An Unforgettable Italy Trip Plus A Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Rome and Florence

 For as long as I have remembered, I had always wanted to visit Italy. It’s funny because I don’t like traveling. I don’t hate it. But in my list of predilections, it’s not at the top. I do it because it is never not memorable (and absolutely FUN) but I would rather just sit on the couch with a book, a T.V. show, or MS Word open, and me writing. But Italy was the exception. I have just always wanted to go. I have never watched Eat Pray Love or any movie based in Italy, by the way. Nothing. It’s just a spirit thing. In any case, my birthday was approaching and I thought, perfect timing.


So here came Italy and me. And of course, the best travel buddy in the business, my one and only sissy poo, who is ordinarily way more adventurous so she didn't need that much convincing. I know people tend to do these types of trips with groups of friends. So you may be asking, why not ask friends. I don’t have that many friends and asking people to invest thousands of dollars because  I was celebrating my birthday is not my style. I told them though and said they were welcome if they wanted to. You may also be wondering how a trip that happened in March is only just written about in May. Just let's move on from that. Okay let's go. Italy in a blogpost. 


After learning from my attempt to curate Mexico’s trip, I decided to be more diligent about curating this trip for you, my friends (who asked for photos), my family, current me, and future me. 


So we landed in Rome’s FCO on a direct American airlines flight at 8:30am local time. It was about an 8-hour flight. Immediately we got off the plane and past immigration (customs?) and into the airport, we saw a stand to exchange currency. I already anticipated the rates being abysmal but we figured we had no other choice per se. So we stood in line and this was the longest thing that transpired in the airport. Every other thing was incredibly fast; no questions, nothing. I don’t know if it’s because of our American passports or if that’s just the way things are. In any case, we got our luggage and left. We could have taken a train directly to our hotel, but I wasn’t in the headspace to figure something like that out having just arrived. Plus, I am very sensitive to language barriers and listen, we are black people moving around, I just didn’t want any hassle. So we took a cab to our hotel, which was smack dab in the city. The ride was about 30 minutes and it cost 50 Euros. We got to the hotel at about 10:00am even though check-in wasn’t till about 2pm. So we just sat in the [very comfortable] lobby and waited. I think this wait drained us because upon getting to our room, we collapsed into really deep naps (actually I think it was just me and my sister had work meetings or so). Anyway, we took a stroll in the evening in close environs (the city) then later went for dinner. Everyone says Rome is great for walking and it’s true. 



          The lobby of our hotel



Spaghetti aio olio e peperoncino

Spaghetti pomodorini e basilico

Dinner was at a place called Antica Bohéme. Now, we had heard a lot about the difference between authentic Italian food and restaurants that cater to tourists, including some tips for learning the difference. The ones that cater to tourists may have pictures of food on their menu, for instance. Another sign of a tourist restaurant is when they have things like Chicken Parmigiana or Penne ala Vodka on the menu. If you do see these things, it's advisable not to go there. These kinds of places serving American-style Italian food are directed at tourists. Many times, despite being the more mediocre food, it would still be more expensive. So we were conscious of that. That said, Antica Bohéme passed these two benchmarks. The menu was also predominantly in Italian (not English) with English translations. The food was great. But the crown jewel was the desert. I had authentic tiramisu and WOW. WOW. AMAZING.




It was that good!



Honestly, the main difference between dessert in Italy and in America, I think, is that it's just not sugar laden. There's actually a lot of flavor. It WAS GOOD. 



And so it was, a first day. 


There are videos to upload and I just haven't figured how to put videos on the blog so apart from checking out the blog's Instagram I don't know how else to share those videos. 


About the second day. First, let me say we had a rough sketch of itineraries to follow but decided to also be flexible. I am a [somewhat obsessive] planner so I understand the urge to be organized but I will say I have learnt from my [limited travels] that some level of flexibility is key when traveling/on vacation. That said, feel free to follow our own itinerary below to a tee or for a rough sketch of what’s close to each other.


