16 Days in Italy

It all started with my step mom wanting to track down her grandfather’s ancestry. He had immigrated from Fossalto.
So, our trip was revolved around that specific destination. Our travel dates were in Sept & part of Oct 2014.

Our journey began in Milan where we stayed at the Hotel BernaIMG_4634The hotel offered a huge complimentary breakfast buffet every morning!IMG_4296While in Milan we visited the Milan CathedralThe Last Supper and took a boat tour of Lake Como  where we were dropped off at Bellagio for lunch.I’ve seen lots of beautiful buildings & churches but I have to say that this is one of the most beautiful structures I have ever seen.

You can walk to the very top of the church and I highly recommend you do so because the views were spectacular!IMG_4257
 It’s 10 euros if you take the elevator or 6 euros for the stairs. We took the stairs and it was a bit frightening to me as the stairs were very steep & narrow.
I recommend you have on tennis shoes if you plan to take the stairs..as you can see, I had on flip flops! Not a good idea!IMG_4219
 Next, we did the Last Supper.
Book tickets here. Admission is only 10 euros and they only allow groups of 25-30 in at a time and for only 15 mins.
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The Last Supper was fascinating & being able to see something that had been painted so many years ago was an unforgettable experience.

Leonardo da Vinci began work on The Last Supper in 1495 and completed it in 1498—he did not work on the painting continuously.

The beginning date is not certain, as the archives of the convent for the period have been destroyed, and a document dated 1497 indicates that the painting was nearly completed at that date.

Unfortunatley, no pictures were allowed. Reservations must be made early as tickets sell out very quickly!

The next day we spent doing a boat tour of Lake Como. Book tickets here,

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 Lake Como was beautiful. We spent approximately 2 1/2 hrs on the boat(which was public transport) and were dropped off at Bellagio for lunch.

We spotted George Clooney’s house on the lake. He also happened to be in Venice getting married during our trip. Sadly, no sightings of him though.

 George Clooney’s home on Lake Como

 Walking around the markets in Bellagio

 We sampled the cheese and it was awesome!

Lunch at Pontico Pizza…….authentic Italian pizza!

After lunch, we visited a nearby church.IMG_4347

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IMG_4494After spending a few hours in Bellagio, we boarded the boat and headed back to Milan where we had dinner at Momma Rosa ….Linguini with crab meat. I bit into several pieces of crab shell while eating this…I wasn’t impressed.

 After spending two nights in Milan, we headed to Verona . Such a quaint place. We stayed at the Hotel Giulietta e Romeo  which we all loved. We chose this hotel due to its proximity to the arena.

We visited the arena, the famous Juliet’s balcony and Juliet’s bronze statue(very croweded), the Lamberti Tower, which provided awesome views (pictured below), an old church(can’t remember the name), and the Castelvecchio, a very old castle with beautiful views of the water and bridge.

The arena was built in AD 30 on a site which was then beyond the city walls. The ludi (shows and games) staged there were so famous that spectators came from many other places, often far away, to witness them.

It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there.IMG_4693

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Next was Juliet’s balcony… you can also see Juliet’s statue in the bottom left of this pic..Apparently if you rub Juliet’s breast, it brings you good luck so I had to do it! 🙂

IMG_4814IMG_4838As you can see, this is a different statue than the one you see in my first picture. The one in the 1st picture is a replica because the original had been damaged by tourists. The one in this picture is the original statue that has now been moved inside the museum.

You have to go through the museum to reach the balcony. I don’t think you’re supposed to touch the original anymore but I couldn’t get to the replica and I really wanted good luck! 😉

Next was the Castelvecchio. It was constructed on the banks of the Adige by Cangrande II della Scala in 1354 in order to defend Verona’s people and for them to have a possible escape-route.IMG_4876

IMG_4910IMG_4896We then climbed the Lamberti Tower

 Views from atop the Lamberti TowerIMG_4757Later that evening we ate at Ristorante Greppia where I had one of the best, if not the best, meals while on our 16 day journey…mushroom truffles over pasta ….Delicious!

After dinner, we had coffee and dessert at an outside cafe by the arena. What a great way to end the day!

IMG_4924I couldn’t resist getting a picture with this metal heart sculpture.

After Verona, we took a train to the City of Love…yes, that would be VeniceIMG_4956Tip – Make sure you validate your ticket before boarding the train. These are found on the platform where you wait for your train.

