Italian vacations are fun and educational, regardless of your age. Hubby and I just spent the last five weeks in Italy, as Italy is a great place for a vacation. This was another amazing trip with lots of wine, food, and historic cultural sites. This is a compilation of what we did, where we stayed, and the food and wines we enjoyed in Italy while traveling from Verona in the northeast to Sicily in the south, with stops in Florence, Sorrento, and Rome.
I have been away for the last seven weeks traveling to Italy and then taking a transatlantic cruise home. While it was not our first long trip to Italy, it was our first time on a transatlantic.
Our Five Week Trip to Italy
The last time we went to Italy, we spent six weeks moving through a lot of cities and towns. I wanted less movement on this trip and more time in one place. Every time you move from city to city, you lose time, even if the train trip is only a few hours away. Not only is it packing and travel time, but it is also relocation to the hotel or BnB, too.
This was our first trip abroad since we were kicked out of Spain in March of 2020. Once Italy dropped their c ovid testing to enter the country, Hubby asked me if I wanted to head back there. I readily agreed.
We decided to once again travel with only carry-on luggage. It is very convenient when transferring trains to only have a small piece of luggage to handle. I took a pac-safe purse and packed a folded piece of luggage in case we needed it.
This time, instead of my good camera or the powershot I used my phone exclusively for photos. I knew we were mostly doing food and wine this trip, and the camera phone was sufficient for those needs. When traveling from location to location the lighter the packing, the easier it is to move from place to place.
Since we were gone for seven weeks, we, of course, needed to do laundry. I purchased some laundry detergent sheets. They work very well, were lightweight, packed flat, and were fabric softening too. All our Airbnbs had a washer (one even had a washer-dryer!), and when we stayed in a hotel (Sicily) we dropped off laundry at a laundromat in the morning and picked it up already washed, dried, and folded in the afternoon. On the ship, we cruised Celebrity which does not have self-laundry services. There, we waited for the laundry challenge (AKA stuff the bag) to clean our clothing.
When looking over criteria at an Airbnb we have several “must haves” that others might not: an elevator and a washer. Italians love, love, LOVE stairs. If there is an area a flat straightaway can go, they dig it out, put in three steps down and four steps up. I mentioned that on one of the tours, after climbing and descending several unnecessary stairs to the terrain steps on one tour. The guide said it was because whoever constructed the building probably had a friend who made stairs, and he wanted to give him business. Whatever the reason, stairs are the workout of choice in Italy.
I, however, have a tough time going down stairs. Up is fine; down is not. And what goes up must come down, soooo elevator.
Now, while the apartment buildings might have an elevator, there is always has a set of stairs to get to that elevator. I took an early tumble at the Airbnb in Verona before being extremely careful of stairs and cobblestones the rest of the trip. I truly wonder how someone in a wheelchair or the elderly can function in Italy.
Hubby purchased an e-sim card online, this time for phone and data. It is purchased online and then added to the phone by QR code. No more physical sim cards. He told Sonny-boy about this development this past summer, so when Sonny-boy went to the UK he used one for the week and reported back to us that it worked well. Hubby then purchased an e-sim for Italy that cost about $20. It worked well for him, but mine was giving me fits, so I paid up and did the Verizon $100/30-day international plan.
Hubby and I drove to Atlanta to take a direct flight to Venice. I am holding on to my direct international flight stance (whenever possible) after our European plane disaster back in 2015.
The flight to Venice was smooth, and upon clearing customs, we boarded a bus to take us to the train station, where we boarded a high-speed train to Verona. All our trains were pre-booked. Italy has two high-speed trains companies: Italo and Trenitalia. They are both nice, it is simply a matter of deciding on the price and schedule.
While we had been to Verona on the last trip, it was a quick few days, and then we were gone without really seeing much of the city. This time, we stayed a week. This was my favorite city to visit on this trip. It is in the Valpolicella region, home of my favorite wine: Amarone. In Valpolicella and in Tuscany, we were in time for the grape harvest this trip! I had never seen the grape trucks, the crushers, or the de-stemmers before, and I have toured a lot of wineries!
I have no idea where we are going to put it all, but we bought a lot of wine this trip. In Florida, there are no basements. Hubby installed wine racks in an interior closet. It isn’t 55-60°, but it is the best we can do without remaking a room into a wine cellar (I have hope! especially since we put up bottles for years before drinking them). We installed a wine cooler in the kitchen for white wines.
Before we left town, I counted open rack spots, and there was space in the racks for 60 bottles. Well, I purchased 11 American cases of wine to be shipped home. For clarity: American cases = 12 per case, Italian cases = 6 per case. Like I said, no idea where I am going to put all this wine.
I have received 4.5 cases so far (after the first day on wine tours, I have everyone delay shipping until Nov 1st so we could beat the packages home). I had to try a few bottles to make certain it was as good as I remembered. It was! Hubby and I have a policy of no more than three wineries per day for tastings, as palate fatigue is real. Still, even with the three wineries limit, we have purchased some doozies at that last winery of the day visit.