The second day was a Saturday (and since we already knew Vatican City is closed to tourists/visitors on Sunday), we decided to do start with Vatican City. Like I already mentioned, our hotel was close to several tourist sites but a little farther away from Vatican City. We planned to take public transportation that morning to [in my sister’s words] “get a feel of the area” *insert non-poker face here*. Anyway, we walked to Roma Termini (about 8 minutes from our hotel) bright and early in the morning. Oh, one other tip is to get to the crowded tourist places early!  That Saturday morning, after a lot of Google translate, we realized we were using the wrong machine to get tickets *inserts non-poker face here AGAIN*. We finally found an information desk and realized we were on the wrong floor so we rushed downstairs. We had gotten a Skip the Line/Guided Tour ticket for our Vatican Museum appointment and had to get there at a set time so we were in a rush. Downstairs, we got the tickets (they accepted VISA credit card). And then hopped on a train. We were about a stop into the train when we realized it was the wrong train. I recently realized I am/can be a little bougie, so forgive me when I say this but I HATE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION. It’s probably the only bougie thing about me but there, I said it. HATE. To understand Roma Termini, think Penn Station in New York, or Union Station in D.C., or 30th Street Station in Philadelphia or Eko Idumota in Lagos, then add new to the town and language barrier. Bam. Some would argue this confusion is part of experiencing a city but honestly, not me. Anyway, we hopped off and exited the station and then got a taxi to the designated spot the tourist company provided (which I argue we should have done in the first place. Again SIDE EYE). 



Roma Termini



We eventually arrived at Vatican Museums. 

Entrance to Vatican City

Tickets.

They required specific KN95 masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination proof (including the booster) before you could enter. 










When we sent my daddy some videos and photos, he (rightly) mentioned that these need captions. However, this place bleeds so so so much history that I could never do enough justice to describing each and every photo without boring you. I will try my best but just please enjoy this as much as you can. 








The Vatican Museums have some of the world's largest art collection and the above are some of them.

A view of Rome from the Museum





It is impossible to visit the entire museums at once so we did what we could. Our tour guide was exceptional and filled us with a LOT of history.  He was also very kind, very patient, just overall amazing. And when we were finished, we headed to the Sistine Chapel.  As the site of numerous papal activity, including the papal conclave (where the new pope is selected), visitors are not allowed to take pictures or record videos. It is just as beautiful as one would expect. 

Here is something like what it would look like. There was a picture of the place outside the Chapel and there we were allowed to take photos.



The entire visit was like walking into and through history and having all that brilliance in one place was truly amazing (watch The Two Popes on Netflix!). When we were done, we headed to a cafe in Vatican City. And I will say, please don't go there if you ever visit Rome. The servers were rude, impatient, an abrupt. After two days in Rome, this was a general observation. At this point, I really started to miss the graciousness of American servers. So please, tip your servers well! 

The croissant was also wack. 

Another thing to mention: after our visit to the Museums, we went to one of their bookstores/gift stores, whatever. People, LISTEN, walking around this world as a black person is...God help us. As soon as we picked up something (OF COURSE WE WERE GOING TO PAY! WHAT KIND OF MORON STEALS IN A CHURCH, ANYWAY?), the cashier had her eyes on us. It was awfully/horribly funny. It was awkward because there were people in front of us, so she had to tower over, tippy-toed to make sure she could follow us with her eyes. We had to just put the things down, walk around the store and when we were exactly ready to pay, pick it up. 


We already read a lot that you walk a lot in Rome and it's not an understatement at all. You WALK a lot. At the Vatican Museum alone, we spent over three hours there, walking and seeing the art. 

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked over to St. Peter's Square and St. Peter's Basilica, which was not far at all. About a 20 minute walk from the part of the museum we were but a ten-minute walk from the entrance of the museum.  We had pre booked tickets for a tour guide but this didn't cover the VERY LONG LINE. It moved really fast though.  I should say that unlike the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica (which is the second largest church in the world by interior measure) is free to enter. The way it's designed, we also realized you don't need to pay for a tour for this. Of course, the tour guide gave some interesting pieces of history but I think you'll be fine even without a guide. 

Saint Peter's Square





The front of Saint Peter's Basilica

One word that comes to mind to describe Saint Peter's Basilica: Magnificent









Saint Peter's Basilica is such a beautiful place.

