Rome, Italy

It’s been a while since I completed my last Italy entry, and, 15 months after the actual trip, I am finally ready to close the loop and write my last blog post related to our Italian adventure. This is bittersweet, but it gives me a great reason to look back through my photos and relive all the amazing experiences from the trip.

I’ve already covered Florence, Orvieto, and Praiano, so this last post is dedicated to the Eternal City, Roma. Ah, just typing that elicits wonderful memories of strolling through piazzas, enjoying plates full of freshly made pasta, and sharing bottles of wine at dinner. It also summons visions of amazing architecture and the rich history of one of the most magnificent places I’ve ever been to. As Lizzie McGuire/ Isabella so aptly crooned back in 2003, Rome truly is, “what dreams are made of.” Rome is also like any major metropolitan area in the world, and overall felt less touristy than some of the other places we visited. It is a beautiful juxtaposition of ancient history overlaid with a decidedly modern culture that we thoroughly enjoyed.

Rome was our first stop on our two week tour-de-Italy back in October, 2019. We flew out of Toronto (highly recommend if you’re in the CLE) and arrived in Rome around 11AM. We rented an AirBNB a block away from the Tiber River, just across from the Trastevere neighborhood. This was a perfect location for exploring and I would definitely stay in this area again.

After we got to our AirBNB and put our things away, our first stop was obviously food! We had no plans and walked down our street and found a little restaurant called Pianostrada. I had pasta and Ryan had an amazing panini. Both menu items were incredible and the perfect first taste of Rome!

I honestly still remember how good this pasta was.

After our meal, we just walked around a little bit (pretty aimlessly). We walked to the Piazza Navona which is incredible (although filled with tourists).

The beautiful buildings surrounding the Piazza.

Rome (as in many Italian cities) tends to have a warm color palette which is absolutely stunning in the afternoon light.

Some of my favorite scenes from our first walk!

After we got our bearings, Ryan and I headed out to a free walking tour of the city. I think I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but walking tours are one of my favorite things to do when exploring any new area. It’s a great way to get a lay of the land and note places you may want to return to for further exploration on your own! Funnily enough, my mom and I actually did the same free walking tour of Rome on our trip here back in 2016. It was so wonderful Ryan and I decided to it too! The tour took us all around the ancient part of the city and ended with us at the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge at dusk.

Detail of the Fountain of the Four Rivers Sculpture in the Piazza Navona
First gelato on our walking tour. One of the best of our trip!
The aforementioned Pont Sant’Angelo bridge. You can see St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

The bridge is absolutely a must see if you’re in Rome. Completed by Hadrian in 134 AD, it features incredibly beautiful statues by Bernini (although the originals are now safe in a museum, the replicas are a sight to behold) amongst others. It is a work of art and interesting to read it’s storied past. The bridge was widened in the 1400’s to allow for more pilgrims to pass through on their journey to the Vatican.

After our three hour walking tour (+jet lag), we were exhausted and headed back to our apartment. We stopped at a random restaurant for carbonara pasta and shared some red wine. Seriously drooling at how good it was and how amazing this sounds right now!

On our second day in Rome, we took time to just walk around and explore. The weather alternated between bright sunshine and some wayward sprinkles! We saw the Trevi Fountain (beautifully restored back in 2015), the Pantheon, and many cute little alleyways. We also made our way over to Trastevere and walked around the neighborhood, enjoying another gelato :). One of our favorite meals of the entire trip came after visiting the Pantheon. Ryan found a restaurant in the area called Osteria del Sostegno, and after a morning of walking, it was just the sustenance we needed! This was one of our favorite meals on our whole trip (I don’t think we actually ate one thing that was even close to disappointing) and I definitely recommend it. I also recommend making a reservation as it was getting quite full once we started eating. This little osteria is tucked away on a cobblestone alley, providing a respite from the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