What a sight to behold as we exited the train station! I couldn’t believe my eyes…I actually stood there speechless for a minute!.Venice is truly an amazing place!IMG_4981We had to take a boat to our hotel. After you book a hotel, they will tell you which boat to get on and what stop to get off at.

The most challenging thing about staying in Venice is that you have to drag your luggage up and down stairs and walk through crowded streets as you navigate your way to your hotel! Not fun!IMG_4983

IMG_4998We stayed at the Residenza fa scola (I think the name has now changed to B&B Residenza degli Angeli )..and I have to say, it was absolutely amazing.

We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room AND 2 balconies overlooking the canal. They also provided breakfast items in our room each morning.

Standing in front of the entrance of the hotel.

IMG_5007After walking through the front door you could see how much history and charm this place had.

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Our first stop of the day, the famous St Mark’s Square & Cathedral ..It was breathtaking!
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The Cathedral was amazing!IMG_5065IMG_5068
After our visit here, we had pizza for lunch (yes, we ate lots of pizza!) & just walked around to familiarize ourselves with Venice.IMG_5042

 Fish MarketIMG_5176You can really get lost wandering through all the little alleys!

Besides the famous Rialto Bridge there is also the Accademia Bridge which is one of the cities most famous, elegant wooden bridges that goes over the Grand Canal. It was built in 1854.IMG_5041 You can’t visit Italy without having some gelato!

Later that evening, we had dinner at Al Calice Trattoria… I ordered the pasta with scallops …the scallops were definitely not like the scallops back in the US..not as good.IMG_5196
The next day we took a ferry (called a vaporetto in Italy) to Burano and Murano. It’s about a 40 minute ride from Venice.IMG_5286IMG_5307
We first arrived at Burano…Burano is best known for its lace. The women on the island have been experts at lace since the 1400’s. Leonardo da Vinci himself visited to shop for cloth that he used on the altar at the Duomo di Milano.IMG_5365
It’s also full of colorful homes. If you live on Burano and wish to paint your house, you must send a letter to the government, and they’ll reply telling you which colors you’re allowed to paint it.
There are many restaurants and shops as well as vendors selling their goods.

IMG_5323 And guess what we ate for lunch? Yes, you guessed it….Pizza!

What a great little find…the Devil’s Pizza Take Away. They not only have pizza but great sandwiches, salads, snacks and a wide variety of drinks.

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Click here for more things to do in Burano.
You had to pay to use the restrooms IMG_5372IMG_5373
After visiting Burano, we got back on the ferry and headed to Murano. Murano looks a lot like Burano with all the colorful buildings, canals and bridges. IMG_5370IMG_5387

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IMG_5400Murano, as most of you know, is best known for its blown glass. They have several glass blowing demonstrations…some which are free and others that charge a small fee.

Be sure to purchase a beautiful, one of a kind piece…I purchased several pieces and was so glad I did!

Tip –Because so many souvenir shops try to pass off cheap Chinese counterfeits as Murano glass, true Murano glass is now protected with a trademark. Look for the “Vetro Murano Artistico” trademark decal in the windows of shops and showrooms that sell authentic Murano glass.

 Watching a glass blowing demonstration…..so interesting and amazing!

Click here for more things to do in Murano.

After spending the day at Burano & Murano we headed back to Venice to take one of those famous gondola rides. What an experience! A must do!

Prices vary…click here to book a gondola…or just look for a gondola that’s available. We didn’t book in advance.

The famous Rialto Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1591 an is one of the top tourist attractions in Venice.
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IMG_5448After the gondola ride, it was time for dinner. We ate at Da Mamo Trattoria which is on the SE side of the Rialto bridge.

I ordered the pasta with seafood. The waiters spoke English and the menu was in English…definitely a plus for us! 😉

The restaurant had a 12% service charge but no cover charge. Most restaurants in Venice charge both. Meal was just ok…not crazy about the prawns.

After dinner, we found an outside cafe by the water and ordered dessert.IMG_5216

After we left Venice, we moved on to our next stop,  Bologna.

Click here for more things to do in Venice.

After we arrived in Bologna by train, we checked into the Met’s Apartments…very nice and modern.IMG_5525

IMG_5526However, it was a walk from the actual hotel where we had to check in and we could only communicate with the front desk if we contacted them online…very inconvenient.