Streets of Rome

Close to the entrance of Vatican City


After St. Peter's Basilica, we headed to an ice cream spot my [then*] boss recommended when I told him I was visiting Rome. We had to take a taxi there because it wasn't quite walkable plus we were exhausted. The place was called Come il Latte. It's a very small spot and you may almost miss it if not careful. Ice cream was great but not a lot of space to sit. So we had to walk back to our hotel (about 15 minutes walk). 








Streets of Rome, just outside the ice cream place


After ice cream, we took a stroll around and found some interesting places




We went back to our hotel and rested after our very long day. In the evening, we went to get dinner. It was a place called al42 by Pasta Chef Monti. We went there specifically looking for bolognese and it did not disappoint. It was a hole in the wall type of place and even has "street gourmet food" by its name. It looked really authentic and the people there looked like locals. When we first arrived, we had to wait outside (in the cold!) for about ten minutes but the woman was so apologetic about it. And technically, it's not even her fault. The place was quite small and there were lots of people (they have amazing reviews online). 


Inside the restaurant.


The food did NOT disappoint. I do kind of wish we remembered to tell them to not put some cheese on the pasta (the smell of cheese is not my favorite) but despite that, we enjoyed it. We had Fettucine Al' Ragu Bolognese. Best of all, the waiter was extremely nice, cordial, respectful, just overall great. We were so surprised to be treated kindly and we really cherished it.











And then the tiramisu. Woah. Come to Rome for whatever else, stay for the tiramisu. I remember I ordered tiramisu in Mexico and I was actually thinking I ordered the wrong thing. Then I came here and ordered Tiramisu and listen, this was just TOO GOOD. I was already so filled up from the pasta but couldn't resist and I still demolished it. 





And that was day 2. 

Then came day three. We started this day by heading to the Colosseum. As with yesterday, we had pre-booked a tour and skip ahead of the line tickets. The Colosseum, an historical site in Rome, is an oval amphitheater (the largest one ever),  and with where events like gladatorial games being held there, it depicts the power and drama of ancient Rome.














It was a fantastic tour. We saw where spectators would sit, the hierarchy of the seats, where gladiators came in from, where the soldiers would stand, the cages that brought the animals, we went underground. It was again, simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, it was very cold in the morning and it almost made for a less than pleasant experience as we walked around for three hours in the biting cold but we made it. 

Just right next to The Colosseum was The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This part of the city is aptly called Ancient Rome and is an incredible scenery that displays the beauty and ruins of a place with a lot of historical value. It is a major archeological site and this area was where major public and sacred gatherings happened in ancient Rome. It went beyond politics and it was where the public gathered to hear speeches, watch trials, participate in elections. 







A very noteworthy fact is how much has gone into preservation of this history. But also more so, how they  converted what is technically ruins into a tourist hotspot (with over 4.5 million visitors EVERY YEAR and tickets aren't free). I don't like doing all the comparison, but I will say my mind immediately traveled to Nigeria and it sucks a lot that there hasn't been efforts to attract people like so. The entire thing reminded me a LOT of Osun (especially Osogbo and Ifè) and all the history that bleeds in those places. It is indeed a pity.


This is where Julius Ceaser was buried. 


After about four hours, we were done with that area. 

A random gas station I saw that looked really interesting to me.

Next, it was time for, you guessed it right: some gelato! 



I have to admit, I didn't quite enjoy it. Of all the foods we had, gelato was constantly a little underwhelming. This one especially. My gut tells me it's a me problem and not an Italian gelato problem. We stopped at another place (after throwing this away) and found that more manageable.

They had this sign and I was sold. No pictures from the place though or the actual gelato we eventually had. 

After gelato, it was time for Spanish Steps. We walked there and along the way, we saw really interesting sites. I don't know what they are called but they were beautiful so why not. We also stopped for some shopping but I didn't take pictures of the things we got or the store. 







After walking for about 30 minutes or so, we arrived at The Spanish Steps. It was a little crowded so getting a good picture was somewhat challenging. Speaking of crowds, everywhere we went, they required K/N95 masks and asked for proof of vaccination + booster which made me feel a little safe(r). 






