Italia: Do As The Romans Do
"La vita e bella" in Italian translates to "life is beautiful". While living in Rome and backpacking Italy, I learned that life indeed is beautiful and much simpler on this peninsula. The Italian culture is all about family, food, religion and love. Below you'll find a brief guideline for Rome, as well as tips for travel in northern and southern Italy.
Roma: The eternal city stands as the country's capital in the Lazio region. It's history spans over 2,500 years, and it is one of the oldest continuously populated cities since the dawn of time.
Rome's best neighborhoods for authentic food and nightlife are Trastevere, Jewish Ghetto, and Testaccio. This is where I recommend travelers should hang out every night. You can find locals dancing or getting gelato and sitting on the giant steps of Trastevere with lovers and friends. The best restaurant in this area is called Tony's nearest to Piazza Santa Maria. Typical Roman delicacies to try: fried zucchini flower, caprese salad, pomodoro gnochi and artichokes (prepared in a few different ways). Don't miss the dessert bar with amazing Kahlua drinks served in edible, chocolate shot glasses.
Things To Do:
For the best view of the city, start atop the Altare della Patria (also known as the Monumento Nazionale), which is the white building at Piazza Venezia. A few euros will get you on the lift to the top to enjoy a grand view of la citta.
In Campo di Fiori there is the BEST morning market for flowers, sandwiches, fruit, nuts, olives, fresh squeezed juices and more. This exact space at night turns into a buzzing square of youngsters. The bar facing the main statue is called "Giganti". Tell the owner Robbie that I recommended you there for a free shot while enjoying the cozy dance floor. Study abroad students also check out Sinking Ship to meet other international students.
The Colosseum is an obvious must, but honestly the Roman Forum is much more fascinating. It is larger, older and has interesting spots inside. There's an ongoing debate as to it holding the road where Cesar was stabbed on, while others argue it is the "cat piazza" down the street. In the forum are the city's earliest remains that started the entire Roman Empire.
Sit along the Spanish Steps for fashionable people watching with a few Peronis in hand or decent 3€ bottle of Chianti Classico. After walking up the steps, turn left and venture westward to the gorgeous Villa Borghese Gardens. You can rent bikes or stroll past the famous statues busts overlooking a euphoric view of the city below. Via Pamphili Park in central Rome is another great location for a picnic or nature exploring (comparable to NYC'S central park).
Go to Vaticano and St. Peter's Basilica to see the pope speak (even if you're not religious or spiritual, it's almost feels like a vibrating music festival with the amount of people's exciting energy). I personally am not even Catholic although was moved to tears. A purely positive experience to see this progressive Pope Francis while still alive. "Papa Francesco" is know as the most liberal pope; he is tolerant of homosexuality and prays for the world to address climate change. He speaks from the red window on Wednesday and Sunday mornings.
Cinque Terre in Northern Italy consists of 5 towns, all situated upon cliffs at the sea. This is a very popular image you might recognize of colorful houses stacked on top of each other along the ocean here. There are cheap hostels for young backpackers and great rocky beaches to explore. There's a rigorous 2 hour hike as well, but it's absolutely worth the views. Make sure you don't set out on the trail after a rainy day though without proper boots. My favorite thing about these towns are the FRESH SEAFOOD incomparable to the rest of Italy! Try the traditional "frutti di mare" or "black spaghetti" which is colored by squid ink, atop a bed of mussels and linguini.
Florence is in the Tuscany region of Italy, and noted as birthplace of the Renaissance. It's known for beautiful architecture, art and not to mention florentine steaks. For the history buffs, check out Galleria dell'Accademia which displays work by Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and more. The sculpture of David and painting of "Birth of Venus" are not to be missed. Check out the terracotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi at Il Duomo (hike the stairs up to the top for the best view of Firenze. The typical desert of Florence is called zuccoto cake, which mimics the design of the city's dome church in chocolate.
Amalfi Coast and Southern Italy: Sorrento is a MUST if you can swing time, take the Circumsuviana train straight down into Napoli, followed by a 40 minute tram ride along the coast. Napoli is known as "the armpit" of Italy, so I don't recommend you spend tons of time exploring around there. Not to mention there are lots of Mafia sitting in gambling cafes while arguing over money laundering (very real). Once you've made it to Sorrento & Capri island, I guarantee you'll see the most beautiful place in the whole country. If you don't mind paying more for food and shopping, you'll look past the tourists to enjoy this Mediterranean paradise.
Overall Advice for Italy
Walk into any church you find, because you'll never know how old and gorgeous it'll be inside.
Don't eat at restaurants that have menus in English outside, it's solely advertising to tourists. This is why many people who go to Rome thinks the Italian food actually sucks. If you're eating at the wrong places, such as restaurants next door to the colosseum or Vaticano, the quality will be subpar and you'll pay more than you should have for unripened tomato sauce dishes.
If you ever need help, the police are called Carbinieri (which I may say, are the most beautiful men on the planet). For Americans study abroad students, the embassy is located Via Vittorio Veneto, 121, 00187 Roma, just in case you find yourself in trouble.
Never have your phone in your back pocket and keep a copy of your passport on you at all times! Men, wallets should be kept in your FRONT pockets. Women, hide money in your backpack worn in front of you, bra's or boots. There are gypsy children who will try and rob your backpack, occasionally by slicing the bottom and running away after snatching up your valuables (more so a threat by the Colosseum). Use normal safety precautions.
Ladies, expect men to be dogs. My feminist, anti-catcalling self would just curse them out if they got too close or annoying by yelling out "va fanculo", which means "go fuck your mother" (ONLY USE AS A LAST RESORT).
Look into Trenitalia for travel through out the country to other destinations which I didn't cover, such as Sicily and Milan. Check out hostelworld.com for cheap accommodations. If you need anything else please reach out, so happy you're going to see my country
Lastly, NEVER expect anything to be on time! Italian time is always late and if you need help with anything, just be patient.
Enjoy "la dolce far niente" mentality. For those of you considering moving or studying abroad in Italy, don't hesitate to contact me for more information.