The lady who did our wedding invitations advised us not to go to Italy for our honeymoon because there is too much running around and you can’t relax much. On the outside I said “thanks for the advice” and on the inside I said “mind your business, biatch.” AS IT TURNS OUT she was correct!
There are a million things to do in Italy which is good and bad. If you’re looking for culture and history, it’s a great choice. If you’re looking to relax and take it easy, do not go there. The walking alone is a feat. Most of the stairs are original and they are very steep. I wondered on more than one occasion how elderly or physically disabled people get around the cities at all.
Our first stop was Roma (Rome.) Why do we have English names for cities in other countries? Ridiculous. Speaking of language, nothing in Italy is in English…even at the airport and train stations. I recommend some Rosetta Stone time before visiting. One time we bought a ticket to what we thought was a train but it actually was for a bus. Doesn’t matter, we missed the bus.
We stayed at the St. Regis Grand Hotel which was gorgeous and opulent. Tell everyone you’re on your honeymoon because most places will give you something. In Rome it was a room upgrade and in Florence it was a bottle of wine. Nothing in Venice…more on that later.
Rome is HUGE. It’s a very interesting place. It has a bustling city life and then right beside it, and sometimes right in the middle of it, are ancient monuments.
The first couple of days we took tours. The first day was a tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, finishing on Palatine Hill. The next tour was of the Catacombs under the Appian Way, Basilica de San Clemente, and Capuchin Crypts. The Basilica de San Clemente has a Basilica underground beneath it, and then another beneath that one from the 1st century, where you can see the first written Italian language. Amazing. If you’re into creepy stuff like this, it is a MUST DO. I caught myself smiling like a big weirdo when we were underground in the catacombs.
We had a day where not much was planned, so we decided to take a day trip to Pompeii and then to the Isle of Capri. Both were beautiful, but the people were so rude that it put a damper on the day. We found that the farther south we traveled, the ruder people were to us. It was actually really discouraging and made me not even want to go back. Another thing we noticed is that although Italians pretty much all speak English, they aren’t very interested in helping you… but unless you read Italian, you will need help at some point. (Or in our case since we were traveling a lot, at many points.) The only way I figured out how to get to Pompeii and Capri was through comments on TripAdvisor, so later I will explain how to do it.
We visited the Vatican…although neither of us are religious it was still interesting. St. Peter’s Basilica is grand and there is a museum attached. Heads up, don’t bring a backpack if you’re going to the museum. You have to go through security like at the airport and then they make you check all bags, and they neglect to tell you that the only way to get your bag back is to go all the way around the entire Vatican property back where you started to get back to it. It’s about a 20 minute brisk walk back. The Vatican was EXTREMELY crowded. I don’t even want to know what it’s like when the Pope is there. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing Michelangelo’s work at Sistine Chapel. Unbelievable. Photos were not permitted (we found that to be true at several churches) but it doesn’t even matter because the photos I’ve seen online do not do it justice.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Other notable places in Rome: Campo de’Fiori, a square that has tons of restaurants. During the day it’s a market but we didn’t get to see that part of it because we visited at night. To me, it’s notable because we ate at the best restaurant that we visited in Italy: La Pollarola.
Also of interest was Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, or Saint Mary Major’s church. The Pope had a dream that he had to build a church for Saint Mary, so he did. It was so beautiful. The churches all throughout Italy are unbelievable. The craftsmanship, the artistry, the materials…you’ll never see anything like it in America.
We also visited the Pantheon, which used to be a temple dedicated to all of the Roman gods. It is now a Catholic church. It was cool to be inside of it but I wish I could see what it used to look like before it was converted. The outside of it looks SO cool. It was built in 128 AD!!
Unfortunately we did not get to see the Trevi Fountain in action because it is being cleaned. Too bad because it was huge and I’m sure it’s crazy when it’s running. We did get to visit the smaller but still lovely Bernini fountain.
We were in Rome for five days before taking the Frecciarossa (high speed train) to Firenze (Florence.) The trains are smooth and seats comfortable so I didn’t mind the 2 hour trip.
Florence is much different from Rome. It’s still full of shops but the city is smaller and it is surrounded by hills. Our hotel, Il Saviatino, was in a perfect spot. It was about 20 minutes from the city center but it had a free shuttle that we could take. It was up in the hills and it was SUPER quiet. The view was unreal. Florence was Joey’s favorite part of the trip. He said if he were to ever write a book, he would do it there.