We went to Da Peitro Trattoria to have their tortellini in broth….this is a well known dish in Bologna and it was very good.

After lunch, we saw a dessert on the menu that we just had to try. It didn’t sound good but I never say I don’t like something until I’ve tried it. Vanilla ice cream with balsamic vinegar….It was delicious!!IMG_5516
Bologna is a very beautiful city. It’s definitely not as touristy as the other places we visited and, at times, we felt somewhat out of place.
It was more upscale and we found it hard to navigate but we are all directionally challenged. 😉 Not many of the locals spoke English so that proved to be a challenge for us as well.
Tip – There are apps that you can download that will translate your language into any other language.

We took the Big Red Bus tour and it was a joke. It’s a hop on/off tour. We got off twice and after getting off the 2nd time, we headed back to a bus stop where, after waiting approximately 30 mins for the bus, it flew by us and never stopped!

It was a wet, rainy day when we visited which only added to the negative experience we were having…We felt the locals weren’t as friendly here as they were in the other areas we had visited.

 Don’t get me wrong, Bologna is beautiful but we only had one day here and our experience was less than stellar because of several reasons.

 The Asinelli Tower

 A beautiful city with lots of colorful buildings

 One of the many beautiful porticos in Bologna. There’s about 30 miles of Porticos in Bologna.

 I was thinking this was an old church but I’m not sure if I’m remembering correctly.

Click here for more things to do in Bologna.

We ended our day with dinner at Trattoria Dal Biassanot….I ordered the pasta with asparagus and bacon. It was good ….we enjoyed most of the food we ate in Italy.

The next day we rented a car(don’t ever use Europcar!) in Bologna and headed to my step mom’s grandfather’s birth place, Fossalto, which is in the Campobasso region.

Ok, the experience we had here was truly priceless. This place is tiny…less than 2k people live here. There were only 2 people that spoke English(1 broken).

If you can ever make it to this small region, I would HIGHLY recommend you make a stop here.

Click here and here for more things to do in this area.

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The locals trying their best to understand why we were there. Very kind, warm people who welcomed us with open arms to their tiny little village.

 Yes, we had pizza for lunch at the only pizzaria in this tiny village. We were the only ones in the restaurant. I have to say, it was the best pizza that we had on our trip!IMG_5766

We asked if we could have a salad and this is what we ended up with……Not what we were expecting but guess what? It was out of this world! We ate every bite of both pizzas.

We then went a few doors down to the gelato shop. This sweet little lady even motioned for my step mom to go behind the counter with her.

We were then taken on a tour of the village by the local journalist that spoke broken English. They even opened up the church for us so we could see the inside. These people were so kind to us!

The next morning we went back because the records building was closed. They were pulling out records from the 1800’s trying to find my step mom’s grandfather. What an experience!

While visiting Fossalto, the journalist even wrote a story about us coming there. She took our picture and included it with the story…so many memories!IMG_5824
 The journalist, Agnese, taking my step mom’s information for the newspaper.
She later emailed us a copy of the article after it was published. enhance
Me standing on the terrace at our hotel, Hotel Domus. This place was truly amazing! It had stunning views of Bagnoli del Trigno.. Read reviews here.

IMG_5730Lobby of hotel

After we left Fossalto, we headed to Sorrento. But our first stop would be the ruins of Pompeii.

The city of Pompeii was small and unimpressive and seemed somewhat sketchy for lack of better words.IMG_5928However, we were here for one purpose and that was to see the ruins.… so, after several minutes of navigating through the town, we finally found a parking lot.

The first thing we saw after entering the grounds was the Amphitheater.

It is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater.and was built around 80 BC. It was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Purchase tickets here.

The most amazing and sombering sight were the remains of those who perished in the volcanic eruption so many years ago. You can only imagine what they must have gone through on that fateful day.IMG_5990
 Walking the grounds of the ruins took you back in time.

IMG_5966IMG_6021After our visit of the ruins, we had lunch at a sidewalk cafe called Open BarIMG_6038IMG_6043We then headed to Sorrento…After a very stressful drive, we finally arrived to what would be our home away from home for the next 3 days…the Villa La Terrazza.

This place was beautiful. A charming, historic Italian villa built in 1896 with magnificent views and warm Italian hospitality.

