See and Eat: Rome

Benvenuti in Roma! Our last stop in the tour was the craziest so far. In the city of Rome, we encountered loud demonstrations, ran away from aggressive merchants, danced in the streets and walked along the side of the Tevere slightly drunk and happy to be alive. There's no resisting the urge to share some of the things to see and eat in Rome! DSC09520


The smallest country in the world is much smaller than I thought it would be! Our group got into the Vatican museum bright and early at 8am, and we took a leisurely walk through the Tapestry and Map rooms of the museum. The walls and ceilings alone are a treat (I loved the gold calligraphy in the map rooms, made almost entirely of mosaic tiles), but our tour guide reminded us to save our necks for the Sistine Chapel. The Catholic schoolgirl in me was in awe.




The name is a mouthful, but trust me when I say that your stomach will thank you. There's nothing better than sitting al fresco after jostling tourists in the St. Peter's Square with a good sandwich and pasta. The underpass to get to the restaurant is pretty too. We recommend the ravioli and the prochetta panini, plus a glass of cool beer as you finally catch your breath.

Getting There: Facing St. Peter's Basilica, head left to Via Paolo VI. Walk down Via Della Fornaci and go under the underpass. Emerge on the other side and turn left.


See: the Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese and Piazza del popolo

Our tour guide told us a joke (was it a joke?) about the public transportation in Rome. He said that the reason why the subways are sparse is that because every time they dig underground to make way for new lines, they accidentally dig up old artefacts of significant importance. Uhm. Go Rome?

But for the most stunning views of the city, we looked no farther than the walk from the top of the Spanish Steps to Piazza del Popolo. The views there are breathtaking the higher you walk up. Just make sure you walk up any ramp you see, and you'll be pleasantly surprised!




Eat: La casina dell' orologio

Admittedly, we only found this place because we were hopelessly lost. We were looking for the entrance to Villa Medici when we saw the beautiful park on Viale del Belvedere, right off the short uphill climb beside the Villa. Walking past the obelisk, we found ourselves in a park with kids, street performers and well dressed Italians, sitting around and gesticulating loudly.

In the middle of all of that is an emerald green greenhouse,  with al fresco seating and indoor seating. It was just so quaint, and the maitre'd could speak a bit of Tagalog! Unfortunately, eating inside the dining room is double the price of just grabbing takeout from the cafe they set up beside the dining room, so we bought our treats and sat outside. Not bad for getting lost!




See: Arco de COnstantino and Colosseum

It's huge, it's the oldest thing you'll ever set foot in and the stairs are crazy high. Need I say more?  Oh yes. Prepare yourself to jostle crowds, but seeing the Colosseum is a breathtaking, essential tourist experience.

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See: Piazza navona

If there was ever a city center in Rome, Piazza Navona would only be one of them. Filled to the brim with bag merchants (watch where you're stepping!!!!!!), street artists and performers, it's a fun and lively place to explore and hang out with your fellow travelers.




eat: Ristorante domiziano

Given that the Piazza is such a tourist area, expect that anything you eat here will be pricey. But if you were only going to eat one thing, make sure it's the Tartufo al cioccolato (around 10 euros) from Ristorante Domiziano. It's actually a ball of moist, gooey chocolate cake with creamy smooth gelato bursting from the inside!



On the last night of our tour, we tucked into the basement of this small restaurant right off the Ponte Sant'Angelo in Via Paola (the restaurant with the fake flowers in the veranda). BEST MEAL EVER. The photo above is just of the fantastic antipasto plate we were individually served! Plus there was an accordion player to set the mood, unlimited wine, delicious pizza and a lovely tiramisu to top off the meal. Ugh. Molto bene!



See: Ponte Sant'Angelo and Castel san'tangelo

When I close my eyes, I can still see that beautiful walkup along the Ponte Sant'Angelo and looking up at the Castel. This castle from the 2nd century is a beautiful place to take a moonlit walk after a heavy meal. There were couples along the Tevre stealing last minute kisses before parting, and of course, street musicians. Even cooler, the Rocky Horror Picture Show was playing along the side of the castle for outdoor viewing! It was the best way to say goodbye to the tour. DSC09777 DSC09797 DSC09803

Florence Photo Guide

Welcome to Florence, or as the locals call it, Firenze (say that with the accent, it rolls off the tongue)! This is the city that inspired artists like Michaelangelo, Da Vinci and Botticelli. This is the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany, and the place where the Medicis first came into power. Florence is a big city compared to the sleepy countrysides of Tuscany, but it doesn't lose its charm at all. As far as Italian cities go, Florence is surprising, beautiful and almost endless in the way the streets twist and turn. Read below for a walking guide and photo diary!


il Duomo - Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

One of my favorite experiences during my Europe trip was walking along the small, crowded streets of Florence, and suddenly coming into a near collision with the breathtaking facade of Il Duomo. All cliche words apply here. There's a reason why I added such a closeup photo of the cathedral--save some of the magic for your trip!


Palazzo Vecchio

Just when you thought the Duomo had all the wow factor, you duck into little roads again only to find...a castle. The age of some of the structures in Europe just continue to boggle the mind. The Palazzo Vecchio, still used today as the Florence's City Hall, is worth a walk through for the pretty portico inside. It's on the leftmost side of Piazza Della Signoria, a massive open space in the middle of the political center of Florence.


Don't miss the Fountain of Neptune up front--the iron statues look even more creepy after the rain. And the David you see in front of the entrance is a replica of the original Michaelangelo.


Loggia de lanizi - the portico

Just beside the Palazzo and the Uffizi gallery is an interesting looking garage filled with statues. I only say garage because it looks like a carpark next to the massive castle next to it. But this portico is lines with wonderfully detailed statues. Benvenuto Cellini's statue Perseus With the Head of Medusa greets everyone at the entrance, but my favorite is The Rape of the Sabine Woman.



Heading through the narrow roads behind the Neptune Fountain is a blink and you'll miss it store--Signum. This is the only place in the world where I've seen wonderful leather bound notebooks--made in the way they used to in the 15th century. They're being sold at insanely high prices, but everything else in the store is worth a look too. For all the notebook addicts out there, this is a place worth checking out! Be careful of the finicky owner though.


Borgo de Grechi STREET

Walking down the street has a lot of blink and you'll miss it stops, and this street in Florence had quite a few. Everyone talks about how you should buy leather and gold here, but we found ourselves looking at a Pinocchio themed store, a street called Via Filippina, and the Ristorante Francescovini--easily the second best meal we had the entire trip, with cute waiters to boot!

DSC09278 Vivoli gelato

Before you stumble upon the Santa Croce, take a detour to Vivoli first! The gelatos are creamy and smooth, and any flavor you get is just...amazing. We didn't even mind the rain!