View from our hotel
The most notable thing we did in Florence was see Michelangelo’s Statue of David at the Accademia Gallery. We were also supposed to visit the Uffizi Gallery but unfortunately as soon as we got to Florence I got a bad cold and we ended up laying around the rest of the day.
After three days in Florence, it was on to Venezia (Venice.) We arrived at night and, unbeknownst to us, at the wrong train station. We tried to take a taxi to the correct one but the guy was very sketchy about telling us where we were supposed to go, so Joey walked to a nearby hotel and they advised us to take the local train and then a waterbus from there.
After we arrived at the train station on the water it was unclear which waterbus we were supposed to take. I also got hassled by some guys trying to get us to pay 10 euros a bag to put our bags on a boat for us which we clearly did not need. It had been a long day of travel and I did not appreciate trying to be taken advantage of so I just yelled at them until they left.
After we got our ticket to the boat we hopped on. You have to just know which stop to get off at, which I only knew because I had once again looked it up on the comments of TripAdvisor. We had been on the bus for a while before Joey asked the guy which stop was San Zaccaria and he said “next one.” There was no way to tell which stop you were at, so we technically could have been riding around on the boat for hours.
Once we got off at the stop (you have approximately three seconds before they undo the rope and continue to the next stop) we just looked at each other like “now what?” Venice closes down at about 10pm for some reason and by this time it was 11…no shops open, no restaurants open, nothing. There are no cars in Venice so you can’t just tell a taxi driver to take you to your hotel. We walked into the first hotel we could find and they had never heard of our hotel but we gave them a street and they pointed us in the right direction. Then, the road ended. The streets in Venice are like alleyways that wind and turn and end without warning. We were alone, it was dark, at this point we were both sick, and we were extremely frustrated. I yelled out into the night, my voice echoing “THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!!!” An American woman, like an angel, appeared out of the darkness and asked if we needed help. We gave her the address we were looking for and she told us where to go. Just as mysteriously as she arrived, she was gone. Joey “didn’t trust her” but we ended up at our hotel. I remember thinking to myself “even if they were handing out bricks of gold it would not make up for how hard it is to get here.”
We checked in and were shown to our hotel room…on the ground floor. Every time someone checked in or out or took the elevator, we could hear every word. I was thoroughly annoyed by this, but not quite as annoyed as I was by the size of the bed…actually, the size of the room in general. It was constructed for elves. The bathroom door couldn’t be opened all the way without moving our luggage onto the bed. The bed was clearly a twin. I marched those five steps back to the front desk and said that we were supposed to have a King bed. He said “That is a King.” I said that is not a King, nor is it a Queen. He said “All of the beds are the same. They are all Kings.” They don’t have King sized beds in Italy, but they put two mattresses together to make it a King, as I learned at my two previous hotels. I just glared at him silently and then retreated back to my closet.
It was freezing in the room. As I was pushing the thermostat, nothing was happening. When I pressed more forcefully, the unit fell into the wall. I announced I was taking a hot shower and slammed the bathroom door, where the key fell out. The shower had no tub and was flush with the floor, so when I turned the water on, first it sprayed all over the toilet and toilet paper, then got the entire floor of the bathroom full of water. Joey said all he could hear was me in the bathroom yelling “WHAT THE FUCK” and “GOD DAMN IT” as each disaster occurred.
The next day was far better. Joey was his sickest in Venice but we both still enjoyed it. It really is beautiful and unique, and in my opinion, they had the best shopping.
Gondolas in Venice
We left Venice on a Saturday afternoon. Italians take cuts which really grinds my gears, and we couldn’t combat it because we had luggage. We missed the first waterbus because of it. We got on the next one which had a map inside that said the second to last stop was the train station and the last stop was the bus station. When we arrived at the bus station, we assumed we must have missed the train stop and got off. Then we figured out that they changed the order of the stops, so we hadn’t missed it. Then we hoofed it to the train station over this bridge. Please take note of all the stairs. WITH LUGGAGE.
The worst bridge on the planet
The train back to Rome was 3.5 hours, then we took a taxi from there to our hotel by the airport. When we checked in there was a big photo of a clock indicating daylight savings time that night to add a little extra stress to the day. We slept for a couple of hours and then shared a taxi with some other people to the airport. We got dropped off first at the Delta gate. When we walked up to the door it didn’t open. We looked inside and saw no one. It was 4:30 in the morning but our flight was at 6:45 so we knew something was wrong. We flagged down a worker and he told us that the Delta terminal doesn’t open until 5. We pulled out our itinerary and in tiny letters under Delta it said “Operated by Air France.” We asked where the Air France terminal was and were told it was “far.” So we started hoofing it again within the airport property outside. Thankfully a rogue taxi was driving by and so we hopped the fence and flagged him down. Good thing because our terminal ended up being miles away.