I would definitely recommend the Villa Terrazza but, with that being said, for what we paid to stay here, the amenities and cleanliness of the place could have been better.

IMG_6102The amazing views of the Amalfi Coast from the terrace of the Villa Terrazza.

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A view of our hotel from the boat tour we did (below pic)IMG_6593

After arriving in Sorrento, we headed out to dinner. We ended up eating at Syrenuse.IMG_6094The next day, we had arranged a tour with the owner of the Villa Terrazza as he also owned a boat and offered tours to Capri and the Blue Grotto.

This is an absolute must do if you are ever in Sorrento.IMG_6180IMG_6184Book tours from Sorrento to Capri hereIMG_6231IMG_6284

After touring around the coast in the boat, we finally arrived to Capri.IMG_6394

The tour included a lunch at Restaurant da Gioia. The windows were open and had spectacular views of the water. The food was very good.IMG_6445

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IMG_6386We were planning on taking a boat inside the Blue Grotto however, when we arrived, the boats were no longer running. So, we decided to jump in and take a swim inside.

I have to say that I was a bit apprehensive at first as you can see how small the opening is that you have to swim through …there is a chain you can hold on to and pull yourself inside.

It was truly an amazing experience. So glad I was brave enough to do it. However, I have since read that it’s illegal and dangerous to do this. Yikes!

Read when to visit the Blue Grotto as well as the best time, hours and tickets here.

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The next day the owner also booked a driver to take us on a tour of the Amalfi Coast…a MUST DO!
Jaw dropping views of the sea and mountains. ..words can’t describe the beauty that was before us.
Book a tour from Sorrento here
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We stopped here to have our picture taken and noticed a guy selling fresh squeezed lemonade so we had to try some…it was so good and refreshing!IMG_6714
IMG_6743While here, we did a short tour (45 mins) of the Museo della Carta (Old Paper Mill).
During the tour, they asked if anyone was interested in “making” paper. Of course, I volunteered and was given my paper at the end of the tour…very cool!

IMG_6875We then headed to the Cathedral of St Andrew. This is a 9th-century Roman Catholic cathedral. It is dedicated to the Apostle Saint Andrew whose relics are kept here.

I highly recommend you make a stop here…it is beautiful!IMG_6884IMG_6889IMG_6900

IMG_6924IMG_6938IMG_6954We also visited the Villa Rufolo in Ravello.  The villa was built by the wealthy Rufolo family in 13th century.IMG_7064IMG_7085

IMG_7027It is definitely worth a stop…the grounds are beautiful and the views are spectacular!IMG_7052

Later that evening, we finished up our day with dinner at Divina Sorrento Trattoria Pizzeria( good but bland).After 3 wonderful days in Sorrento, we headed to Cinque Terre  but we would first stop off at Pisa for a day/night. We wanted to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The construction of the Tower of Pisa began in August 1173 and continued for about 200 years due to the onset of a series of wars. The name of the architect remains a mystery.

We had visited here during our first trip to Italy but we were not able to climb the tower due to time constraints.

We stayed at the Residenza d’epoca Villa Tower Inn  due to its proximity to the tower. However, we were very glad we were only there for a night as I would never want to be here more than that.IMG_7185It had 4 single beds in 1 room and the air wasn’t working when we arrived. It was right on the main road and we heard traffic all day/night.

We arrived late in the day, so we just went and snapped a few pics of the tower before it got dark… the following day is when we were actually going to climb the tower.

Later that evening we had dinner at Enoteca Toscano. I ordered the lasagne and it was just ok..it looked and tasted like it had been overcooked.IMG_7173IMG_7179
The next morning, we headed to the tower for our tour. Thankfully, our hotel ended up holding our luggage until we were done but they weren’t very friendly about having to do it.

I would definitely recommend you making a stop to climb the tower because the views were awesome!

This pic was taken inside the tower and looking up to the top.IMG_7203IMG_7216Views from atop the towerIMG_7225After our tour, we were ready for lunch…and it was Pizza again! We ate at Antica Trattoria AntoniettaIMG_7292IMG_7291The next morning we headed to Cinque Terre. We took the train to all of our destinations but one and that was Fossalto. We rented a car for there and then dropped if off in Sorrento.

 Ok, let’s move on to a much more beautiful, serene place…Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia.

“The Five Lands” comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea.

Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside.

We stayed in Monterosso as it is the flatest of all the 5 villages. We stayed at the Hotel Porta Roca and I would highly recommend it. This is the view from our hotel….simply gorgeous!!

Pics of MonterossoIMG_7373IMG_7365
We arrived later in the day so we ventured out to find a place to eat. We settled on the Ristorante Moretto for a delicious pasta and seafood dish.The next day, we started visiting the villages…the first stop was to Vernazza…so beautiful and quaint as were all the 5 villages.
Then Manarola.….stunning views!IMG_7467

After all the walking we had to do, we were ready for lunch and you will never guess what we ate? Yep, pizza again! We ate at La Scogliera while we were in Manarola.IMG_7444Cinque Terre is known for it’s hiking trails. You can hike from one village to the next and lots of people come here to do just that.

However, it had rained a lot before we arrived and we were told by the hotel staff that it wasn’t a good time to hike as the trails could be very dangerous. However, we saw a lot of people hiking.

You have to buy a ticket to hike the trails. These are avaialble at the train station or you can buy them online along with train tickets here.

Then on to Riomaggiore……each village is accesible by ferry however, the waters were too rough while we were there and the ferries weren’t running so we used the trains that ran often and were very reasonable.

Just make sure you are on the right platform.IMG_7511The next day we took a bus to Porto Venere. It wasn’t on our itinerary but was suggested to us by someone we had met in Cinque Terre. We are so glad we did as it was such a charming and beautiful place.IMG_6433

Portovenere, is a great little waterfront area with awesome views..Live bands, great restaurants and a somewhat less touristy feel that permeates the “true” Cinque Terre towns.

When visiting this region, I highly recommend you wear good walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of it and there are steps every where.

We had lunch in Porto Venere at a small, waterfront cafe called Al Gabbiano.

They offered a variety of sandwiches, pizzas & other Italian dishes….and yes, even french fries. It was very good.

We walked around the San Pietro Church…this is a lovely little church situated high on the point overlooking the town. It was built in 1256. Read reviews here.

The steps up are easily managed and the church itself is quaint and interesting. The views from this point are breathtaking!! Not to be missed…the photo ops here are endless!IMG_7694

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This was a nice surprise ….can’t say that I’ve ever seen a submarine above water level while in motion.

Such breathtaking views at every turn! We also went inside this church but I can’t remember the name.IMG_7696IMG_7701The fort…..click here for more things to see and do in Portovenere.

This was taken as I was walking up to the fort at Portovenere…you have to walk up many steps and narrow alley ways….you will be walking through residential areas to get to the top.

IMG_7738Later, we ended our day with dinner at Ristorante II Casello in Monterroso….very good food and we were seated on the terrace overlooking the sea.A little later, we ordered dessert at the hotel….so good just not enough of it! 😉

The next day, we had a few hours to venture out before we had to take the train back to Milan. So, we ended our last day by visiting the last of the 5 villages, Corniglia.

But first we had breakfast at the hotel…look at these views!IMG_7775We then caught the train to CornigliaIMG_7837To reach Corniglia, it is necessary to climb the Lardarina, a long brick flight of steps composed of 33 flights with 382 steps or, otherwise follow a vehicular road that, from the station, leads to the village.

Sometimes a small bus runs up and down here. We took the stairs and it was exhausting!

Corniglia sits atop a 300 ft high rocky promontory surrounded by vineyards. It’s the only village out of the 5 that doesn’t have a direct access to the sea.

There are lots of vineyards all over Cinque Terre. Some of the owners have installed several dozen miniature cog-wheel monorails that snake through the vineyards stopping at collection points to make it easier to harvest the grapes.

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The cog wheel monorail

IMG_7812IMG_7811After being stuck on a train for 6 hrs because of flooding, we finally made it back to Milan.

We checked into the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport hotel…..it was late and we were tired so we ordered room service…our last meal before flying back home the next day.

This hotel was awesome!! Check it out if you are planning a trip to Milan.

 The rooms here were huge! I was so excited to finally be sleeping in a bed that was actually big enough for 2 people. The beds in Italy are so tiny compared to the ones in the US…especially when you are used to sleeping in a king size bed every night. IMG_7856

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 Goodbye Italy! It was fun!
Thanks for reading! I hope this will help you plan your own trip to Italy.