On our third and final full day in Rome, Ryan and I left *bright and early* (literally 7AM) for an 8 AM tour of the Vatican Museums. This was one of the most remarkable museums I have ever been in, and I have to say it is well worth the visit, despite the horrible crowds outside (the worst of our entire trip, and just a clusterf*ck). I would love to go back one day and spend more time inside. Once you get inside, it is much more manageable and they do a great job of spacing out groups so you never feel overly crowded (except maybe a teeny bit at the Sistine Chapel as people tend to stop and stay for a while). The museums are right next to St. Peter’s Basilica, so you can combine seeing them with a visit to St. Peter’s as well, which I also recommend. Ryan and I booked a guided tour of the museums and I highly recommend this option. They only sell a limited number of tickets and due to the vast size of the museums themselves, it would be hard to navigate alone unless you want to spend all day here and do a good amount of planning (which you definitely could). Instead of going into detail about the museum itself (yawn), I will just share a few photos. I can’t recommend visiting enough! You’ll see works by Raphael, Giotto, Caravaggio, Leonardo Da Vinci and many more. There is also an amazing modern art gallery (which was unexpected!) featuring Chagall, Picasso, Gaugin, and many other recognizable artists.

Walking to our Vatican Museum tour- amazing view of St. Peter’s!

After our tour ended (under the amazing Sistine Chapel!), we headed over to St. Peter’s. It is a breathtaking feat of engineering and opulence and left me speechless.

Don’t forget to look up! Pretty sure my neck hurt after this day.

Following the morning of museums, we had a very long, relaxing lunch in Trastevere. Then, we headed back to our apartment and relaxed for our last night in Rome – a cooking class that Ryan found. This was one of the highlights of our trip and the pasta we made was, you guessed it, molta buona!

The next morning, we had our daily cappuccinos and pastries at a cute little cafe on our street. Then we walked over to the Coliseum and Forum to explore on foot. In 2016, I did an amazing tour of the Coliseum and forum but we didn’t have the time to fit that in so we decided to walk around everything on our own. It was a great last morning and we were able to walk around without any crowds! Afterwards, we headed back to our AirBNB and before we knew it we were on the way to the Amalfi Coast!

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this Italian series of posts! Thank you for reading and following along. Who knows where we will travel to next, but I am happy to share these memories with everyone. Arrivederci!

A few more of my favorite photos:

The Pantheon.
Spectacular morning light.

Orvieto, Italy

Today, I am sharing some photos and snippets from our short visit to Orvieto, Italy. If you didn’t read my blog posts on Florence or Praiano, Ryan and I went on a two week trip to Italy last fall. It was the kind of trip that you spend months dreaming about before, and years dreaming about afterwards. I still think of this trip regularly, and cannot recommend a stop in Orvieto enough. I know that traveling to Italy and much of the world is impossible right now, but it has been amazing to revisit these trips through photos and memories. There will come a time when it is safe to explore, and when that time comes, I know Italy will again be at the top of our list.

Orvieto is a small town in the Umbria region in central(ish) Italy. We wanted to visit this town for a number of reasons. First of all, it was in a convenient location for us, having not rented a car. It is right off the train in between Florence and Rome, so logistically, it was a no brainer. Secondly, Orvieto is a very unique town with so much history. Founded by the Etruscans (or perhaps even an earlier civilization), it sits on top of a cliff in the middle of one of the most beautiful regions in the world. It is truly stunning to behold.

The town is very small and easily walkable. To enter the city, you can either take the funicular up to the top or walk up from a number of roads, however, I do not recommend this. It is an extremely steep and challenging walk and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians until you reach the very top, at which point, you may be covered in sweat, blood and tears (just me?). If you are renting a car, there is ample parking once you make your way up the winding roads to the top. Although the town is small, there is plenty to do. We visited the Orvieto Cathedral which was incredible, saw ancient underground caves, ate delicious food, and walked all around town. We also did an incredible sunset bike tour, where we learned all about the history of Orvieto and enjoyed spectacular views along the way.

We had two full days in Orvieto which was amazing. I think three would be even better, but you probably don’t need too much more time if you are just hoping to get a sense of what a small Umbrian town is like. If you have more time, I encourage you to stay even longer and see everything it has to offer.

Things to do in Orvieto:

Visit the Duomo. The Cathedral in Orvieto is breathtaking, especially when you consider it was built in the Middle Ages (starting in the 1300s) on top of a giant cliff. The church has a striped basalt facade with beautiful frescos inside. It is reminiscent of other churches in Italy, including the cathedral in Siena. The exterior, especially the sculpture and marble work, is exquisite.