We did a few food tours, toured the Verona Arena, and saw “Juliet’s House” from Romeo and Juliet. No, it isn’t really her house as they are fictional characters, but the balcony and house have come to be known as her house, there is a statue outside, and there used to be love tokens on the walls. The house was once inhabited by the Cappello family and dates back to the 13th century.
These are photos of the grapes being harvested. The images were taken at several wineries in the Valpolicella viticulture zone of the province of Verona, Italy, east of Lake Garda. I had never seen a de-stemmer before! The grapes in the wagon were new to me, too. While I have seen wine being bottled and labeled in the past, this part of the process usually was already finished before our winery tours! Considering Hubby and I have visited a lot of wineries in our day, I was thrilled to see and learn something new.
We have been to Florence several times in the past, and on this trip, we spent nine days there. I asked Hubby if he wanted to tour any of the art galleries or museums and he did not. We did head over to the da Vinci museum, however. It is an interactive museum that shows just how far ahead of the rest of the world Leonardo was during his time with inventions. While we enjoyed it, children would love this museum. It is hands-on and, in my opinion, perfect for kids.
On our last trip to Italy, we had visited Musivo Lastrucci, a mosaic artist. We saw the process and all the different pictures that were made there. I had been kicking myself for three years for not purchasing something when we were there. This time, I rectified that. Whenever Hubby and I take a trip, we buy a memento. It can be large or small, but we always purchase something as a memento to bring back memories of that trip. This was our purchase this time.
We loved the food market close to the train station and went there several times.
We, once again, used Florence as a base and took several tours out into the Tuscan hills for wine tours. We found a lovely winery last time in Marchese Gondi which we visited again this time. It is like no other Sangiovese wine we have tried. Last time, it was the winery we purchased the most wine from, and the same was true this trip!
Hubby and I went back to Sorrento as we liked the area very much. We were there for a number of days, but Hubby caught something (tested negative for c ovid), so we did not do quite as much as we would have liked. Sorrento is easy living, Italian style. Very walkable, very pretty, beachy, yet artistic and food friendly. It is a little slice of heaven right before the Amalfi coast.
We did have the opportunity to do several food tours before he caught his bug. One was a visit to a farm – which was very nice, the other was probably the best food tour we have ever taken. It was four stops, highly organized, and we did not travel much more than two blocks. We sat and ate and drank, chatted, and were generally refreshed and introduced to the foods of the area.
There are three ways to get to Sicily – plane, train, or boat. And even the train is transferred via boat. We took the ship both ways this time after having an abominable overnight train experience last trip. The ship was very interesting; there were loaded semi-trucks on the first three floors, and we boarded by an escalator. Our cabin was very small but more than adequate for the evening, and it included a small bathroom with a shower. They had a cafeteria, a lounge, a children’s playroom, etc. We had read some reviews that were not thrilled, but for the price? This was the way to get to Sicily if you were not flying.
Hubby booked us on an overnight boat out of Naples, Italy, to Palermo, Sicily, and from there, we took a private car to Catania. Last time in Sicily, I felt Palermo was very gritty, but it did have some very charming areas. This time we decided to visit other parts of Italy, including Catania and Agrigento.
Well, it took us all of two nights in Catania to change those plans. Catania was Palermo-gritty without the charming areas. Hubby pivoted, and we ended up spending five days in Ortigia (Siracusa), which was truly wonderful. We did some food tours, walked the island, and generally had a great time. We spent a lot of time in the food market, wandering the streets, and generally being lazy.
We are going to have the landscaping redone at our home. I would like to grow prickly pears, but they will take over an area and spread and spread and spread. They grow wild on the side of hills in Sicily.
This container seems the perfect way to keep the spread under control. I plan on showing this photo to our landscape architect and asking for something similar with spineless prickly pears.
We took a private car back to Palermo and boarded the boat to go to Civitavecchia (a port near Rome).
Disembarking from the Sicily boat was “interesting.” Most people taking that ferry appear to be driving their vehicles on and off. We were the last walk-off people. For some reason, we went through passport control (finally got an Italian stamp!) and then customs. Hubby looked at the customs lady when she asked if we had anything to declare and said, “We arrived from Sicily.” At that point, we were ushered through.
We sat at the Civitavecchia port shuttle bus stop for a bus that supposedly arrived every 20 minutes long enough for me to get a sunburn. When that shuttle bus finally arrived, it parked on a break for an additional 15 minutes. It finally moved, dropped us at the entrance, and then we schlepped over to the train station to buy a ticket on a local train to Rome. While waiting for that local train, it was on the board as delayed, then *poof!* it was gone (a few minutes before scheduled arrival!) We ran over to another train, and they accepted our tickets for that disappeared train.
All this was important because our transatlantic cruise was out of Civitavecchia at the end of the week. We had planned to take a train, then a shuttle, then a walk.
