Oh Europe, how we’ve ALL missed you! The American tourists were back in full swing when we visited Italy from May 24 – June 2, 2022. We originally planned our trip around some friends’ from Chicago’s wedding in wine country on Friday, May 27. Since it was both Scott and my first time in Italy, we decided to focus on the highlights so we visited Rome and Florence, plus the wedding location in Umbria. Here’s a breakdown of what we did along with additional recommendations we received during our trip since there are more good things to see, eat and drink than anyone could ever have time for in one trip!
For a quick list of recommendations in Rome and Florence, check out these posts:
We landed at FCO at 7:45am after an overnight flight from Charlotte, NC. We took an uber from the airport to our hotel, the Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora. The Uber spot was not well marked so the driver got out of his car and came out to find us. Apparently, the city doesn’t love Uber because of the Taxi industry, so they don’t encourage it. I’m sure there was a Taxi line that would have worked just as well. Taxis in general were fairly cheap to get around Rome (as long as they had their meter on!)
We checked into our hotel, but we definitely don’t recommend it. The location was up a hill from most of the places we wanted to walk to since it was sorta on the east side of the Borghese park. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we set out to walk around Rome. There’s a ton you can see just from wandering around. We found the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona (chariot racing course), and plenty of beautiful churches and piazzas.
After walking through the Pantheon (the line moves quickly, but make sure you have something to cover your shoulders if you’re in a tank top), we ate lunch at a spot nearby. Yes, it was a bit of a tourist spot but it had good reviews and it was pretty cool to have a nice view of the Pantheon while enjoying an Aperol Spritz in the heat. The restaurant was called Napoletano’s Pantheon. We split a Margherita pizza. Also, the infamous massive sandwich chain All’Antico Vinaio was around the corner and we saw tons of people sitting on the sidewalk eating sandwiches. This may have been a good time to try it because the line wasn’t nearly as long as the one we waited in while in Florence.
We also shopped around a bit and went by the Gucci, Ferrari Store, an A.S. Roma Store where Scott got a jersey, H&M where I got some dresses, Nike store, stumbled into Dolce Vita Vintage Lab, and a few others.
For dinner, we took a taxi to the Trastevere neighborhood to eat at Tonnarello. When we arrived, we waited in a 20-30 min line to be seated outside with cups of “line wine” (house wine on tap in a plastic cup), and boy was it worth it. They serve their pasta in skillets which keeps them warm longer. I got carbonara and Scott got cacio e pepe, plus we started with meatballs. We loved it so much we brought friends back there a few nights later.
After dinner, the Italian soccer team (AS Roma) had just won a huge match so everyone was going nuts. All the cars and motorbikes were driving around honking and waving flags. We saw people congregating at the end of a bridge waving flags, honking, cheering and lighting fireworks. Crazy. Then we walked all the way back to the hotel, which I don’t recommend. At least not unless you’re in very comfortable shoes because the cobblestones are EVERYWHERE. We got home around 1 or 1:30am and most bars were closed by that point near our hotel, so we got a nightcap at Paris Piano Bar. Again, don’t recommend but it was the only open spot nearby. There was a Harry’s bar across from the hotel but they were closing up when we walked up.
The next day we checked out and walked around the Villa Borghese park. I do wish we had done the museum because a friend told us that the museum has paintings by Caravaggios and Leonardo da Vinci. The park was lovely to walk around though. We saw a horse show and an outdoor movie theater.
Then we grabbed a taxi to the Tiburtina train station where we got a train to Terni for the wedding. We had purchased tickets on italiarail.com in advance but seems like you could easily buy tickets at the train station and they weren’t sold out. That train we took was a local train, so not high speed. It had a bathroom but was pretty barebones. We also arrived at our destination 40 mins later than we were supposed to. Thankfully Scott had service/data so we messaged the driver we had booked and let him know.
We found our driver, Gian Luigi, as soon as we got to the train station and he took us to where we were staying for the wedding (Abbazia San Pietro In Valle), which happened to also be the wedding venue! This was about a 40 min drive + more because we went to the welcome party location first on accident (Antico Casale Urbani). Once we checked in, showered and got ready, a shuttle bus picked us up to head to the welcome party, which was a pizza party! Afterward, we shuttled back to our hotel where we sat around in the courtyard and drank wine with the wedding party.
The next day, Scott drove our friend Andy’s rental car around to some small towns looking for food, drinks and something to do. We finally ended up finding a waterfall and eating at an adorable spot that had a bit of a view of it. I think it was Marmore Falls and the restaurant was Er Chioschetto. We had a bomb charcuterie board + red wine and Aperol Spritz, of course. We probably should have actually used the wedding website’s recommendations to book something in advance for those of us who weren’t in the wedding and had to get ready early but oh well. It was still a fun day with Chicago friends!
