By Stella Prince, AK Adventures and Global Village Editor
I knew a little about Italy and its culture—I studied Italian, which was a plus, but I wasn’t so clear on the history of everything. Sure, I knew about the Romans, but there was more than that. Months before we took off for Europe, I casually explored online the fascinating culture of the Roman Empire and the historic landmarks known as the Coliseum and the Pantheon. I looked up photos and found exciting articles that taught me a lot. I got out tons of books from the library. But the real Italy was waiting for me, and I couldn’t wait to go…
After the long overnight flight, we finally landed in Rome. Sure, my whole family was a little nervous but also extremely excited. Personally, I loved new adventures. The first thing we did was check in to our hotel, the “Albergo Del Senato,” and I was shocked. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. It was right across from the Pantheon, so you could see it right from your window! The staff was exceptionally pleasant, the rooms were wonderful, and I have to say I don’t think I could really name one fault or criticism about anything.
The next few days I woke up excited and ready to explore. Rome is full of culture, activities, sights, and—most of all—good food, so it was easy to have fun. My family and I had fun walking around and eating delicious meals. The best food I had was lunch at “Da Giggetto Hostaria,” which is in the old Jewish ghetto. It was really amazing—and I definitely recommend the fried artichokes (Carciofi Alla Judea), which are a specialty of Roman Jewish cuisine and are phenomenal. If you’re a big ice cream fan, make sure to definitely have gelato at “Tre Scalini,” which has the yummiest Italian “tartufo,” a rich chocolate ice cream mixed and covered with shaved chocolate. It is the most wonderful thing in the world. And if eaten at an outdoor table, you can have a view of Bernini’s famous fountains in Piazza Navona!
We also visited the Sistine Chapel, which was extremely crowded yet beautiful, the Campo Dei Fiori (that has Rome’s oldest and best outdoor market), and of course the Coliseum. Overall, Rome is spectacular and not to be missed.
After a few miraculous days spent in Rome, we took a picturesque train ride to Assisi, which is a spectacular medieval hill town! My parents and I had the idea to rent an apartment so that we could experience the full feeling of Italian culture, and it turned out to be a great idea. After booking a wonderful place right near the main square, it was amazing to just walk down the street and go shopping at adorable markets, eat wonderful pizza, and explore every inch of historic Assisi.
My favorite tourist spot that is definitely not to be missed is St. Francis’ basilica with Giotto’s frescoes. I personally love his work, so don’t miss it! The church is beautiful and spacious—and Giotto’s work is spectacular—and I would love to visit it again someday. Oh…did I mention Assisi has one of the best gelato places in all of Italy? It’s true! “Bar Sensi” is fantastic—they have tons of delicious flavors like Stracciatella (vanilla chocolate chip), Menta (mint), and Crema (an amazing vanilla custard). I definitely recommend visiting Assisi if you’re looking for culture and delicious gelato.
After our short four-day stay, we left Assisi and eagerly took a train to Verona, which, believe it or not, is my all-time favorite city in Italy besides Rome. It is amazing! We stayed in the most gorgeous apartment—a huge loft overlooking the river—and the food is real, traditional Italian, not yucky tourist traps. Many areas of Verona are touristy, but most are not, and those places are really lovely. It was fun to go food shopping in neighborhood stores, and near our apartment were an adorable fruit market and a fabulous homemade pasta shop, which had my favorite food in all of Italy—mushroom ravioli, made fresh every morning. It was amazing to find the least touristy spots of the city, which make it feel like you really lived there. But—there’s no harm in being a tourist, too! My favorite tourist spots in Verona are the Roman amphitheater, which is beautiful and fascinating and gives an incredible view of the whole city from the museum up above; Juliet’s balcony, which is very crowded but worth the trip (even if the story is a concoction); and also, Club Juliet! It is so cool because many women from all over the world write to “Juliet” about their love problems. You get to see the letters and meet with the people that run it. Although some letters are really sad, some are very sweet and inspiring as well.
My favorite restaurant in Italy, which is in Verona, is called “Taverna Di Stella.” I like to say it’s named after me, but of course, it’s not. Actually, its name probably comes from the street it’s on, called Via Stella. Anyway, if you go to “Taverna Di Stella,” make sure to try the pumpkin ravioli with butter sauce. It is so good!!! I would say it’s probably one of the best things I’ve had in my life. Seriously!
After spending the bulk of our trip in Verona, we excitedly packed up our bags and took the train to Venice. Yes, Venice! It was beautiful. We stayed at the “Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria Hotel.” It was absolutely gorgeous! The outside of it was big, but the rooms were small yet pretty with a nice view of the distant water and street below.
Most of Venice is a huge tourist trap. Period. Everyone visits Venice when they go to Italy. Personally, I do think it’s a must. I mean, think about it: a whole city without cars, just boats. And incredible architecture. Amazing! We stayed at the Lido, which is a very pretty part of Venice known for the beach but a bit removed from everything. I loved taking boats everywhere, but if you get seasick easily, I do not recommend it. The boats are very crowded, and it’s hard to get fresh air.
There are a whole bunch of bad touristy cafés, so make sure to avoid them if possible. My favorite place to have a cold drink like lemonade or iced tea is called “Harry’s Bar.” It is where every traveling writer spent time at in the 1930’s and earlier, like Ernest Hemingway and many other celebrities. It is crazy expensive to have a meal there, but the desserts are to die for, so try to get a piece of something!
Overall, we had an incredible trip. The month went by so quickly, but I hope, someday, we can take one just as great as this!