The stunning exterior. It had just drizzled, hence the water droplets on my camera.
Detail of the interior. The beautiful carvings, the interior gate, and frescoes. Swoon!
Detail of tile work. I love this pattern and the colors so much.
The magnificent organ. How?!

Because of the town’s strategic location (and topography) between Rome and Florence, it became popular with Popes during the 13th and 14th Century. Several papal palaces were built and various Popes sought refuge in the town during wartime. It became a Papal State until 1860 – when Italy as we know it was formally created.

A look at the Cathedral from atop a Bell Tower. The beautiful surrounding countryside beckons.

Climb the bell tower for the most beautiful views! The bell tower is in the center of town and is a fairly easy climb. Enjoy beautiful vistas with rolling countryside and farms as far as eye can see.

The view from the bell tower. This is what dreams are made of!
While it was upper 70s and low 80s in Praiano, it was mid 60s in Orvieto!
The Bell Tower we climbed.

Visit the underground caves: This sounds pretty mundane, but hear me out. Orvieto has a massive system of over 1200 underground caves, passages, labyrinths, etc. Back in ancient times, the caves served as means for rich folks to escape siege or conflicts. In fact, most homes/ buildings in Orvieto have their own personal wine cellars built under ground. On our second night, we enjoyed a feast at a local restaurant and the owner took us underground to check out his cellar, stocked with his family’s own wine! Sidebar: Orvieto also has it’s own distinct white wine, which we found delicious.

Holes that used to keep pigeons. Pigeons were used for messaging hundreds of years ago.

Walk around town! This should be a given, but walk around and take in the ancient and rustic alleyways of Orvieto without any plans. When we visited it was not crowded at all. We had some gelato as we strolled, admiring the sites and beautiful buildings at our own pace.

The beautiful streets of Orvieto.
Beautiful carved door.

Visit and Have Dinner at La Badia di Orvieto: We actually stayed in this hotel during our time in Orvieto. I would NOT recommend staying here as it is removed from town (amongst other reasons) and it ended up being difficult to get back and forth during our few days here. Learn from us, stay in town, save money, and spend more time exploring! Now, all that being said, the hotel and surrounding area itself was breathtaking and I think it is completely worth it to go visit during your stay. We also enjoyed an amazing dinner here, so I would definitely add it to your to do to list if you are in the area.

On our first day we arrived, it was drizzling a little bit and we walked into town. As noted above, I do NOT recommend doing this, but, it ended up being an amazing day. We had a glass of wine on the main square and saw the Cathedral. After a few hours, we went back to the hotel, via one of two town taxis, and were greeted by one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen.

The town is in the distance under the arch.
The sky changed dramatically from one moment to the next.
This is kind of how I pictured Umbria. Cyprus trees, olive groves, hills and mist rising from the green valleys

Have lunch at Antica Bottega del Duomo. We had lunch here and it was one of my favorite meals on our whole trip. It is a small deli type of place and we enjoyed some of the most delectable sandwiches ever. Friendly service and family owned with very reasonable price points. I highly recommend.

Bike Tour: If I could recommend doing one activity in Orvieto, it would be this night time bike tour. We found this last minute on AirBNB and it was one of the most memorable nights we had (on any trip we have been on). I cannot recommend this tour enough. Paolo took us all over the city where we were able to take in incredible views and learn about Oriveto’s storied past. We stopped at churches, cycled through residential neighborhoods, and ended the night with a fantastic dinner at a small restaurant. Paolo had invited some Italian friends to join us for dinner, so it ended up being a fun group. We had course after course of amazing local cuisine, homemade in the restaurant (our server’s grandma cooked for us). Each course came paired with wine and our server explained the significance of each dish. We had pasta, truffles, rabbit, roasted duck, cured meats, cheeses of every variety, and more. I loved everything, especially the chocolate torte. Our stomachs and hearts were completely full by the end of the night and we are so thankful we were able to experience the magic of Orvieto at night.

We rode around the perimeter of Orvieto, and were able to see our hotel from afar!
At the end of our bike tour, Paolo offered to take a pic. A rare photo op with us both!

Even though Ryan and I only stayed in Orvieto for two nights, it has a special place in our heart. We would definitely go back and loved every minute of our stay. There are soooo many amazing small towns in Italy, I would love to see many more some day.

I am slowly but surely working on my fourth and final Italy post- Rome. Until then, stay safe everyone!