These are some things that I learned from our trip:
1) Have comfortable walking shoes - this is a must...and find them many weeks before you leave for your trip, not the day before.
2) Travel light. We really tried to pack light, but as we went from place to place we kept acquiring more stuff and our bags expanded. We were going in and out of airports, subways, trains and buses a lot - which was difficult with heavy bags. I think I wore everything I packed, but we had access to laundry throughout the trip - so in retrospect I would have packed even lighter.
3) Learn a few key words from each language of the country you are travelling to..such as: Please, thank you, water, bathroom, yes, no, etc...
4) Pace yourself. We tended to overbook our days, and by then end of the day we would almost collapse out of exhaustion. Oy.
5) Bathrooms are really hard to find in Italy and France. There aren't really any public ones, and most of the time you have to eat or drink somewhere to be able to use their bathrooms...ended up paying $6 one time for one coffee just so we could use their bathroom.
6) Look up the customs and etiquette of the country you are travelling to. Do you tip at restaurants? Learn the basics of the menus and courses they typically serve. For example, in France a lot of the restaurants had price fix menus with 3-5 courses. Also, most restaurants in Italy didn't open for dinner until after 7:30pm.
Okay - let's start out with the most important thing from our trip - the FOOD!
We stayed at an apartment in Trastevere that we found on airbnb. The place was great, hosts were awesome and gave us lots of information before our trip, and we recommend it to anyone travelling to Rome. My sister lived in Rome during college for a semester and suggested this part of town as a good place to stay. She was right. It was set apart from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still in walking distance to all the big tourist sights, plus there were lots of cute restaurants nearby, and tons of Churches.
L'Antica Salumeria, Rome
We stopped by this place that is located in the piazza that the Pantheon is in. Got these yummy chewy cookies that were rolled in pine nuts.
Mama Ristobistro, Vatican area
We ate lunch at this little cafe near the Vatican. It was clean, service was great, and the food was fresh. We had zucchini and eggplant fritters, and then a shrimp, vegetable and couscous dish. Pretty good!
Hostaria Luce, Trastevere
This was by far our most favorite restaurant in Italy! We stumbled upon it after trying to get into 2 other restaurants that had good reviews online, only to be turned away since we didn't have a reservation. We were tired and so hungry, and then we found this little gem. They had a real lemon tree with lemons on it in front of the place so we decided to give it a try. The owners and hosts were so gracious and kind to our weary souls, and they made us feel most welcome. The took the time to explain some things on the menu and tell us about their specials. The owner was a legit old Italian guy that was so happy and kind, and made us feel right at home.
They served us fresh bread with this yummy whipped ricotta topped with some sort of artichoke mousse - delicious!
Fresh greens and fruit salad - simple, but so fresh! The owner said they got most of the veggies from their farm that very morning.
Boiled broccoli, romanesco broccoli and cauliflower
Fresh pasta with a lamb ragu
Fresh artichoke ravioli
Baba au Rhum cake - amazing!
La Torta “Caprese” cake - chocolate and almond - scrumptious!
A welcome sight to weary travelers!
This was the best bakery we found during our time in Italy. We went there twice in the 2 days we were in Florence. Cute little place with sweet ladies working there, always a line, but worth it!
Some kind of Spinach and ricotta pastry - so flaky and simple, but really good!
Pan au chocolate - again, he really stuck to getting the same thing everywhere : )
Super moist carrot bread, eating on the steps of the San Lorenzo market area
Borgo Antico, Florence
Our first day in Florence we happened upon the Santo Spirito market - super lucky we caught it since it only comes around once a month! There were a bunch of cute restaurants in that piazza, so we returned the next day and found this place. Had some yummy pizza and a fresh shaved artichoke and Parmesan salad there.
Gelateria Carabe, Florence
I was on a mission to find a cannoli before I left Italy...they are really Sicilian, so it is not common to find them in bakeries near Rome and Florence. The first night we passed the place right up and ended up getting sub par gelato somewhere close by. The second night we were determined we would find the place and thanks to Andrew's navigation skills we found it!!! Totally worth the search, added bonus their gelato was the best we had! The cannoli was so delicious and fresh! The key to finding a good cannoli is to find a place where they fill the cannoli after you order it, otherwise the shell can get soggy. If you are in Florence seek this place out and thank me later.
That's about it for Italy Folks! This post has gotten too long, so I am going to talk about the Food in France in a separate post soon to come...stay tuned!