The wedding that evening was incredibly lovely, despite the rain during the ceremony and cocktail hour. We enjoyed a 3-course dinner with 2 pastas and a steak followed by the most gorgeous, elaborate dessert bar of Italian pastries I’ve ever seen + cafe and limoncello of course. We danced til 2am or later which was a blast, but not recommended because our train to Florence was at 6:10am the next morning. It was the only high-speed train so we opted for that instead of a 3-4 hour regular train ride. Jury’s still out on if that was the right decision because no on fairs well on lack of sleep – alcohol or not! Our same taxi driver picked us up and we took a local train to Orte where we transferred to the highspeed train to Florence. I will say, we only had our tickets checked on the high-speed trains and the seat assignments are really more of a suggestion. Train tickets are cheaper the earlier in advance you book. Ours were about €30-40 each and we booked a week out.
Ah Florence. The land of study abroad gen z kids. It was absolutely everything I had heard and more. We enjoyed our 3 days here a ton and would definitely go back. Upon arriving at the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station, we walked around to the taxi stand to grab a ride to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Balestri and this we can highly recommend. It was in the perfect location right along the river and had all the amenities we needed. Our friends stayed at Sina Villa Medici, Autograph Collection which was really elegant and had a pool, which is apparently very rare in Florence.
The first night in Florence, the guys were craving steak Florentine so we tried to get into a Trattoria Dall’Oste but instead accidentally booked a res at Trattoria Dell’Orto. It was a great mistake because Trattoria Dell’Orto was delicious and not touristy + on the other side of the river so less crowded. We sat outside as the sunset and it was truly lovely. After the meal, we walked to Gelateria dei Neri for gelato (highly recommend the caramel dei neri), then went to Mayday Club for a drink. We immediately got a table and were served waters. The cocktail menu was extensive and we got some really delicious and fancy cocktails before calling it a night and walking back to our hotels.
The next day we had a private tour scheduled with a guide. She walked us around the city and discussed the history of different piazzas and neighborhoods. We learned a ton about the Medici family. We saw the Boar statue (Fontana del Porcellino) where you rub his nose for good luck. We walked through the Palazzo Vecchio to see the statues. She also got us tickets to see the statue of David which was clutch because the process to get in was confusing. She knew of a random ticket kiosk so we were able to buy tickets on the spot for an entrance time like 40 mins later, during the tour timeframe. When we arrived at Accademia Gallery Museum, we learned that everyone who bought tickets online had to wait in a line to exchange their voucher for actual tickets, then had to wait in line again to enter at the timeslot. We pretty much walked right in since we had our tickets. She talked to us about some of the unfinished sculptures and artworks inside the museum before we made our way to David and boy was he glorious.
We then walked by the Duomo and got to learn more history about it and the Baptistery before finally walking through some leather dealers and getting “dropped off” at a pizza place recommended by our guide, L’antica pizzeria da Michele Firenz. After that, we shopped a little bit and took a power nap in the room. Scott and I then decided to check out the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the panorama views of the city and one of the other David statues. This wasn’t that hard to walk uphill to it, but I do wish I had worn my tennis shoes and not sandals and also skipped my hat because of the wind. There’s also a church up there you can tour but we skipped it. After an acqua and coke, we walked down through the Rose Garden.
For dinner that night we went to Trattoria Dall’Oste – Oricellari for steak Florentine. It was def on the pricier side from what we were seeing around Italy so far, so closer to American prices. We sat inside in air conditioning which was a pleasant change.
The next day we slept in and then decided to explore the other side of the river. Unfortunately, a lot of things are closed on Mondays and it was a Monday. This is where we had our favorite pizza in all of Italy, at Antica Pizzeria Reginè Firenze! The pizzas were served in wooden trays. Scott got the double cheese Margherita and I got something with a spicy ham. Insanely delicious. We ate way too much. Then we walked by a leather goods store I had found online but it was closed. We wandered around by a church before stumbling on the Pitti Palace – plus more congestion of tourists – but it was closed. After that, we walked back toward our hotel and got tickets to the Uffizi Gallery. Unfortunately, the bell tower tickets had just sold out since it was around 4pm. We toured the art museum and then wandered around to shop more and get gelator at Gelateria dei Neri (again!). We stumbled into a cool record store, Contempo Records, and juice bar, Base V Juicery, to counteract all the pizza and gelato!
From there, I found a leather shop I liked and landed on a light brown collarless lambskin leather jacket. The shop owner even had a tailor shorten the sleeves for me for €12 in one hour, which seemed extremely reasonable. The jacket itself was €200 which is like half the price of what it would have been in America, let alone if it was a designer brand. I also stopped into a cute boutique called Fix You Firenze and ended up getting a cute set and Rollings Stones t-shirt.
After that, we went to Gucci Garden, which is an exhibit/museum on recent Gucci lines that came out in the 2010s. Plus, there was a shop on the first floor (or 0 floor) with unique Gucci items for sale. We left, picked up my jacket and headed back to the hotel.
