the wine there is a lot to miss. Luckily i plan on going back as there is plenty more to see.
- Amalfi Coast
- Lake Como
- Rome – AGAIN!