A First Time Trip to Rome and Florence

Rome and Florence are tourist destinations unlike any other I’ve been to. They are in late May and early June also teeming with college kids finishing their semesters abroad, spilling into plazas at night. They are hot, crowded, and wonderful cities that I’d visit again in a heartbeat because sometimes being a typical tourist abroad is blissful. 

Maybe it was that we flew into Italy right as the season warmed, a welcome change from rainy spring, because the crowds didn’t bother me in the least. Sure, there were moments of waiting in humid lines. And yes, we did watch a particularly intoxicated American fall asleep at a fountain around midnight, who thankfully awoke before we had to rescue him like awkward faux mom and dad Americans we are. And yet in both cities we ate really, really well. I know that’s what everyone says about Italy but the food and the wine and the gelato and the coffee are really all I need to feel like I’d gotten away from home for a bit. Spending nights in plazas, sipping cheap peronis without needing a plan is exactly my kind of casual respite.

We flew first to Milan on a good deal with Alitalia, hustling on a high speed train to Rome. We walked around Rome by day and night for several days,  hardly ever taking the metro.  We drank two, sometimes three cappuccinos a day always standing at the counter, speeding into the day but still crashing from heat and walking exhaustion. We rode a double bicycle through the Villa Borghese, which turned out to be less whimsical vacation and more hilariously difficult, battling Italian drivers and skidding down hills while I laughed unlike I’ve laughed in while.

Rome was graffitied, gritty, and pockmarked with with hot trash piling everywhere. Yet it was also beautiful, old, and differently dense than New York City, with quiet back street cobblestone neighborhoods right around the corner from literal Roman ruins. I was most impressed by the Rome of working Italian people living their lives despite the tourism facade, stopping at coffee counters in the morning because it’s just a normal everyday ritual.

We left Rome for Florence by high speed train too, my burgeoning art history afficiando ready to lean into the tourism of such an amazing city. I stood like a child in front of so many larger than life paintings, trying to see right into the grain of the paint strokes, inspecting faces in early Renaissance frescos with amusement.

We waited in line for close to two hours, fending off so many line jumping Italian grandmas for the Uffizi.  Brian read me the entire Rick Steves walking guide to the galleries as we meandered around. I loved it thoroughly, like a kid.

We gazed upon Duomo everyday, staying right nearby. We sat in manicured parks as well as open church squares in the Oltrarno neighborhood after dark. We ate late after spending days walking up and down hills, staring at churches so much older than things I can imagine. We shared Florentine steak and pasta with house wine at a small Tuscan restaurant called Osteria Cinghale Bianco where we just happened to get a seat without a reservation.  It was absolutely one of the best simple meals I’ve had, the kind of serendipitous moment you can’t repeat.

We flew back through Milan, a funny thing to be a little familiar now with this northern Italian city I’ve stopped over in twice. We too took a moment to gawk at its epic Duomo. More summer tourists arrived for Italy just as we departed, feeling a little like we were temporarily studying abroad in our thirties.

Rome

seeing
All the greats are here, of course.
I loved the otherworldliness of the Pantheon the most, it felt like it belonged in Battlestar Galatica (nerd alert.)
Walking through the heart of the city to see the Trevi fountain at night.
Stranger but lovely was the Capuchin Crypt.
I found the Vatican Museum not as awe inspiring as St. Peter’s, though.
Capolitini museums were worth it for the awes inspiring Roman statues as well as the view of the forum. 

staying
The Monti neighborhood was lovely and very slice of life Rome right by the main tourist destinations. We opted to stay in a hotel there.

eating
Travestere for all dining and especially Dar poeta pizza.
A cute cafe spot for breakfast in Monti called La Casetta.
There’s a mini chain worth it called La Prosciutteria
The best gelato I had was Fanta Morgana.
Pasta Chef for street food carbonara that delicious and budget friendly.
Lunch and apperativo around Campo di Fiori
Antico Cafe Greco for a little posh old school cappuccino

Florence

seeing
Duomo! 
Walking everywhere, especially at night across the Ponte Vecchio.
The Boboli Gardens for meandering and the views.
The Uffizi
Piazza della Signoira  with a beer in the evening, observing people.
Piazza Santo Spiritu for a lively night scene, too. There was a cute cafe with to go spritz.
Leather goods everywhere, you can tell the more artisan stores if you wander a bit.
Ceramic goods from Tuscany at La Botteghina Del Ceramista
Santa Maria novella for the beautifully patterned church and the famed perfume store.

staying
We stayed right by the Duomo in a side street airbnb on the top floor. It was lovely.

eating
Aperitivo at the Santa Croce hip spot Oibò
Pizza off the beaten path at Marlborghetto
Sandwiches everywhere, in little delis tucked on so many streets.
Old school pastries at cafes like Bar Pasticceria Cucciolo and La Loggia degli Albizi
A fantastic Tuscan dinner at Osteria Cinghale Bianco