I’m so excited for my first post on travel to be about Italia! The world is seemingly boundless and I’m sure there will be many more ‘favorite’ places to come, but this beautiful country (and home of my people!) has been on the top of my list since I last visited 11 years ago.
This summer I flew out of the country for the first time by myself (eek) to meet up with my friend Laci and another friend of hers from the States. Laci is currently serving in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Georgia – how cool is that?! I wasn’t about to go years without seeing her, so we threw together a girls trip exploring this amazing country.
Originally, it was meant to be a hiking adventure through the Dolomites (known as the Italian alps). As the planning progressed, we realized that trying to cram a 5-day hiking trip into a 7-day international vacation was going to be difficult, not just in the planning but on the body – getting over jetlag is hard enough without adding hiking ~12 miles a day! So we traded our hiking boots for sandals, our windbreakers for sundresses and I’m incredibly glad that we did.
Our adventure began in Venice, which is an absolute dream (at the right times). I met up with Val there while Laci was still en route on her train. We had a gorgeous dinner along the canal – with free limoncello, grazie signore! and just strolled around taking in the sights and the sunset before picking up Laci (pizza in hand, of course) at the train station.
The next morning was perhaps one of my favorite moments of the trip. I woke up two hours before my alarm (thanks, jetlag) around 5am. I slept with the shutters open, and so I sat straight up in bed to the most perfect view of the canals. I could hear the waves gently lapping the sides of the boats that sat covered while their owners slept. It was absolute bliss. I snuck out so I didn’t wake the two sleeping beauties, and went for a sunrise solo walk through the narrow streets.
I watched the garbage boat doing its morning pick-ups (who thought trash pick-up could ever be interesting!), a fisherman slicing up his fresh catches for the morning’s market, and a signora watering her balcony plants in her nightgown. It sounds like a scene from a movie, and it truly was that picturesque and peaceful.
The second day in Venice was spent exploring the nearby islands of Murano and Burano. The former is an island known for its glass blowing, and the latter a tiny fisherman’s village of brightly colored row homes. Luckily, by the time we reached the colorful town of Burano, the summer rains that had chased us through Murano had lifted and we were able to fully enjoy this gorgeous little place. The story goes that these buildings were painted such bright, diverse colors so that drunk fishermen could find their way to the correct home – I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s an interesting tale nonetheless!
We rounded out our time in Venice with a fancy dinner tucked away from the busy tourist areas. It was some of the best gnocchi in cream sauce I have ever had! While the girls split a bottle of wine, I found myself starting to feel under the weather after all the travel and jetlag, so I treated myself to a hot cup of camomilla. I thought it was cute that even in Italy, it’s called “Goodnight” tea, while in America my mom and I have a favorite called “Sleepytime.” I guess some things are transcontinental!
And before we could leave, we had one last item on the to-do list: that’s right, we had to go do a little photoshoot for the ‘gram! Side note: supportive, encouraging girlfriends are the best. I threw out my usual “Nah, I’m better behind the camera,” but they weren’t having my silly insecurities! They gave me great direction and helped me feel so much more confident, resulting in some pretty awesome photos that I absolutely love. 10/10 would recommend getting yourself some kickass lady friends who make you feel beautiful!
From Venice, we jumped on our first of many trains to head to Verona, home of the fictional (and overly hormonal) Romeo & Giulietta. It was a cute little town, and we enjoyed watching the sunset after a bit of a climb to the top of the hill. I met a nice family visiting from elsewhere in Italy, and got to practice my Italian when I asked if I could pet their dog – I was missing my two furbabies so much!
When we woke up the next morning, my sickness had kicked in high gear and I was feeling absolutely awful. We found a pharmacy so I could get some medicine, and then did a little shopping. I have to give the girls props here too – they spent probably two hours with me in dressing rooms trying on clothes. I desperately wanted to buy a dress from Italy, but the self consciousness was real, folks. But with their encouragement I finally found a cute linen dress that would be perfect for our upcoming trip to the coastline!
Minimalism side note: Lately I’ve found myself preferring only souvenirs that I find useful, rather than random tchotchkes. I like bringing home something that adds value to my life or home – like a beautiful dress to wear, or tasty spices that remind me of where I’ve been when I cook with them. Plus, for this trip I packed in a 30L Osprey backpack, so my extra room was very limited. I’m planning on doing another post for how I packed for the trip in just a carry-on backpack. It was definitely a challenge, but I loved the mobility! Dragging suitcases on and off boats and trains and through cobblestone streets is definitely not ideal.
Milan was more or less a home base for us. We had an Airbnb with air conditioning on the outskirts, and it was so appreciated as we spent some time cooking local cuisine (pesto pasta and charcuterie boards, yummm) and planning our day trips to Lake Como and Cinque Terre.
Como was beautiful, although we had an unfortunately hazy day, so most of my picture plans went out the window. Nonetheless we enjoyed walking around the little towns along the lake, and hopping on boats to take us to our next destination. We picked up some souvenir spices in Bellagio, and wandered the streets, forever in search of gelato (I think we had three that day!). Alas, we did not find George or Amal, but I did meet the cutest little Jack Russell I’ve ever seen, Spike.
Our final day trip took us to the breathtaking Cinque Terre. Aptly named “Five Towns,” this beautiful seaside stretch on the northwestern coast of Italy is one of my favorite places I have ever been. I remembered it fondly from my last trip over a decade ago, and I was so thrilled to be going back – especially since it wasn’t in our original plan, so it was a lovely surprise! Because it was about three hours from the city, we decided to stick to two villages instead of see all five. We sunbathed and took a dip in Monterosso al Mare, and hiked the steep hillside for a dinner overlooking the sea in Vernazza.
Our train back to Milan was late and when it finally arrived, we were all nearly asleep on the platform, exhausted from trekking all day and the stifling temperatures during a particularly nasty heat wave. But when I remember the shimmering blue water, the beautiful streets and architecture, the lovely people, and have I mentioned the gelato?! – I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world!
Back to Venice
The gals went our separate ways after Milan – Laci headed to Rome before her trip back to Georgia, and Val continued on to Croatia for Yacht Week. That’s right, just a week of partying on yachts! Her life is rough. And I went back to Venice for one more day / night before my roundtrip flight back to the States.
This time around, Venice seemed so much more crowded. The heat was unbearable, and because I was still sick I spent most of the day sleeping in my Airbnb with the AC blasting. But once the sun went down, I ventured out for my last dinner in Italy. Some people swear by traveling alone, but honestly one of my favorite parts about traveling is sharing the experience and memories with people I love to be around. I did a church tour of the gorgeous San Marco Basilica and some wandering, but all in all my last day in Venice was pretty lonely, and my anxiety was pretty high. Once the fun with the girls was over, I was very ready to get back home to my little family (and my own bed).
I did really enjoy another quiet, early morning and my last vaporetto ride to the bus station. I didn’t mean to take the long way, but I accidentally did and was honestly very grateful for it. It gave me 20 more minutes to take in the beauty of Venice before most of the tourists had woken up and crowded the narrow streets and bridges. It was a perfect last look at this unique city to help commit it to memory before I left.