When we checked in at the kiosk it said it couldn’t print our boarding passes, then it printed out just our passes to our layover in France. We waited in an extra long line that didn’t move for 45 minutes to drop off our luggage and ask about our next boarding passes. I was a stressball the entire time worrying we would miss our flight, but everyone else in line ended up being on our flight too.
By the time we got through security it was time to board. When we landed in France we had to figure out how to get our boarding passes to the US. We spotted a kiosk and attempted to print them but it spit out a receipt to take to customer service. Once we located that desk we finally got our tickets printed and I started to feel better. We made our way to the gate where it said “Last Call for Boarding.” We were thoroughly confused. We boarded and the pilot came over the speaker apologizing for the “20 minute delay to change a tire.” OHHHHH apparently France does not have daylight savings that day, and our layover was 30 minutes…NOT an hour and 30 minutes. It was a day of many close calls.
We had a good time on the trip but there were a lot of stressful moments. I guess there’s a reason most people go to Hawaii for their honeymoon.
If you’re planning on traveling to Italy, here are some tips:
1. Beware of pick pockets. They were the most prevalent in Rome but they are really in every city. They’ll cut your purse off of your shoulder so cross bodies aren’t a great idea. Everyone wears their backpacks in the front to avoid them. If I wasn’t so repulsed by fanny packs it would have been the perfect solution. Thankfully I had been made aware of the pick pocket situation so I held my purse close like a newborn baby if I carried one at all. Don’t carry a ton of cash or your passports if you don’t need them, and obviously use front pockets only.
2. Take professional tours of sites you want to learn about, but research the company first. We used City Wonders for two of our Rome tours and they were fantastic. Their tour guides are archaeologists so you get a LOT of information that you wouldn’t get otherwise, not to mention you don’t have to wait in long lines! Most of the monuments are not labeled at all so you won’t even know what you’re looking at unless you have a guide telling you. For example, we saw where Caesar died outside of the Roman Forum and where a temple was created for him. It’s so run down now that you wouldn’t know it was anything of significance unless someone told you.
3. Cover up when visiting churches. Some of them, including the Catacombs, Basilica de San Clemente, Capuchin Crypts and St. Peter’s Basilica all require you to have your shoulders and legs covered. You can check online to see what the rules are for individual churches but it’s better to err on the side of caution.
4. Map out where you want to go and google how to get there ahead of time. As I said, most people don’t want to help you, so you have to be as self sufficient as possible. If you’re visiting Venice you will need to figure out which waterbus stop to get off at by contacting the hotel or searching TripAdvisor. To get to Pompeii from Rome: Take the ItaliaRail to Naples (about an hour), then take the local train (downstairs) to Pompeii. To get to Capri from Pompeii: take the local train to Sorrento, then walk down some dangerous stairs to get to the water and take the ferry (about 30 minutes) to Capri.
5. Do not, under any circumstances, rent a car in Rome. You think Chicago drivers are crazy? Try adding no lanes, no stop signs, no yield signs, no apparent speed limit and a stop light only every few miles. Okay now add 1,000 Vespas weaving in and out of traffic and tiny alleys for streets where you can only see if a car is coming if you’re already in the road. Every time we had to use a taxi I think I lost a year of my life.
6. There are street peddlers everywhere with the most in Rome. Don’t be afraid to firmly say “no.” If you buy a selfie stick, we can’t be friends.
7. Change your dollars to Euros at your bank before you leave. We forgot, and we paid dearly for it.
8. Eat gelato. My GOD, the gelato. Also, research food places before heading out. We had a surprising number of mediocre meals. Ask the concierge at your hotel for recommendations. (By the way, the restaurant at the St. Regis had really amazing food.)
9. PACK LIGHT. I cannot stress this enough. You will be walking a ton, you’ll be doing stairs, and if you’re planning on taking the train there’s really only room for one bag per person.
10. Be ready to spend a LOT of money. Pretty much everything in Italy costs money: public toilets are 50 cents to 1 euro, and at restaurants they don’t serve tap water so you have to buy it…and most places have a cover charge just for eating there. I imagine this is different in the outskirts of the cities but it happened almost everywhere we ate. One tip I heard that I put to use was to always drink the house wine. It’s a good price and it’s good wine.
To say it was an adventure is an understatement. I needed a couple of days after we got back just to relax from vacation.