For dinner, we went to Osteria Santo Spirito which was back on the other side of the river. We waited in a short line to be seated in a park and ordered house red wine and pasta, of course. It had been highly recommended and was an excellent meal, although I think we still were dreaming about our first dinner in Rome at Tonnarello. Walking back across the bridge at night was dreamy. There were students hanging out sharing a bottle of wine and couples enjoying romantic walks.
Florence is so lovely. I feel like we barely scratched the surface.
Back in Rome
The next morning we took a train back to Rome, which was interesting since they didn’t announce our platform until like 3 minutes until we boarded. We didn’t get a fancy business class so just sat in normal seats toward the back of the train. It was only an hour and a half highspeed train ride so not bad at all.
In Rome, we taxied to our hotel, Hotel Art by The Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, their wifi was out and our room wasn’t ready, so we decided to walk around. The location was near a bunch of high-end shops and the Spanish Steps, of course. We decided to take a recommendation from a friend and got a table at Jardin de Russie at the Hotel de Russie. The restaurant is set in a gorgeous garden with fountains and felt really high-end. The service and food were incredible. We got white wine and more pasta. Mine was linguine with clams. Really light and delicious. From there, we checked into the hotel then got ready for our tour of the Colosseum with our friends that I had booked using an app called Get Your Guide. It was super easy to use and luckily there were still tours available on the dates we were in Rome since I only booked a couple of days in advance while we were in Florence.
We found the meeting spot easily and then enjoyed a hot and sunny tour, first stopping at the Roman Forum before making our way into the Colosseum. I think I speak for everyone when I say the Colosseum was a highlight. It’s soooo cool to see something so grand, old and famous. Walking onto the floor, I felt like I was in a movie. The tour guide was knowledgeable and really nice. We had the last tour of the day so 5-7pm. Afterward, we walked all the way back to Trastevere to eat at our favorite spot, Tonnarello. This time I ordered pasta with tomato sauce. I swear the tomatoes in Italy just taste sooo much better!
After dinner, Scott and Brooks went to a sports bar to watch the French Open and had a blast drinking Guinness with American study abroad kids. I attempted to sleep but unfortunately, our AC wasn’t working. The next day we had an early tour of the Vatican at 8:30am so we taxied over to that area to the meeting point. Unfortunately, our bad luck continued because we never found our guide or group. A guy out front brought us to different tour offices to try to help, but we eventually bought tickets with another tour that had 2 no shows. This actually worked out well because the tour guide was great and it included everything we wanted to see/do.
The tour was of the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel. Next time, I would have allotted more time after the tour to hang out in Vatican City and wander around. It would have been cool to check out St Peter’s Basilica, but we ended up heading back to the hotel right after the tour so we could check out and make it to a pasta-making class I had booked us.
The cooking class turned out to be excellent! Minus us being exhausted, we truly enjoyed our experience. It took place at Ristorante Tucci in Piazza Navona with an Italian chef who spoke perfect English leading a class of 8 of us – 4 Americans, 2 Dutchies, and 2 Israeli girls. We first made the tiramisu where we each took turns doing part of the recipe. It actually seemed fairly simple to do so I def want to try it at home if I can find Marscapone cheese. While our individual cups of tiramisu chilled in the fridge, we moved on to making the pasta. We had flour, an egg, salt, a rolling pin, a cutting board, and a knife. That’s it. It was very simple to do but hard to get it right, let alone perfect to restaurant quality. I’m sure a pasta machine would have taken a lot of grunt work out of it, but it was fun and the instructor was helpful. At the end, we got to choose which sauce we wanted with our pasts: pomodoro, carbonara, or cacio e pepe. While the pasta cooked, we sat at a table outside with our class and enjoyed glasses of wine and water. Our meal also concluded with a glass of limoncello of espresso at the end.
Next we went back to the Hotel Arts to grab our bags then took a taxi to our new hotel, Le Meridien. Thankfully they had working AC and wifi. In the hotel room, we were able to do our Covid antigen tests in order to check into our flight. I’m so glad I bought these so we didn’t have to wander around Rome looking for a pharmacy or place to get tested. After a rest and a shower, we headed out for dinner by way of picking up the green linen suit Scott had bought and had tailored from Made in Italy men’s suits. For dinner we ate at Il Vero Alfredo, which is where alfredo was invented. It was one of those large places with framed black and white photos all over the walls of celebrities who had eaten the alfredo there. We split that and a caprese which was out of this world. Definitely worth visiting if you’re an alfredo fan! Service was excellent too.
The next morning we checked out and took a car to the airport. Apparently, American Airlines makes everyone wait in the check-in line even if you’re not checking a bag. We also ended up paying €94 to check our bag since it was overweight by like 6 kilos. Frustrating but now we know. The NOLA airport had let us slide on being slightly over 50lbs. The rest of the trip home was fairly uneventful. I will say we were both ready to go by then. It was a long trip but so so so worth it and an incredible experience all around.
Italy, it’s amore. We can’t wait to go back and explore more!