We decided to pay up and take a private taxi that would deliver us directly to the ship. I have a bad habit of being early for everything. Hubby knows I would have panicked if a train was late, we had to schlep the bags in the extreme heat again, etc. Sometimes, life is too short to try and save a few bucks.
In Rome, we did several food tours. This was the best of them. The gentleman lived and worked in the neighborhood (people came up to him to chat while we were walking around), and this is his website for future tours (putting it here so I don’t forget, and we book with him next time in Rome).
We also did this tour which we walked off of. It started out very interesting with a farmer’s market, and in the Jewish Ghetto, the next neighborhood was great, and then suddenly we were walking a mile in another direction down back streets and alleys. I am sure if we were in our 30s, we’d have just gone with the flow, but when the steep dark staircase led to an underground restaurant, that was a big no for me, and we bailed.
When Hubby and I walked off the tour in Rome, we immediately went back to the Jewish Ghetto to explore more, and we had a terrific lunch.
That wasn’t the only tour we left on this trip. We did a food tour in Verona that was unorganized, random, and uninformative. There were no set-ups when we arrived at an osteria, the guide did not talk! and each stop was worse than the one before. By the third stop, we were told to wait at an outside table for two (there were four of us), and they would get to us later. We decided we had had enough, so we left. They aren’t all winners.
We once again loved Rome. It is funny how our first impression was so poor back in 2015, but since then we have fallen in love with the city.
That Rome food tour we walked off was important for one reason; if we go back to Rome, we would like to stay in and visit more neighborhoods than tourist areas. It was very unique, and we enjoyed the area once we left the tour.
One of the most important things I did in Rome was get my hair done! I have a post (that is many years in the making) on how to get your hair done/dyed while traveling.
Hubby and I had considered taking a transpacific cruise home from Australia in 2020. It didn’t work out for us as the ship that worked in our time frame had horrible reviews, but we were not opposed to crossing an ocean on a ship. When we checked for transatlantic cruises, and Celebrity had one from Rome to Tampa, which made it an easy choice.
The decision to switch to a private car allowed inside the port at Civitavecchia was a wise one. We were picked up at the Airbnb and dropped exactly in front of the departure berth building.
We went inside, had our negative test (this requirement has since been dropped), passport and check-in papers looked at, and then we sat and waited for a few minutes before the ship was ready to board.
Hubby and I have been on a fair amount of cruises. The longest was the back-to-back in the Australian Great Barrier Reef cruise and the cruise around New Zealand. However, we have never had so many sea days in a row – six – as on this cruise.
We had a few stops: Toulon (we took the opportunity to visit Hubby’s aunt and uncle), Majorca (absolutely beautiful! And the worst cruise tour we ever took), Cartagena, Spain (we will be going to Cartagena, Columbia next month!), The Azores (charming and beautiful), and the Bahamas (we had never been before, and my cousin used to be their head of tourism! To me, the Bahamas was Grand Cayman meets Jamaica. I really liked it!)
There was limited entertainment on the ship, so I made my own getting hair blow-outs and a pedicure while onboard. We attended trivia a few times (won once!) and explored the ship quite thoroughly. The food was decent, the entertainment options were quality over quantity (not necessarily a bad thing), and the drinks flowed freely! We ended up with great dining companions, which we saw and sat with frequently throughout the trip, so that was nice.
On day three of the sea days, I developed a head cold. How!? I assume something shot out of the air conditioning vents (I smelled the cleaner the day prior), but I honestly have no idea how I got a head cold. We had an extremely large balcony, and so I spent a lot of time on it in the sun and away from other travelers.
I am not certain we will ever do another transatlantic (six days in a row at sea were a lot), but I am glad we did it as it was an experience (they even gave us certificates!)
Disembarking in Tampa was a breeze. We walked off (had our luggage with us) a bit after 7 am, went through customs, and took a taxi to the airport rental building. The airport rental company was a bit backed up, but nothing crazy. Then it was a 6.5-hour drive home, returning the rental car, and hitting a grocery store since we had nothing in the house to eat.
What are the takeaways from this trip? There are a lot of stairs in Italy, and I am no longer 40 years old. I love wine, especially Italian wines. I really like Verona, and we love Rome. I hope to be done with Italy for a while as there are other parts of Europe I would like us to return to together for our next few vacations.
Was this an inexpensive trip? Nope. Not counting the wine and mosaic I purchased, it was still pretty pricey, even Airbnb-ing it. All the excursions, restaurants, private cars, taxis, and train travel adds up when you are away from home for such a long duration.
We have a few cruises in the Caribbean planned but are still waffling on what to do next summer. I would rather get out of this heat at some point in July and August. Whether that means the UK or a mountain cabin in another state, we have not decided as of yet.
If you stayed with me until the end of this long post, thank you, and I hope you enjoyed the photographs! I took over 700 photos on this trip and tried to share the ones that told the most complete story: we like Italian food and Italian wine!
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