Here is your very own Tick-Tock list for your Italian adventure! Tick-Tock list Italy
Passport in the hand, excitement in the heart and euros in the pocket. That is how I tackled my solo trip to Italy on the 9th of December 2017 and joined my touring party in Rome 24 hours later.
I spent the next 12 days in the country of piazzas, pizzas and pastas, and my first impressions were that the colours of the national flag are a proper reflection of the traditional Italian basil, mozzarella and tomatoes.
Travelling alone to a touring party in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone is a freighting experience that left me completely trembling. How do I know where to find my next flight? Will I arrive at the touring party? What will my roommate be like?
That is only some of the thoughts that entered my mind in the weeks leading up to my trip. But if I must summarise this experience in one word, it would be “freedom”. Freedom to tackle a new experience and to take in as much as possible, freedom to stay out until late, freedom to make new friends and freedom to make your own decisions.
During my first night in Rome, we were accompanied to an underground prison that was converted into a restaurant and where we were given the opportunity to eat our first plate of pasta and meet the rest of the touring party. The group consisted of Americans, Canadians, Australians and of course South Africans.
Italy in die winter
Travelling in Italy during the winter is an experience that cannot be easily described – everything simply looks more beautiful and nicer. However, there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration before you decide to tackle this country of olive oil and salami in the winter.
Many of the businesses are closed during this period seeing as it is out of season, there is a great possibility that it can rain, as well as that the temperatures can decrease the further up north you travel. During my trip in December, the temperatures were moderate and minimum rainfall occurred, while we were also lucky enough to witness some snow on the mountain tops.
The benefits however include that the towns and cities are considerably quiet and that one can easily commute and explore places without having to stand in queues or be surrounded by a lot of tourists. There is also an opportunity to talk to residents of the towns and to visit every little street and bookshop to get the real “small town feeling”. Wintertime also means Christmas time, decorated Christmas trees in the streets, Christmas lights lighting up windowsills everywhere, as well as Christmas markets with hand-made decorations and mouth-watering ginger cakes.
Do it, see it, taste it
Seeing as I had the opportunity to travel to every corner of Italy, I decided to compose a small wish list for every town or city that we visited:
- Do it: Go for a hiking tour in Rome during which you can visit all the top tourist attractions. Everything is located quite close to each other and can easily be visited within a day.
- See it: Reserve your visit at the Colosseum and go and throw your coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome.
- Taste it: Café Latte (emphasis on the Café, otherwise you will only get warm milk).
- Do it: Visit the smallest country in the world.
- See it: Keep your eyes facing upwards when visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. It feels quite unreal to view the artwork with the gold, bright colours and features against the ceiling.
- Taste it: McDonald’s. Because you must rather spend money on entrance fees while here. It’s cheap, nearby and delicious.
- Do it: Attend a pizza demonstration in Naples where the first pizza was discovered.
- See it: Oranges are hanging everywhere in the trees. Even though it cannot be eaten, it is still something special to look at.
- Taste it: Limoncello liqueur, a lemon drink descended from Sorrento.
Amalfi Coast (highly recommended)
- Do it: Drive all along the Amalfi Coast – which is popular for its lemons – and stop at the different coastal towns. Visit St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Amalfi.
- See it: Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Walk through the towns and go and put your feet in the sea.
- Taste it: Lemon flavoured yellow chocolate.
- Do it: Book a tour that will take you through the remains of the once prosperous city of Pompeii. This city was covered in volcanic ashes (between four and six metres high) during the eruption of the Vesuvius mountain chain range on 24 August AD 79.
- See it: The fossilised bodies of the residents who couldn’t escape from the volcano in time. There are, amongst others, a fossilised baby and dog.
- Taste it: Feel free to order the Margherita pizza at the Pompeii Restaurant.
- Do it: Attend a leather demonstration and see how Florence became popular because of it. Go and experience Firenze’s night life.
- See it: Climb the dome of the Cathedral Santa Maria which is 463 steps high, as well as the Giotto Tower which consists of 414 steps. It will give you a 360° sight over Firenze.
- Taste it: Handmade ginger cakes at the Christmas markets.
- Do it: Visit Juliet’s house which is based on the most popular love story in history and write your name against Juliet’s wall.
- See it: The statue of Juliet, as well as her balcony. All the letters that were sent to Juliet and the love wall containing colourful locks of people who preserve their love for one another there.
- Taste it: Antipesto misto (this includes cold meat, cheese and bread).
Venice and Burano
- Do it: Visiting Venice will not be complete without a trip on a gondola. Take a boat to the fisherman’s town of Burano.
- See it: Visit and climb the highest point that you can find to get a view of Venice. Visit Burano’s colourful houses that are popular around the world.
- Taste it: Tiramisu in Venice and black octopus risotto in Burano.