And that ended touristy activities for day three. When we got back to the hotel, we were starving, so we headed to a restaurant for lunch (to go) and I loved the food. I don't have a picture of the food (just the restaurant, below) but we had lamb chops and potatoes and as for me, I loved it. My sister didn't Lol. I must mention that the gentleman that attended to us was extremely nice. 

Oh, on this day, there was also a protest going on right by our hotel against Russian's idiotic invasion of Ukraine and so lots of police activity and well-meaning people protesting against cruelty. I loved it for them. 



At night, we were tired but hungry. So we decided to try the in-hotel dining service and ordered room service. Now, based on advice out there, this is a disaster waiting to happen and you shouldn't do it. So it was a huge gamble. We ordered a type of Margherita pizza and lasagna bolognese. MY GOODNESS! It was SO GOOD. First of all, Italians definitely eat fresh because that pizza crust was so succulent and crusty and garlicky and all around amazing. The bolognese was so well seasoned, we just wanted more. This is why sometimes, just do your own thing. It's unbelievable that we had such great food under our nose the entire time. I am sorry for everyone by the way. I was already such a pizza snob. Now, I'm going to be really insufferable because what I had was what pizza should taste like. 









And so day three went. 

Day four. It's MY BIRTHDAY.  




So let's see,  we started the day with a mini photoshoot at Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. 

Such a beautiful and underrated place, in my opinion.

And then headed back to the hotel for a break from the cold and more photos in the hotel lobby. Then we took a walk to Trevi Mountain and got to see more of Italy during the sixteen-minute walk. We also did a little bit of shopping. I'm wary of shopping in tourist centers because of price gouging but I wanted to buy some leather purses in Italy because apparently that's the home of leather. 





When we first got to Trevi Fountains, first it was as crowded as we imagined so we were glad we didn't go ahead with our plans for my birthday photoshoot there. But also, the fountain had been drained of water and it looked like they were cleaning it.




So we decided to dock into a gelataria and bar for a little while when we saw they had mojitos. What a good decision that was.



While we were having our drinks (we also got some macarons), we noticed the fountain was back on. Yay. Immediately, we stepped out and headed back. 


When we left Trevi Fountain, we wanted to get a feel of what grocery stores in Italy were like plus I wanted to get local Italian raw pasta before leaving. We first found a super market that looked like it catered specifically to tourists with their offerings and it was so close to Trevi Fountain that it just clicked this was not where Italians would go grocery shopping. Later, we found another one that was just right. I forgot to take any pictures of the store. But what was interesting was, we bought a LOT of things (bunch of different cookies, bunch of different pastas, chocolates etc.) and our bill was only 13 Euros. That was...very surprising. Here in the States, two of those cookies alone would already be about 10 bucks. This leads me to another topic, which is, things were unexpectedly cheap. In Mexico, everything felt exorbitant. Not so much in Italy. Even dinner was not too expensive. 

After a good nap, it was time for dinner. This was my birthday dinner so it mattered to us that it was fantastic. We found a place (called Nerone) with reviews like "best meal I have ever had in my life". People are so dramatic. Anyway, we believed the person. 



First of all, the staff there included a bunch of extremely nice people. Just so lovely with welcoming us. As they checked our vaccination card, the man confirmed the date format in America and was like "wait a minute, it's your birthday today?!" Later on in the evening, they actually came out (with a guitarist) and sang and the whole restaurant sang for me. It was mortifying in a very sweet way. Interestingly, someone else had a birthday too haha.

Pasta All Amatriciana

Fetuccine Bolognese

Now as for the food, I ordered Pasta All Amatriciana and I have to say, I did not like it. It had such a pungent cheese smell that actually putting it in my mouth was such a chore. But the Bolognese was great!




