Tuesday, July 4, 2023


 Italy is an incredibly beautiful country with a rich history that has influenced so much of the world through its politics (the Roman Empire), art and culture (the birth of the Renaissance), language, and cuisine.  We decided to travel here during the summer of 2023 to visit some friends who were stationed in Vicenze (an hour outside of Venice) and spent a lot of time studying up to prepare for our trip!

Video List

  • Geography Now! Italy
  • Flag/Fan Friday ITALY! - We also watched the heritage trip that he talks about at the start of the video, which wasn't particularly informative about Italy but still a very moving story and great to watch.
  • What You Should Know Before You Visit Italy (Wolters World) - my kids are not as excited about Wolters World videos as they are for the Geography Now! videos, but I find them super informative.
  • Tourist Scams in Italy (Wolters World): free stuff, unofficial train helpers (ticket purchases or porters), things are just more expensive than you think, petitions, pickpockets, beggars, gelato stain or bird poop stain to distract, pay for photo ops, knock off bags and jewelry, receipt check fines (fake) - the only one I actually ran into while we were in Italy was someone trying to grab my luggage to help me over the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
  • What NOT to do in Italy - good tips for setting expectations for traveling in Italy
  • 15 Italian Words You Need to Know Before Coming Italy - we used most of these phrases while we were there (and I also spent a couple of months learning Italian in Duolingo).
  • The Renaissance (Crash Course World History) - There is so much art and history connected to the Renaissance, so we watched this video so that our kids would understand the importance and historical context.  It is very entertaining and quick-paced.
  • The Florence Cathedral - explains the basic facts and importance of the Florence Cathedral, which was on our itinerary

Here is some information that I either found super useful to know beforehand or learned while I was there:
  • There really aren't any dryers in the apartments there.  (We stayed mostly in AirBnbs.)  So don't pack things like jeans that take a long time to air dry.
  • Cathedrals and any religious sites (like the Pantheon) have a dress code that requires clothing cover your shoulders and go down to your knees.  This is not always consistently enforced, but the more popular cathedrals (like St. Peter's and the Florence Cathedral, for example) will turn you away if you are not properly attired.  There are people standing outside that sell shawls/scarves you can buy to cover up your shoulders or wrap around your waist if you need some last minute coverage.
  • Almost all of the museums were NOT air conditioned.  In all of the Vatican Museum halls, for example, only the Sistine Chapel was air conditioned, and that was so packed with people that you could barely tell.  So if you go in the summer (like we did), be prepared to bring water and wear breathable clothing.  The only museum I remember being air conditioned was the Accademia Gallery in Florence where Michaelangelo's David is housed.  Not the Vatican Museums, not the archaeological museum in Pompeii, not the Uffizi in Florence, not the Doge's Palace in Venice, etc.
  • Rome has tons of free public water fountains all over called 'nasoni' that just spout cool drinking water all the time.  Some of them are quite old, so it felt weird the first time filling up our water bottles from this old random spout along the street, but the water is delicious and the summers in Italy are hot, so we quickly came to love them and look for them all over the place.

In Rome, ruins and ancient structures were all over the place, tucked between or behind or along seemingly every road we walked.  You could spend a very long time in Rome alone getting to know all of the history of the place.  This is the Column of Marcus Aurelius, completed by 193 AD which depicts many historical battles and events with surprising detail, but very few people even glanced at it because there are just so many other things to see.

We got many pictures of Trevi Fountain, but this one shows just how crowded the fountain area is with tourists.  You can still get great pictures without hardly anyone else in them, but you do have to be patient with the crowds.

The Colosseum was interesting, but currently they do not let you tour it with an outside guide.  So we had a wonderful guide that took us through the Roman Forum, but he had to hand us off to an internal guide at the Colosseum that was not very engaging (I literally fell asleep a couple of times) and who also stopped us in the full summer sun multiple times along the tour.  Since we did the underground areas (which you can only get access to with a guided tour) it was still worth it, but not the experience I was hoping for.

We did a day trip from Rome to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii.  The drive is long and it was rather crowded once we got to Positano, but it was so beautiful that I'm still glad we went.

This is one of the homes in Pompeii.  Our visit here was brief but well worth it.  We had a great guide and learned a lot about how well this city was planned and governed.

We spent half a day in Pisa.  I think we could have stretched it out to a full day if we wanted to because my husband and I are read-all-the-placards kind of people, but I think we saw 85% of what was available in the couple of hours we were there, including climbing to the top of the tower.

Wherever you go, I highly recommend getting timed entry tickets to avoid long waits in line and going first thing in the morning.  We were able to enter the hall with Michaelangelo's David as some of the first people in the gallery, and it was stunning to be able to see it in the quiet of the morning light at the end of the hall.  This room was filled with crowds within half an hour.

If you want to see some of the back room passages of the Doge's Palace in Venice, you will need to book a special access pass and/or tour, and these fill up quite fast.  I called maybe six weeks in advance to find a particular guide that was recommended to me, and she and all other guides she could refer me to were booked solid.  The Doge's Palace has modestly priced tours they offer directly, but they were all full, so we ended up booking with a separate tour company.  It was more expensive, but the tour was super interesting and our guide was fantastic.

A hidden gem in Venice is the Interpreti Veneziani concerts.  They play mostly works by Vivaldi, who is a native of Venice.  The music is exquisite and the performance electrifying.  This concert was one of the highlights of our entire trip!

We were able to get around using public transport or transportation provided by our tours in all of the major cities (Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice), but once we went to visit our friends in Vicenze, we needed to rent our own car to get around efficiently.  This allowed us to visit more out-of-the-way places like the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona.

Even in the Italian countryside, there are more beautiful buildings and museums than we could count.  This is the Villa La Rotonda, one of the most famous of Andrea Palladio's works.  This is one of 21 villas designed by him that collectively are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

We had a lot of fun trying out lots of different dishes.  This one was probably my favorite of our entire trip.  It was tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms at La Grotta di Leo in Florence.  They also had amazing homemade panna cotta that we loved as much as gelato, and that's saying something!

Italian tartufo - ice cream with something tucked in the middle and then coated in nuts or cocoa powder or the like

Venice's specialties usually include seafood.  This is Seppie al Nero alla Veneziana, which is cuttlefish stewed in ink served with polenta.

And of course, gelato!  And lots of it!  We ate gelato almost every single day and never got tired of it!

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