Sirmione to Salo via Lake Garda
- Do it: Visit the retirement castle town of Sirmione. Afterwards take a boat ride across Laka Garda – the largest river in Italy – to the town of Salo. This boat ride takes approximately 45 minutes and can be quite rough, so don’t forget to pack your pills.
- See it: Snow-covered Alps can be seen during the boat trip. Also take in the magnitude of the river. Salo has one of the longest promenades next to the river and it is the perfect place to take photos.
- Taste it: Drink a fresh fruit smoothie in Sirmione.
- Do it: Go and visit the Da Vinci Museum and make use of the metro system to commute.
- See it: Take a view of the Duomo of Milan after sunset and visit the designer shops in the city’s streets.
- Taste it: The warm chocolate is one to try out seeing as it is a very thick drink that nearly consists of only melted chocolate.
- Do it: Use the metro to commute between the towns. The towns are situated only 5 minutes from each other and Monterosso, Vernazza and Manarola are the best to visit.
- See it: Climb Manarola’s koppie to have a nice view of the puzzle houses that were erected along the coast.
- Taste it: Vernazza has extremely nice pasta spices, as well as the most delicious gelato to enjoy next to the sea.
- Do it: Take the iconic photos and buy yourself a magnet of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- See it: Also look at the other buildings surrounding the tower; mention is never made of these buildings, although they are just as impressive.
- Taste it: There are several street cafes that sell homemade warm pizzas.
- Do it: Visit a wine farm and go for a Chianti wine tasting. Also read more about the specific wine farm’s history.
- See it: Look at the various vineyards in the area and go for a tour in the cellar to see how everything works and how the wine is produced.
- Taste it: The well-known Chianti wine of course.
What nobody tells you about Italy
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the most popular, but definitely not the only leaning tower in the country.
- Italy is a country of luck and if you need a pentacle, rub the bronze pig snout in Florence, walk beneath the huge whale bone in Vernona or throw your coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
- Roads in Rome are organised chaos; look five times left and five times right before you cross the street, because it doesn’t matter how narrow the road is, a car will fit through it.
- Italians only eat after 21:00, so therefore eat a late afternoon pizza and prepare yourself for a late night with a lot of pasta and wine.
- Do not switch on a TV and expect to understand something, because even The Big Bang Theory has undergone an Italian transformation.
Top ten tips when visiting Italy
- Nothing says Italy like a packet of pasta; as such, purchase a packet for all your friends and family and bring it with. It is a cheap present that will ensure that you purchase more pizzas for yourself.
- The chance only presents itself once. If you see something that you really want, buy it immediately. Some of the products are unique to a specific town and you might not get the chance again.
- Make sure that you give yourself enough time to arrive at the airport. If you make use of a bus, take into consideration that the bus will need to pick up other passengers too and that it is always peak period in Rome. Always try and prevent arriving only ten minutes before your flight, as was the case with me.
- If possible, arrange your residency in hotels that are owned by families. This is a wonderful feeling that allows you to eat like the Italians in that specific area eat. Wi-Fi is available in all the hotels (so don’t stress about it).
- A trick which I learned and quickly influenced the rest of the touring party with, is to take a Ziplock bag to breakfast. The hotels are very generous and allow one to make a sandwich and pack it in. By late morning, this type of sandwich is a lifesaver which will stop the worst trembles and supply some much-needed energy until lunch.
- Flying is a stressful experience for me and to furthermore do it on an empty stomach is a recipe for tragedy. As such, pack a few energy bars in your hand baggage to block the spot in your stomach and at the same time save €5 that you would have spent at the airport.
- One or two thick jackets will be your best friend during the trip. Ensure that you do not put on too many layers of clothing, seeing as the restaurants are comparable to a summer’s day in South Africa. Also try to do your laundry in the middle of your trip; it is quite cheap and leaves you with a suitcase full of clean clothes with which to kick off the rest of the holiday. It is also a good idea to pack a raincoat or umbrella for the days when bad weather conditions persist.
- One of the nicest things regarding travelling is to take photos and post it on social media to subsequently make your friends back home jealous. However, be careful not to look too much through the lens, but look with your eyes as well. Take your photo, make sure that you are satisfied, and then put the camera away. Photos are not a real reflection of the moment, so look with your eyes and take in everything.
- Walk as much as possible, climb as much as possible, eat as much as possible and see as much as possible.
- The most important and most valuable tip that I can give you is to return home broke!
Learn Italian in five minutes
Good morning – Buongiorno
Good evening – Buonasera
Hello – Ciao
Goodbye – Arrivederci
Thank you – Grazie
Please – Per Favore
Pleasure – Prego
How are you doing – Come stai
Good – Bene
How much does it cost – Quanto costa
Coffee – Café
Wine – Vino
My Italian experience was wonderful; it’s a country full of history, art and architecture which will always contain a very special place in my heart and which I will always remember. Upon my return to South Africa I once again simply realised how big the world is and how much there is to see and experience. Make use of every opportunity and spend all your money, you will not regret it. Travel safe!
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