And then came the fifth day. It was our final full day here and we've decided to venture outside of Rome that day. But since we were leaving the next day, we first had to get covid test. I was super anxious for this. Not because I was reckless or anything. I wore masks everywhere. I am vaccinated and boosted. I was cautious. But I was still worried because a positive result means you have to remain. And this was the one part of the trip I was really apprehensive about. The test was the worst one (I feel like the cotton swab reached my brain) hahah. But it was negative, praise God. So we headed back to our hotel for a quick breakfast and then to the train station: Roma Termini. It was somewhat easier to use the self help machine to get our ticket which cost 50 Euros per person for the high speed train.

The train was very clean and nice. I have to say, it was somewhat nicer than Amtrak on the east corridor.

After about an hour and thirty minutes, we arrived in Florence. For regular speed train, it is over three hours.

The station at Florence

When we arrived at Florence, it was time to head to see some of the Renaissance arts Florence is known for. It has such an old time feel to it. I think a huge part of Italy does, and there seems to be a culture of containing/conserving every single thing.




First place we hit in Florence was Galleria Della Accademia, where we saw a lot of Michelangelo art.





This is "The Rape of the Sabine Women" which inspired this post














And then of course, the famous masterpiece by Michelangelo: The David

Here it is. 





After the galleria, we went to see the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Florence Cathedral. 






We had heard Florence was a town of leather so again, we went shopping. Things were more expensive here so we only bought one thing. We walked around a little and then it was time for food.



 The restaurant we went was called Il Bottegone. This was exactly where I had my BEST pasta during this trip. Their service was quite slow but they were very polite and my food was good. My sister didn't quite enjoy hers though (carbonara).

















And then it was time to head back to Rome. We walked back to the station to get the train. I got a good shot of the train.









At night, we had some pizza and that was basically the end of our trip







Hopefully, you will see there was some spontaneity as well as carefully planned aspects of the trip. 



While I was on this trip and posting on Instagram, a friend asked me (I'm paraphrasing but in essence here's what she was in fact saying), how I could visit a place like Vatican City given all the oppression it took to build the place. She said she wouldn't be able to stop thinking about all the oppression it took to build the "beautiful place" in my video. You may be thinking that too. Luckily, I'm about the most self-aware and introspective person I know so I want to write an entire post on that. Please be on the look out. In response, I laughed, and then I said it probably would not be as much oppression it took to build the White House and all the other historic places in DC (where she lives) and yet, somehow we still appreciate those. So I figure, if we can stop thinking about all the slaves that built the White House when we visit, I can stop to appreciate this too. Then she said, that's true. But as a "[insert her nationality/ethnicity] the Catholic church brings more those sentiments than the U.S. But it was built on oppression." [sic].  Ultimately, she agreed that I was right, and  "we can still enjoy it". 


Now, for all its problems, I think we can agree that there is a difference between the Vatican and building palaces to appease kings that are of no value. The Vatican holds a lot of value AND is sacred to numerous Catholics (I'm not Catholic so granted it doesn't hold as much value to me). But again, slaves literally built The White House and I can't possibly imagine me or any black person saying to tourists at the White House  that why couldn't they stop to think about the oppression it took to build it. And that's just the White House. I joke about never visiting Dubai because of their human rights challenges but even I know it would be naive to say that to tourists using an iPhone that was made in China. 


Apart from that, I am glad I am not an influencer because I don't want people thinking I will always post pictures of my trips. It is sooo much work to do this and while it's important to preserve memories, your girl has a full time job and a million other things I have to accomplish so please excuse me in the future if I don't post stuff from my trips. It took me well over three months to even post this one.

Also if you scrolled through this and maybe felt a type of way because you've always wanted to visit [insert place] but couldn't and how can someone else just be able to. I don't have any nice pithy saying to respond with other than your feelings are one hundred percent valid. No one is better than you or works harder than you and therefore is more deserving of the finer things of  life than you.  I will just say, may I please ask you kindly to find at least ONE way to do something nice for yourself that is within your power to do this weekend. Even if that thing is buy a scoop of ice cream or watch something on Netflix or eat one meal without worrying about too much sugar or calories. Or book a trip to the neighboring city. Or go see a film. For a moment, forget about all the insanity in this world and give yourself a treat. I feel like you deserve it.


Love, and a lot of tranquility,

I




*the post is so long overdue that I have since changed jobs lol

No comments