In early 2009 I had the good fortune of living in Geneva, Switzerland, and working for CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law), a brilliant environmental NGO. While living in Europe, I took full advantage of insanely cheap flights between countries and spent a lot of time in Italy. And loved it so much (especially Sicily, that’s my fave)! As luck would have it, my aunt and uncle recently purchased an apartment in a small town in Tuscany, which gave me the perfect excuse to return. Almost 10 years to the week since my last visit, I found myself back in this charming country. When I planned this trip, I imagined myself curled up in the apartment, taking 5 days to just relax, refresh, and get caught up on my blog. Little did I know that would not be my experience…
My flight from Tel Aviv to Rome cost only $125! Because I arrived at 5pm, I decided to spend my first evening in Rome. WIN! I found a lovely hostel that had only private rooms, and was located super close to Termini Train Station, and cost only $35 for the night! (That was cheaper than anything I could find in Florence or even Lucca!) Look out on Airbnb for Roma Hostel^3 World^ (or Roma Hostel^1 World^). On the walk from Termini to my hostel this was the first building I came across…
Only in Rome! Amazing. I took an evening stroll to the Coliseum, no big deal.
For dinner, I initially walked into a restaurant nearby the Coliseum, but after looking at the menu (and seeing hamburgers), I got up and walked out. Another solid decision. Because my continued wandering (with a little help from Google mapping restaurants) led me to this amazing, family run restaurant, Osteria Della Suburra (Trattoria, Pizzeria). The food was fabulous. And I’m pretty sure I was the only native English speaker in the place. Highly recommend.
And it’s not every day you’re in restaurant where the owner is making dessert on a table in the middle of the room (the back room has most of the tables and was full of customers).
The following morning I went walking around to visit a few more sites and made my way to Trevi Fountain. Still as beautiful as I remembered from 10 years ago.
I then took the train from Termini to Florence, where I had booked a rental car. It only cost an extra 5€ to pickup the car from the city center, versus paying to get to the airport, so that was a no brainer. I stored my luggage near the airport and headed out for a stroll along Florence’s famous riverfront.
I found my way to yet another spectacular family run restaurant, Trattoria Sabatino. They have photos inside of Anthony Bourdain, Asia Argento, and the restaurant family; a Google search revealed that they ate there together just a couple of months before Bourdain died. Seating is communal around the tables, which I loved. Almost as much as the food.
Lucca & A Little Country Town Nearby
I drove about one hour north of Florence and arrived at my aunt and uncle’s apartment.
When I first arrived I thought: this is so cute! So charming! Exactly how I had hoped to spend five days in Italy. I was basking in the sunlight, enjoying the quaintness of it all.
And that was my last moment thinking I would be spending my time in Tuscany relaxing inside my aunt and uncle’s apartment. Because later that evening, when I returned home from the grocery store, I realized the apartment was FREEZING. Turns out the heater was broken, so the apartment averaged 57°F/13.5°C. And after my first 24 hours at the place, the hot water stopped working too. So it was kind of like camping, except if you were utterly unprepared for camping so you lacked necessary warm clothes and gear. Thankfully, a very sweet Italian grandma lived next door and kindly let me use her shower. But after realizing I was staying in an icebox, I quickly let go of any and all hopes of relaxing inside an apartment for a few days and made full use of my rental car to explore Tuscany- and find places with heat! I spent the better part of a couple of days exploring Lucca, a charming city that lies between Florence and Pisa. The center of the city is surrounded by a massive fortress-like wall, with beautiful parks outside the walls, and trails following along the wall that are packed with families and dogs. A really lovely place to enjoy! Lucca is also home to some of the best gelato! If in Lucca, you should make a stop at La Bottega del Gelato (and definitely try the pistacchio- salty).
On another day I decided to make a trip down to Siena, following back country roads instead of the freeway. And while on those roads I noticed a couple of signs indicating I had entered the famous Tuscan wine region. Knowing that I was driving through one of the best wine regions in the world (I was right in the middle of chianti and super Tuscan yumminess), I pulled the car over and again relied on Google maps to help me find a winery that was on my way to Siena (and open on a Sunday). Little did I know this decision would take my day trip on an entirely different path! I made my way to Tenuta Torciano, and the lovely people there managed to squeeze me in (tip: make sure you make a reservation before visiting Tenuta Torciano).
And as luck would have it, the person handling my wine tasting, Alberto, would become my new friend and tour guide. It probably helped that tastings at Tenuta included about 10 glasses (and these were not your typical, tiny tasting pours- tip: have a sober driver with you, or plan to spend a long time after your tasting to recover), so I was much more open to suggestions, haha. Alberto told me to forget Siena, that I had to see San Gimignano. I am SO glad he talked me into that!
San Gimignano really is everything you imagine an idyllic, Tuscan village to be. Sits on top of a big hill, offers stunning views of the surrounding hillside, and has so many charming winding streets and town squares to pass time in.
Cinque Terre (Riomaggiore) & La Spezia
I knew there was nothing in Tuscany that could top San Gimignano, so I headed to another favorite destination from my travels 10 years before, Cinque Terre. Because my time was limited I stayed in the closest and southernmost of the five towns, Riomaggiore. I spent a couple of hours walking around the town; venturing up from the coastal area provides beautiful views of the town itself.
As I was leaving Cinque Terre to head back to the icebox I was calling home for a few days, I got a glimpse of La Spezia just after sunset. Stunning!
My adventures concluded back in Rome where it all started, with dinner at a restaurant that definitely requires a reservation, Trattoria Pizzeria Vecchia Roma. This place caught my attention my first night in Rome. It is located 1/2 block from the hostel I stayed in initially, and there was a crazy long line no matter the time of the evening. And when I peeked in the windows, I saw this huge restaurant in the basement of a building that was completely packed with people. And when I checked on Google, there were reviews from more than 3,500 people! So before I left for Tuscany, I stopped by to make a reservation. What a wonderful final meal in Italy! The artichokes below were EVERYTHING. I have never, ever in my life had such tasty artichokes. Oh, and the house wine is served by 1/2L for only 3.50€. Bottoms up!
While my aunt and uncle’s apartment was a bit of a fail in terms of comfort and my original plan to be able to relax and nest (and save money by cooking and eating all of my meals at home), in some ways it was a blessing. I spent hours “talking” (doing my best to use my Spanish to interpret Italian) to the sweet Italian grandma who lives next door, and was highly motivated to get out of the house and explore Tuscany. I was introduced to the most charming Tuscan town, and in the process made a new friend, Alberto. And revisited a favorite destination from my trip so many years ago. I had quite the adventure, and the good definitely outweighed the bad.
I am writing this blog at my parents’ home back in the US. My time here has allowed me to (finally!) catch up on all of the articles that were put on hold for the last 6 weeks. Just in time before I leave again for the next chapter of my travel adventures… to Latin America! Ciao!